OpenStack is presented as a good container management environment; what if container managers can manage the infrastructure as well?

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

February 20, 2017

4 Min Read
Image: Druckfuchs/Pixabay

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Some investors in private cloud say OpenStack is attractive to them because it can serve as a platform on which to manage containers. Jonathan Bryce, executive director of the Openstack Foundation, made that argument recently and PayPal, Comcast, and other major OpenStack implementers have suggested the same thing.

In support of his position, Bryce referred to the 451 Research report of Jan. 10, OpenStack and Containers: Confusion, Complement and Competition, which cited the efforts within the OpenStack project to accommodate containers and manage them at a large scale. These include the Zun, Magnum and Heat projects within OpenStack for managing containers. OpenStack and Containers is only available behind a 451 Research paywall.

It also said container software, such as Docker, CoreOS' Rocket or rkt, and LXC or Linux C Groups "is mostly complementary to OpenStack, with a high number of enterprise OpenStack users also leveraging containers."

But at the same time the report acknowledged OpenStack and container software form an uneasy alliance. While OpenStack is generally viewed as a good environment in which to manage containers, there's a minority but growing point of view that OpenStack should serve more as a developer team hosting and software generation part of IT -- as a platform as a service -- and let the new container management software that is emerging serve as a de facto infrastructure as a service.

"We are also seeing a trend toward OpenStack on top of containers, with container management and orchestration software, which is more competitive to OpenStack, serving as the management layer," the 451 Research report stated. The form of that competition might take the shape of a container management and orchestration software, such as Docker Swarm, Kubernetes, Mesosphere's DC/OS and Rancher Labs, open source Mesos, and CoreOS' Tectonic, among others.

Amazon's EC2 Container Service and Google Container Service can be viewed as cloud services that would do the same thing, substitute container management in the cloud for private cloud infrastructure.

Want to see how containers are moving deeper into the IT budget and data center infrastructure? See Containers Commanding More IT Dollars, Survey Finds.

Some IT staffs with a newfound focus on containers may be looking for a container management platform that allows them to circumvent the need to establish a private cloud on-premises. Since most private clouds start with OpenStack software, that means container management systems could evolve into a direct OpenStack competitor.

"There doesn't quite yet seem to be consensus on how to most effectively combine OpenStack and containers," the report observed.

The Jan. 10 OpenStack and Containers report was written by 451 Research analysts Jay Lyman, Nancy Gohring, Donnie Berkholz and Al Zadowski.

They point out that container software is usually thought of as application packaging and management software can also be used for system packaging and management. Large companies on the Web, including Yelp and Netflix, leverage system containers to create and deploy a manageable Web-scale infrastructure.

Containers lend themselves to agile development and continuous updates when used in DevOps. In a similar manner, they can be used for frequent changes and updates to the infrastructure when they house operating systems and other system software.

Containers make it easier to move discrete units of system software around, team them up on servers and start and stop them quickly, the same as application workloads. Increasingly sophisticated container orchestration, monitoring and deployment software would enhance those characteristics in an enterprise trying to manage its infrastructure through system containers.

Thus, "enterprises increasingly leverage both application containers for packaging and deploying software and system containers for managing infrastructure," the authors said.

Intel, Google, CoreOS and Mirantis have recently taken the effort a step further, seeking to manage OpenStack through the use of Kubernetes as a container manager, they said. Kubernetes is the Google-founded open source project for creating and managing clusters on which many containers may be deployed.

"Even though OpenStack is more mature than modern container software, it may have to yield to what appears to be a larger, more disruptive trend in containers," the authors wrote.

Containers would give IT the option of using one operating system running system resources to do more tasks in an efficient way. It would allow IT to move system resources around more quickly and scale them up or back efficiently, as conditions warranted. The software to accomplish these system tasks is still being written, and whether container management can actually displace the self-provisioning and other automated features of cloud operations remains to be seen.

But containers are a large disrupter on the scene, with proven efficiencies over predecessor technologies. The notion that they won't continue to move forward into a larger role is probably a mistaken one.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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