Cisco Outlines Container Ambitions at OpenStack Summit

At the OpenStack Summit Austin 2015 conference this week Cisco made a significant effort to establish a reputation leading development of open source technologies that will prove crucial to containers.

Specifically, Cisco touted its work in creating Mantl, an open source framework for automating the management of containers, and Shipped, a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environment that is rapidly becoming a cornerstone of Cisco’s overall hybrid cloud computing strategy.

Beside the OpenStack framework itself, other key open source technologies being embrace by Cisco include Magnum, a container-as-a-service project; Kolla tools for deploying containers; Calico for building virtual networks; Kuryr for creating virtual networks between containers; Project OpenDaylight for creating a controller for software defined networks; OpenNFV for defining network function virtualization (NFV) software; and Project Contiv for defining operational policies. Contiv as it turns out will also prove critical with the context of the Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) SDN platform via a plug-in that will unified the management of containers and Cisco networking infrastructure.

At the OpenStack Summit this week Lew Tucker, vice president and CTO of Cisco Cloud Computing made it clear that open source technologies are the key to Cisco’s hybrid cloud computing strategy. Cisco has been promulgating a Cisco Intercloud architecture through which IT organizations can unify the management of multiple types of private and public clouds. Containers running across virtual machines and bare metal servers provide a mechanism for Cisco to advance that strategy using a stack of software that now reaches all the way up to the PaaS layer.

Tucker says the combination of all these technologies will enable Cisco to create a truly programmable IT environment in a way that enable Cisco to reduce its risk in developing these technologies on their own.

In the case of Shipped, however, Cisco is driving a lighter weight PaaS alternative to the open source Cloud Foundry project. While the Cloud Foundry PaaS can support Docker images there is a constituency in the container community that contends that containers by definition require a lighter weight PaaS that is more in keeping with the agile nature of container application development and deployment. While it’s still early in this PaaS debate multiple PaaS environments designed specifically for containers are being developed.

In the meantime, while there is a general recognition that Cisco is in a pivotal transition period its history thanks to the rise of open networking initiatives and open source management frameworks such as OpenStack, less apparent is the critical role the networking of containers is going to play in the the company’s overall strategy. Containers will not only provide a mechanism for Cisco to extend its influence up the cloud stack; they could ultimately make Cisco software more portable across x86, commodity processor and ASIC processor developed by Cisco. It may take several years for Cisco to achieve that goal. But the costs pursuing a multi-pronged approach to developing software across multiple classes of IT infrastructure could be substantially reduced at a time when Cisco is facing more competition than ever.

Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist with over 25 years of experience. He also contributed to IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, Baseline and a variety of other IT titles. Previously, Vizard was the editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise as well as Editor-in-Chief for CRN and InfoWorld.

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