The open source cloud company Mirantis has made a deal to help AT&T build out its edge infrastructure in anticipation of the arrival of 5G. Neither side will say how much money is changing hands, only that it involves at least $10 million.
Tied to the news, announced late last week, was an announcement that Mirantis, an early on-premises OpenStack solutions provider, was joining the OpenStack Foundation's Airship project. That's not a surprise. Mirantis is a founding member of the OpenStack Foundation and Airship would fit neatly into its flagship offering, Mirantis Cloud Platform, an OpenStack-based platform for running Kubernetes on premises. But Airship is central to Mirantis's new contract with AT&T.
All About Airship
The project was created by AT&T along with the South Korean telecom SKT and Intel and was folded into the OpenStack Foundation last May. It builds on OpenStack-Helm, software for managing OpenStack services, and allows cloud operators to manage sites through a fully containerized, cloud-native platform.
"It uses Kubernetes as the main underlying component to manage the life cycle of all of the open source packages in the network cloud," Boris Renski, Mirantis co-founder and chief marketing officer, told Data Center Knowledge. "So, every single piece of software that is going to be running in the network cloud -- including OpenStack, which is going to be responsible for VM orchestration -- is going to be containerized. Kubernetes and the tooling in Airship is going to be used to basically push out the updates and upgrades for all of these components."
This is all about making AT&T's network ready to handle 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity that will increase carriers' network capacity and promises to dramatically improve data speeds for users.
Although the company has recently been rolling out something it's calling 5G E in select markets, at best, that's only a preview of what the technology will offer when it's ready for prime time. Industry experts say it will be at least another couple of years before actual 5G connectivity is widely available and its deployment will require a considerable infrastructure investment. That infrastructure investment includes placing some computing and storage capacity in physical proximity of as many end users as possible.
"When you're rolling out 5G infrastructure, you're likely going to be dealing not just with a few data centers, or even a few dozen data centers, but you're likely going to be dealing with hundreds of data centers," Renski said, "including some of the points of presence out there on the edge. You need to have the capability to manage all of that infrastructure on a unified life cycle."
He pointed out that although container technology has made managing software easier than running applications on VMs or operating systems tied to bare metal, it becomes tricky when multiple DevOps teams are spread across the globe, with each deploying software that needs to be updated universally across the network.
"If you're upgrading a certain part or certain packages of, lets say, OpenStack Nova service, you need to be able to push one button and have hundreds of data centers propagate automatically and update this package," he said. "Given that 5G infrastructure and 5G cloud by its nature is going to be very distributed, it's a super-important capability to be able to successfully roll it out."
Airship, he said, will offer something of a single pane of glass for managing the entire system, allowing teams to deploy and manage software system-wide, whether they're in Dallas, San Francisco, or anywhere else.
The agreement with AT&T will have Mirantis focused on integration between Drydock, an Airship provisioning tool, and OpenStack's Ironic, which provisions bare metal machines. Mirantis is also streamlining the initial configuration experience of deploying Kubernetes-native services on-premises and adding support for multiple operating systems to broaden the choice of virtual network functions and minimize lock-in.
Why Open Source?
Renski said AT&T's decision to use open source solutions to build its network was partly about economics, allowing the telco to escape the expense of proprietary solutions tied to costly specialized hardware. Building a software defined system, leveraging open source software that runs on commodity hardware is not only cheaper but will create a network that will be more agile and able to adapt to meet changing needs down the road.
Perhaps just as important, he said, is that the company that once buried it's IP in copyrights and patents now thinks the telecom industry as a whole could benefit from working together to build open source solutions that can be shared industry-wide.
"For the 5G refresh cycle, AT&T's leading the charge of doing it using open standards and open technologies such as Kubernetes and Airship," Renski said. "I think that this will kind of shake up the industry and make a lot of the other telco's rolling out 5G pay attention and hopefully follow the lead. This is what we and AT&T are hoping for, that we can have the broader ecosystem of these telcos that are also faced with the same challenges of rolling out 5G actually join the Airship project and start contributing around their specific use cases, eventually making it into a standard fabric for rolling out 5G networks."