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Cisco and CoreOS Kubernetes integrations swell IT buyer choices

Cisco and CoreOS added to a growing number of Kubernetes integration options, prompting enterprise IT buyers to consider whether they should rely on one vendor or take on heavy lifting themselves.

Enterprises got two new Kubernetes integration choices to consider this week, as support for the container orchestration platform becomes ubiquitous.

With such a broad set of choices that offer different levels of Kubernetes integration with existing tools, IT buyers must decide how broadly they want container orchestration integrated with the rest of their infrastructure before they choose a product.

For mainstream enterprise buyers such as Intact Insurance in Toronto, packages of software from a trusted vendor, Cisco, will incorporate Kubernetes container orchestration into an automated infrastructure that spans application, middleware and bare-metal hardware. This work will get underway now that Cisco has added Kubernetes support in version 4.9 of its CloudCenter cloud management platform this week.

Intact began to standardize on Cisco gear about six years ago, moving from a mix of IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise servers to Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) platform, said Sebastien Morissette, senior architect of infrastructure and security at Intact. "As we build out a new software-defined data center, Cisco's stack was already semi-integrated and operated on UCS," he said.

Intact added Cisco's HyperFlex, a resource pooling and management interface for hyper-converged infrastructure, and its software-defined networking. And with an eye toward hybrid cloud deployment, the company has now embraced Cisco's Kubernetes support for CloudCenter, a management tool it already used to automate VMs. Intact deployed Red Hat's OpenShift PaaS on VMs in its legacy data center, but will test the Cisco Container Platform once it becomes generally available this summer, because it's more deeply integrated into the rest of the infrastructure.

"We're keeping our options open, but we've been able to break down a lot of IT silos, because all our teams meet inside CloudCenter," Morissette said. "It masks the complexity of managing all the different components, whether it be different clouds or Kubernetes."

Cisco CloudCenter Kubernetes support
A screenshot showing Cisco CloudCenter's Kubernetes support.

Pros and cons of 'one throat to choke'

Vendor lock-in takes different forms. Intact might have tied itself to Cisco for IT management software, but Cisco CloudCenter with Kubernetes support gives the company more options among public cloud competitors, as IT operators can use it to deploy the same application template in different infrastructures and not configure every system. CloudCenter can also accommodate some customization at lower levels of the infrastructure through scripting.

Without Cisco's orchestration, we'd have to put 'if-then-else' logic into all our scripts for different proprietary APIs -- and that's very error-prone.
Sebastien Morissettesenior architect of infrastructure and security, Intact Insurance

That doesn't mean Cisco's one-stop shop is without downsides. Integration throughout a comprehensive set of IT automation components takes time, testing and patience. Intact awaited Kubernetes support in CloudCenter since the summer of 2017. And to support a proof-of-concept mobile application in the software-defined data center, developers work with Docker swarm until CloudCenter with Kubernetes support is in production.

"If a cloud provider adds a new feature, it won't be in CloudCenter tomorrow," Morissette said. "We've put a lot of effort into helping develop CloudCenter."

Intact could choose to redirect that effort into scripting and configuration of multiple separate systems, but in the long run, that would mean much more time spent to troubleshoot the infrastructure and less on software development for the business.

"The tradeoff is portability," Morissette said. "Without Cisco's orchestration, we'd have to put 'if-then- else' logic into all our scripts for different proprietary APIs -- and that's very error-prone."

Red Hat CoreOS Operator Framework seeks collaborators

Meanwhile, Red Hat CoreOS' Operator Framework will be the first project within a proposed Kubernetes Special Interest Group (SIG) headed up by Red Hat, called Platform SIG, which is dedicated to multivendor collaboration around Kubernetes integrations.

The Operator Framework builds on open source CoreOS container orchestration software called Operators, which automatically builds, manages and updates applications that run on Kubernetes clusters. Operators aren't totally new, but under Red Hat, Operators directly targets Kubernetes APIs, rather than the CoreOS' 'scaffolding' scripts that were previously used to handle infrastructure management.

The Operator Framework and Platform SIG will explore ways to ease Kubernetes management without a single dominant vendor to control integration.

That will appeal to some IT pros who became skeptical of the platform approach and marketing terms such as single-pane-of-glass management during previous software trends.

"Building large, general-purpose platforms is difficult," said Gary Chen, analyst at IDC. "People have already tried and failed to build platforms around operating systems, VMs, private clouds and OpenStack."

However, vendors quickly commoditized Kubernetes support, and their ability to cash in on the container craze will depend on what kind of ecosystem and community momentum they can build around their products, Chen said.

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