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IT pros ponder the future of OpenStack and Kubernetes

IT pros continue to debate the synergies and overlaps of OpenStack and Kubernetes in their architectures -- and whether the writing's on the wall for one of them.

BOSTON -- OpenStack -- and infrastructure in general -- is important, but has become boring, while Kubernetes and containerized applications have captured the imagination of enterprise IT.

IT pros debated the merits of OpenStack and Kubernetes here this week, at times wondering if the two should be combined or not. Other arguments focused on the long-term viability of both.

"If you have properly architected an operational cloud, using a container technology like Kubernetes suddenly becomes a lot more viable," said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research.

That's a big if in the case of some OpenStack private clouds, Brooks said. Well-known customers of both OpenStack and Kubernetes, such as eBay, have plenty of resources to throw at OpenStack, which is well-known to be a complex environment. Still, there has been significant adoption of OpenStack among enterprises, he added, and he predicted that OpenStack will be part of the container deployment mix.

In fact, the increased focus on higher layers of the stack indicate OpenStack has been successful in its mission to make IT infrastructure "disappear" through abstraction and automation, Brooks added.

OpenStack and Kubernetes sandwiches

The market still has yet to decide whether OpenStack and Kubernetes should intertwine in layered architectures or take on separate roles in the enterprise.

Red Hat has had undeniable success with a combination of OpenStack and Kubernetes in the popular OpenShift product. One architect who's responsible for infrastructure operations at a large European travel enterprise said he preferred Red Hat's version of OpenStack to manage network and storage resources that underpin OpenShift Kubernetes clusters.

"On the networking and storage side, OpenStack is more advanced and more flexible [than Kubernetes]," said the architect, who declined to be identified. He is personally more comfortable and familiar with OpenStack infrastructure tools, as well.

"It's an emotional and open discussion between different people in the community," he said of the OpenStack and Kubernetes buzz at the OpenStack Summit held here this week.

EBay engineers were open about the bumps and bruises they had experienced with an OpenStack deployment at scale, said Suneet Nandwani, senior director of cloud infrastructure and platforms at eBay.

But separately, eBay cloud staff engineer Uday Ruddarraju said most of the objects on the back end of the company's Kubernetes deployment, which include the virtual machine nodes that comprise Kubernetes clusters, come from the existing OpenStack infrastructure.

Kubernetes on bare metal is good if you want a [compute] node, but what if you want to create a service, such as a load balancer?
Uday Ruddarrajucloud staff engineer at eBay

"Kubernetes on bare metal is good if you want a [compute] node, but what if you want to create a service, such as a load balancer?" Ruddarraju said in an interview.

The overseers of the Kubernetes project aren't keen to get into OpenStack-style infrastructure provisioning, either. A Kubernetes project, called Helm, can ease the well-documented deployment woes of OpenStack by deploying its infrastructure services on well-isolated, self-healing containers -- but that's about the extent of the real overlap between the two, said David Aronchick, Google's Kubernetes project manager, in a presentation.

"Kubernetes really focuses on handling [container] orchestration," he said. "There's an entire set of [infrastructure] resources that Kubernetes requires, and Kubernetes does not want to deal with that stuff natively."

OpenStack and Kubernetes fork in the road?

Some OpenShift users who currently run Red Hat's OpenStack and Kubernetes in production still say the writing's on the wall for OpenStack.

Eric Wright, technical evangelist for IT automation vendor Turbonomic Inc., based in Boston, presented the concept of a "Kubernetes on OpenStack on Kubernetes" layered architecture. But one attendee, a lead technical engineer for a major credit card issuer, wondered, why not just cut out the middleman?

"The world is moving to containers, and OpenStack is just going to go away," the engineer said.

In a separate interview, Wright agreed, calling the multilayered approach a "gateway drug to Kubernetes on bare metal." But he also predicted Kubernetes will go through similar growing pains and controversies that were also weathered by OpenStack, and it will have its own challenges as it tries to capture the enterprise market long term.

Comcast subsidiary NBCUniversal has already gone the bare-metal route for a video encoding application, though OpenStack still runs in other divisions.

"Long term, OpenStack's fundamental advantage is in edge computing use cases for telcos," said Jonathan Chiang, chief architect of cloud infrastructure at NBCUniversal.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

Next Steps

OpenStack dominates its market, but still faces hurdles

Improve Kubernetes clusters with automation

Coordination of AWS and Kubernetes points to hybrid cloud future

Dig Deeper on Configuration Management and DevOps

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