Last month I wrote about IBM’s latest big data solution, this month I want to talk about what’s new for IBM in the cloud.
IBM has provided the SmartCloud product offering for some time now, but as the shape of the cloud has evolved, so the shape of that solution has changed too. Today cloud infrastructure architectures are stabilizing, and IBM recently announced a retooling of their cloud offering around OpenStack, the open source cloud computing platform currently emerging as a major player in this market. So, what used to be IBM SmartCloud is now IBM Cloud Manager with OpenStack.
What is OpenStack?
OpenStack is an open source cloud computing software platform. Originally a joint project between Rackspace and NASA dating from 2010, it is currently under the control of the not-for-profit OpenStack Foundation. Supported by more than 200 members (including industry leaders such as Cisco, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, RedHat, SuSE, VMware and IBM), OpenStack is rapidly becoming a major player, if not the major player in the cloud infrastructure market. Today, OpenStack is a cloud computing platform of choice for significant corporate web presences such as WebEx, PayPal, eBay and Rackspace. Now, with the October 2014 announcement of Cloud Manager with OpenStack, IBM is now also throwing its weight behind OpenStack as the platform of choice for IBM Cloud offerings moving forward.
OpenStack is an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) stack with a modular architecture. The core modules of OpenStack are Nova (managing compute resources, interfacing with hypervisors such as KVM, Hyper-V and PowerVM), Cinder (managing block storage, interfacing with storage arrays), and Neutron (interfacing with networks). Other key modules deal with secondary issues such as managing and storing virtual appliance images (Glance) and data objects (Swift); a security and identity management service (Keystone); a database management service (Trove); a tool to manage Hadoop or Spark clusters (Sahara); and, a web administration interface (Horizon).
The OpenStack project is currently on a six-month release cycle with new modules being added and enhanced with each release. The current OpenStack version is code named Juno and was released this past October. For more information about OpenStack and the Juno release, a good starting point is to visit wiki.openstack.org.
What is IBM Cloud Manager?
Cloud Manager can be described as a toolkit that makes OpenStack easily accessible, usable and manageable in both SME and enterprise environments. OpenStack is an engine, it handles the underlying manipulation of hardware such as servers, network switches and array controllers. It provides some user and administration interfaces with more modules and functionality are being added with each release, but there are still gaps to be filled and edges to be polished to provide a manageable turnkey cloud solution. Cloud Manager adds value in the form of a collection of functionality built on and around the core mechanics of OpenStack to provide a fully engineered cloud deployment.
Major functions implemented by elements of Cloud Manager include:
- Packaging: OpenStack is a large open source project consisting of multiple interconnected components, each of which is under constant development. As revisions are released change management becomes an issue, both within the OpenStack component, and more so when the many other components necessarily added to the OpenStack core to complete the cloud solution are take into consideration. IBM addresses this by shipping the complete cloud solution in a self-consistent set of rpm packages, created and maintained by IBM. This way, the Cloud Manager with OpenStack product can be installed as a single software entity with its own versioning and patch management. The customer does not need to track changes in the OpenStack project or deal with OpenStack patch management. The current version of Cloud Manager with OpenStack is v4.2, released in December 2014. For more information, search online for IBM Product Announcement 214-381.
- Compute Platform Support: The OS Nova compute module is not tied to any one compute platform but there are details to be implemented for each platform to be supported. The Cloud Manager product includes these details in the package so that Nova can talk to your hypervisor platform out of the box. Cloud Manager supports Intel platforms via your choice of Linux KVM, Hyper-V, or VMware. IBM Power is supported via either PowerVC or Linux KVM, and Linux KVM can also be used to provide support for z Systems when you are running Linux on the mainframe.
- Enterprise Management: Cloud Manager adds self-service portal and administrative interfaces as well as tools to manage libraries of virtual images, allowing easy deployment, cloning, modification, backup/restore of VM instances and data objects. Cloud Manager incorporates the Chef cloud automation framework with its concepts of recipes and cookbooks as a basis for a sophisticated data model incorporating the ability to define and manage projects structured around defined business processes. User accounts having differing tasks and responsibilities such as End User, Cloud Manager, Virtualization Administrator and Platform Administrator allows for the workload of managing the entire could infrastructure to be distributed to multiple users at all levels of the infrastructure stack.
- Platform Resource Scheduler: When IBM acquired Platform Computing in 2012, the flagship product that came with the deal was Platform Load Sharing Facility (LSF). Rebranded as Platform Resource Scheduler (PRS), this widely known and well respected application is included with Cloud Manager, providing an array of capacity and availability management features including intelligent VM placement, automated runtime optimization, CPU load balancing, and HA support.
- IBM Development: The Cloud Manager offering is presented as an enterprise ready package blending the best of open source and IBM value added technologies. Significant development effort has gone into integrating the various components to deliver a single functional product which will be managed as a single coherent product going forward. This should equate to significant time saving and contribute to a reliable and manageable turnkey solution.
- IBM Support: When it doesn’t do what you want it to do you have a single number to call Linux KVM on Power8.
Some of you may have noticed earlier when I listed the compute platform support options offered by Cloud Manager I mentioned that Cloud Manager supports the Power architecture via Linux KVM as well as the traditional PowerVM hypervisor. This Linux based option is something you might want to stop and consider for a moment. Nova, OpenStack’s compute module can interface directly with Linux KVM. In a Power based cloud, this eliminates the need for the Hardware Management Console (HMC) and the PowerVM hypervisor. You can do the same thing on Intel based hardware, running KVM x86 directly on Intel, thus eliminating the need for VMware or an equivalent Intel architecture virtualization layer.
So, whether you opt for Power or Intel, either way the Cloud Manager solution reduces cost and complexity, but it also places Power and Intel head to head on a level performance playing field in terms of CPU price/performance. Lately, IBM has been talking quite a lot about Linux KVM on Power8, so you have to think that they are confident that the Power8 chip is going to hold its own in that showdown. The benchmark test results I’m seeing bear that out, and I think the value proposition of the new scale out Power8 might very well surprise some people.
So what is the conclusion? The cloud is a key market for IBM and this move to embrace OpenStack would certainly suggest that IBM sees this as the cloud platform of the future. IBM is directing significant support to the project; in 2014, IBM ranked second in contributions to OpenStack integrated projects and well over 300 IBMers are working on OpenStack in various different ways. This strategy of coming alongside open source is consistent with the support IBM has shown for Linux KVM as a virtualization platform in previous releases of cloud offerings. Indeed, IBM is showcasing Linux on Power8 as a compelling value proposition combining the best of what the open source ecosystem and IBM value added technology has to offer. Is it possible that tomorrow’s clouds will take on a distinctly blue shade?