Monday, May 28, 2018

Start-up profile: Rancher Labs, building container orchestration on Kubernetes

Rancher Labs is a start-up based in Cupertino, California that offers a container management platform that has racked up over four million downloads. The company recently released a major update for its container management system. Recently, I sat down with company co-founders Sheng Liang (CEO) and Shannon Williams (VP of Sales) to talk about Kubernetes, the open source container orchestration system that was originally developed by Google. Kubernetes was initially released in 2014, about the time that Rancher Labs was getting underway.

Jim Carroll, OND: So where does Kubernetes stand today?

Sheng Liang, Rancher Labs: Kubernetes has come a long way. When we started three years ago, Kubernetes was also just getting started. It had a lot of promise, but people were talking about orchestration wars and stuff. Kubernetes had not yet won but more importantly, it wasn't really useful.  In the early days, we couldn't even bring ourselves to say that we were going to focus exclusively on Kubernetes. It was not that we did not believe in Kubernetes, but it just didn't work for a lot of users. Kubernetes was almost seen as an end unto itself. Even standing up Kubernetes was such a challenge back then that just getting it to run became an end goal.  A lot of people in those days were experimenting with it, and the goal was simply to prove - hey- you've got a Kubernetes cluster.  Success was to get a few simple apps.  And its come a long way in 3 years.


A lot of things have changed. First, Kubernetes is now really established as the de facto container orchestration platform. We used to support Mesosphere, we used to support Swarm, and we used to build our own container orchestrations platform, which we called Cattle. We stopped doing all of that to focus entirely on Kubernetes. Luckily, the way we developed Cattle was closely modeled on Kubernetes, sort of an easy-to-use version of Kubernetes. So we were able to bring a lot our experience to run on top of Kubernetes. And now it turns out that we don't have to support all of those other frameworks. Kubernetes has settled that. It is now a common tool that everyone can use.

JC: The Big Three cloud companies are now fully behind Kubernetes, right?

Sheng Liang: Right. I think that for the longest time a lot of vendors were looking for opportunities to install and run Kubernetes. That kept us alive for a while. Some of the early Kubernetes deals that we closed were about installing Kubernetes.  These projects then turned to operation contracts because people thought they were going to need to help with upgrading or just maintaining the health of the cluster. This got blown out of the water last year when all of the big cloud providers started to offer Kubernetes as a service.

If you are on the cloud already, there is really no reason to stand up your own Kubernetes cluster.

Well, we're really not quite there yet, even though Amazon announced EKS in November, it is not even GA yet. It is still in closed beta status, but later this year Kubernetes as a service should become a commercial reality. And there are other benefits too.

I'm not sure about Amazon, but both Google and Microsoft  have decided to not charge for the management plane, so whatever resource you use to run the database, and the control plane nodes, you don't really pay for, I guess they must have a very efficient way of running it on some shared infrastructure. That's what I suspect. This allows them to amortize that cost on what they charge for the worker nodes.

The way people set up Kubernetes clusters in the early days was actually very wasteful. Like you would use three nodes for ECD and you would use two nodes for the control plane and then when setting it up people would throw in two more nodes for workers. So, they were using five nodes to manage two nodes, while paying for seven.

With cloud services, you don't have to do that. I think this makes Kubernetes table stakes. It is not just limited to the cloud.  I think it's really wherever you can get infrastructure. Enterprise customers, for instance, are still getting infrastructure from VMware. Or they get it from Nutanix.

All of the cloud companies have announced, or will shortly announce, support for Kubernetes out of the box. Kubernetes then will equate to infrastructure, just like virtual machines, or virtual SANS.

JC: So, how is Kubernetes actually being used now? Is it a one-way bridge or a two-way bridge for moving workloads? Are people actually moving workloads on a consistent basis, or it basically a one-time move to a new server or cloud?

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: Portability is actually less important than other features. It may be the sexy part of Kubernetes to say that you can move clusters of containers. The reality is that Kubernetes is just a really good way to run containers reliably.

The vast majority of people who are running containers are not using Kubernetes for the purpose of moving containers between clouds.  The vast majority of people running Kubernetes are doing so because it is more reliable than running containers directly on VMs. It is easier to use Kubernetes from an operational perspective. It is easier from a development perspective. It is easier from a testing perspective. So if you think of the value prop that Kubernetes represents, it comes down to faster development cycles, better operations. The portability is kind of the cherry on top of the Sundae.

It is interesting that people are excited about the portability enabled by Kubernetes, and I think it will become really important over the long term, but it is just as important that I can run it on my laptop as that I can run it on one Kubernetes cluster versus another.

Sheng Liang: I think that is a very important point. The vast major of the accounts we are familiar with run Kubernetes at just one place. That really tells you something about the power of Kubernetes. The fact that people are using this at just one place really tells you that portability is not the primary motivator.  The primary benefit is that Kubernetes is really a rock-solid way to run containers.

JC: What is the reason that Kubernetes is not being used so much for portability today? Is the use case weak for container transport? I would guess that a lot of companies would want to move jobs up to the cloud and back again.

Sheng Liang:  I just don't think that portability is the No.1 requirement for companies using containers today. Procurement teams are excited about this capability but operations people just don't need it right now.

Shannon Williams: From the procurement side, knowing that your containers could be moved to another cloud gives you the assurance that you won't be locked in.

But portability in itself is a complex problem. Even Kubernetes does not solve all the issues of porting an application from one system to another. For instance, I may be running Kubernetes on AWS but I may also be running an Amazon Relational Database (RDS) service as well.  Kubernetes is not going to magically support both of these in migrating to another cloud. There is going to be work required. I think we are still a ways away from ubiquitous computing but we are heading into a world where Kubernetes is how you run containers and containers are going to be the way that all microservices and next-gen applications are built. It may even be how I run my legacy applications. So, having Kubernetes everywhere means that the engineers can quickly understand all of these different infrastructure platforms without having to go through a heavy learning curve. With Kubernetes they will have already learned how to run containers reliably wherever it happens to be running.

JC: So how are people using Kubernetes? Where are the big use cases?

Shannon Williams: I think with Kubernetes we are seeing the same adoption pattern as with Amazon. The initial consumers of Kubernetes were people who were building early containerized applications, predominantly microservices, cloud-native Web apps, mobile apps, gaming, etc. One of the first good use cases was Pokemon Go. It needed massively-scalable systems and ran on Google Cloud. It needed to have systems that could handle rapid upgrades and changes. The adoption of Kubernetes moved from there to more traditional Web applications, to the more traditional applications.

Every business is trying to adopt an innovative stance with their IT department.  We have a bunch of insurance companies as customers. We have media companies as customers. We have many government agencies as customers, such as the USDA -- they run containers to be able to deliver websites. They have lots of constituencies that they need to build durable web services for.  These have to run consistently. Kubernetes and containers give them a lot of HA (high availability).

A year or so ago we were in Phase 0 with this movement. Now I would say we are entering Phase 1 with many new use cases. Any organization that is forward-looking in their IT strategy is probably adopting containers and Kubernetes. This is the best architecture for building applications.

JC: Is there physical limit to how far you can scale with Kubernetes?

Shannon Williams:  It is pretty darn big. You're talking about spanning maybe 5,000 servers.

Sheng Liang: I don't think there is a theoretical limit to how big you can go, but in practice, there is a database that eventually will bottleneck. The might be the limiting factor.

 I think some deployments have hit 5,000 nodes and each node these days could actually be a one terabyte machine. So that is actually a lot of resources. I think it could be made bigger, but so far that seems to be enough.

Shannon Williams: The pressure to hit that maximum size of 5,000 nodes or more in a cluster really is not applicable to the vast majority of the market.

Sheng Liang: And you could always manage multiple clusters with load balancing. It is probably not a good practice anyway to put everything in one superbig cluster.

Generally, we are not seeing people create huge clusters across multiple data centers or multiple regions.

Shannon Williams: In fact, I would say that we are seeing the trend move in the opposite direction.  Which is that the number of clusters in an organization is increasing faster than the size of any one cluster. What we see is any application that is running probably has at least two clusters available  -- one for testing and one for production.  There are often many divisions inside a company that push this requirement forward. For instance, a large media company has more than 150 Kubernetes clusters -- all deployed by different employees in different regions and often running different versions of their software. The even have multiple cloud providers. I think we are heading in that direction, rather than one massive Kubernetes cluster to rule them all.

Sheng Liang:  This is not what some of the web companies initially envisioned for Kubernetes.  When Google originally developed Kubernetes, they were used to the model where you have a very big pool of resources with bare metal servers. Their challenge was how to schedule all the workloads inside of that pool. When enterprises started adopting Kubernetes, one thing that immediately changed was that they really don't have the operational maturity to put all their eggs in one basket and make that really resilient. Second, because all of them were using some form of virtualization. They were either using VMware or they were using a cloud, so essentially the cost of making small clusters come down. There is not a lot of overhead. You can have a lot of clusters without having to dedicate the whole server into these clusters.

JC: Is there an opportunity then for the infrastructure provider, or the cloud provider, to add their own special sauce on top of Kubernetes?

Sheng Liang:  The cloud guys are all starting to do that. Over time, I think they will do more. Today is still early. Amazon, for instance, has not yet commercially launched the service to the public. And Digital Ocean just announced it. But Google has been offering Kubernetes as a service for three years. Microsoft has been doing it for probably over a year. If you look at Google's Kubernetes service, which is probably the most advanced, now includes more management dashboards and UIs, but nothing really fancy yet.

What I would expect them to do -- and this would be really great from my perspective -- is to bring their entire service suite, including their databases, AI and ML capabilities, and make them available inside of Kubernetes.

Shannon Williams: Yeah, they will want to integrate their entire cloud ecosystems. That's one of the appealing things about cloud providers offering Kubernetes -- there will be some level of standardization but they will have the opportunity to differentiate for local requirements and flavors.

That kind of leads to the challenge we are addressing.

There are three big things that most organizations face (1) you want to be able to run Kubernetes on-prem.  Some teams may run it on VMware, some may wish to run in on bare metal. They would like to be able to run it on-prem in a way that is reliable, consistent and supported. For IT groups, there is a growing requirement of offer Kubernetes as a service in the same way they offer VMs. To do so, they must standardize Kubernetes. (2) There is another desire to manage all of these clusters in a way that complies with your organization's policies. There will be questions like "how do I manage multiple clusters in a centralized way even if some are on-prem and some are in the cloud?"  This is a distro-level problem for Kubernetes. (3) Then there is a compliance and security concern with how to configure Kubernetes to enforce all of my access control policies, security policies, monitoring policies, etc.  Those are the challenges that we are taking on with Rancher 2.0

Jim Carroll, OND: Where does Rancher Labs fit in?

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: The challenge we are taking on is how to manage multiple Kubernetes clusters, including how to manage users and policies across multiple clusters in an organization.

Kubernetes is now available as a supported, enterprise-grade service for anybody in your company. At this scale, Kubernetes really becomes appealing to organizations as a standardization approach, not just so that workloads can easily move between places but so that workloads can be deployed to lots of places.  For instance, I might want some workloads to run on Alibaba Cloud for a project we are doing in China, or I might want to run some workloads on T-Systems's cloud for a project in Germany, where I have to comply with the new data privacy laws. I can now do those things with Kubernetes without having to understand the specific cloud parameters, benefits or limitations of any specific cloud. Kubernetes normalizes this experience. Rancher Labs makes it happen in a consistent way. That is a large part of what we are working on at Rancher Labs -- consistent distribution and consistent management of any cluster. We will manage the lifecycle of Amazon Kubernetes or Google Kubernetes, our Kubernetes, or new Kubernetes coming out of a dev lab.

JC: So the goal is to have the Rancher Labs experience running both on-prem and in the public cloud?

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs:: Exactly. So think about it like this. We have a distro of Kubernetes and we can use it to implement Kubernetes for you on bare metal, or on VMware, or in the cloud, if you prefer, so you can build exactly the version of Kubernetes that suits you. That is the first piece of value -- we'll give you Kubernetes wherever you need it. The second piece is that we will manage all of the Kubernetes clusters for you, including where you requested Kubernetes from Amazon or Google. You have the options of consuming from the cloud as you wish or staying on-prem. There is one other piece that we are working on. It is one thing to provide this normalized service. The additional layer is about engaging users.

What you are seeing with Kubernetes is similar to the cloud. Early adopters move in quickly and have no hesitancy in consuming it -- but.they represent maybe 1% or 2% of the users.The challenge for the IT department is to make this preferred way to deliver resources. At this point, you want to encourage adoption and that means developing a positive experience.

JC: Is your goal to have all app developers aware of the Kubernetes layer? Or is Kubernetes management really the responsibility of the IT managers who thus far are also responsible for running the network, running the storage, running the firewalls..?

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: Great question, because Kubernetes is actually part of the infrastructure, but it is also part of the application resiliency layer. It deals with how an application handles a physical infrastructure failure, for example. Do I spin up another container? Do I wait to let a user decide what to do? How do I connect these parts of an application and how do I manage the secrets that are deployed around it? How do I perform system monitoring and alerting of application status? Kubernetes is blurring the line.

Sheng Liang, Rancher Labs: It is not really something the coders will be interested in. The interest in Kubernetes starts with DevOps and stops just before you get to storage and networking infrastructure management.

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: Kubernetes is becoming of interest to system architects -- the people who are designing how an application is going to be delivered. They are very aware that the app is going to be containerized and running in the cloud. The cloud-native architecture is pulling in developers. So I think it is a little more blurred than whether or not coders get to this level.

Sheng Liang, Rancher Labs: For instance, the Netflix guys used to talk a lot about how they developed applications. Most developers don't spend a lot of time worrying about how their applications are running. They have to spend most of their time worrying about the outcome. But they are highly aware of the architecture. Kubernetes is well regarded as the best way to develop such applications. Scalable, Resilient, Secure -- those are what's driving the acceptance of Kubernetes.

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs:  I would add one more to the list -- quick to improve. There is a continuous pace of improvement with Kubernetes. I saw a great quote about containerization from a CIO, who said "I don't care about Docker or any other containers or Kubernetes. All I care about is continuous delivery. I care that we can improve our application continuously and it so happens that containers give us the best way to do that." The point is -- get more applications to your users in a safe, secure, and scalable process.

The Cloud-Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) aims to build next-generation systems that are more reliable, more secure, more scalable and Kubernetes is a big part of this effort.  That's why I've said the value of workload portability is often exaggerated.

Jim Carroll, OND:  Tell me about the Rancher Labs value proposition.

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: Our value proposition is centered on the idea that Kubernetes will become the common platform for cloud-native architecture. It is going to be really important for organizations to deliver that as a service reliably. It going to be really important for them to understand how to secure that and how to enforce company policies. Mostly, it will enable people to run their applications in a standardized way. That's our focus.

As an open source software company that means we build the tooling that thousands of companies are going to use to adopt Kubernetes. Rancher has 10,000 organizations using our platform today with our version 1.0 product. I expect our version 2.0 product to be even more popular because it is built around this exploding market for Kubernetes.

JC:  What is the customer profile? When does it make sense to go from Kubernetes to Kubernetes plus Rancher?

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: Anywhere where Kubernetes and containers are being adopted, really.  Our customers talk about the D-K-R stack:  Docker- Kubernetes-Rancher.

JC: Is there a particular threshold or requirement that drives the need for Rancher?

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs:: Rancher is often something that users discover early in their exploration of Docker or Kubernetes.  Once they have a cluster deployed, they start to wonder how they are going to manage it on an on-going basis. This often occurs right at the beginning of a container deployment program - day 1, day 2 or day 3.

Like any other open source software companies, users can download our software for free. The point when a Rancher user becomes a Rancher customer usually happens when the deployment has moved to a mission-critical level.  When their business actually runs on the Kubernetes cluster, that's when we are asked to step in to provide support. We end up establishing a business relationship to support them with everything we build.

JC: And how does the business model work in a world of open source, container management? 

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: Customers purchase support subscriptions on an annual basis.

JC: Are you charging based on the number of clusters or nodes? 

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: Yes, based on the number or clusters and hosts. A team that is running their critical business systems on Kubernetes will get a lot of benefits in knowing that everything from the lowest level up, including the container runtime, the Kubernetes engine, the management platform, logging, monitoring  -- we provide that unified support.

JC: Does support mean that you actually run the clusters on behalf of the clients? 

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: Well, no, they're running it on their systems or in the cloud. Like other open source software developers, we can provide incident response for issues like "why is this running differently in Amazon than on-prem?" We also provide training for their teams and collaboration on the technology evolution.

JC: What about the company itself. What are the big milestones for Rancher Labs?

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: We're growing really fast and now have about 85 employees around the world. We have offices around the world, including in Australia, Japan, the UK and are expanding. We have about 170 customer accounts worldwide. We have over 10,000 organizations using the product and over 4 million downloads to date.  The big goals are rolling out Version 2.0, which is now in commercial release, and driving adoption of Kubernetes across the board. We're hoping to get lots of feedback as version 2.0 gets rolled out. So much of the opportunity now concerns the workload management layer.  How do we make it easier for customers to deploy containerized applications? How can we smoothe the rollout of containerized databases in a Kubernetes world? How do we solve the storage portability challenge? There are enormous opportunities to innovate in these areas. It is really exciting.

JC: What is needed to scale your company to the next level?

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: Right now we are in a good spot. We benefit from the magic of open source. We were able to grow this fast just on our Series B funding round because thousands of people downloaded our software and loved it. This has given us inroads with companies that often are the biggest in their industries. Lot's of the Fortune 500 are now using Rancher to run critical business functions for their teams. We get to work with the most innovative parts of most organizations.

Sheng Liang, Rancher Labs: There is a lot of excitement. We just have to make sure that we keep our quality high and that we make our customers successful. I feel the market is still in its early days. There is a lot more work to make Kubernetes really the next big thing.

Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs: We're still a tiny minority inside of IT. It will be a ten-year journey but the pieces are coming together.


Telefónica to bundle Netflix in Europe and Latin America

Telefónica has agreed to offer Netflix service in Europe and Latin America.

Market launch in Latin American countries is expected in the next few weeks. The launch is Spain planned for the end of this year.

“This agreement is a big step forward in Telefónica’s bet on open innovation and collaboration with leading companies around the world”, said José María Álvarez-Pallete, Executive Chairman of Telefónica. “We want to offer our customers the most compelling video offering possible, whether it’s our own content or third party providers. The partnership with Netflix will significantly enhance our existing multichannel video platforms.”

“Over the next several years, our partnership with Telefónica will benefit millions of consumers who will be able to easily access their favorite Netflix shows, documentaries, stand-ups, kids content and movies across a range of Telefonica platforms", said Reed Hastings, Netflix co-founder and Chief Executive Officer. "Making Netflix available on Telefónica’s familiar, easy-to-use TV and video platforms enables consumers to watch all the content they love in one place.”

Netflix is based in Los Gatos, California.

Telefónica to resell AWS cloud services

Telefónica Business Solutions has agreed to sell Amazon Web Services in its cloud offering portfolio.

Telefónica will train and certify specialists in AWS services and best practices. AWS has agreed to have dedicated resources to support Telefónica and their customers.

Hugo de los Santos, Director Global B2B Products and Services at Telefónica commented, “Our customers are asking for advice and support in their Cloud adoption processes. AWS, with its depth and breadth of services as well as global presence, is a piece that fits perfectly in our Cloud portfolio. Telefónica’s cloud offering thus empowers our customers to run their infrastructure, applications and workloads on the most suitable Cloud service possible.”

Trump announces deal to lift export ban on ZTE

President Trump announced a deal to save ZTE by lifting the current export ban on U.S. products to the company. In exchange, ZTE is to pay a $1.3 billion fine, make changes to its management, and hire U.S. compliance officers.

As of Monday, there has not an official statement or posted order by the U.S. Department of Commerce lifting the ban.

The deal continues to face opposition in Congress, including from Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, who is threatening legislative action to block the deal.

Trade negotiations between the U.S. and China are expected to resume in early June.



See also