Platform9 Melds OpenStack Cloud, VMware Virtualization

The problem with both the open source OpenStack cloud controller and its analog in the VMware world, formerly known as vCloud and now known as vRealize, is that neither of these tools have the look and feel of the Amazon Web Services cloud. This means that programmers and system administrators – and it is getting hard to tell the difference between the two in this increasingly DevOps world – who cut their teeth on AWS when they create code have a jarring experience when they move it into production on a private cloud based on either OpenStack or vRealize.

This is an opportunity for Platform9, founded back in 2013 by a bunch of VMware engineers specifically trying to solve the problem of making OpenStack clouds based on the KVM hypervisor – and now those using VMware server virtualization underneath – as familiar and easy to manage as the AWS public cloud.

The launch of support for the Platform9 managed service for the combination of OpenStack and VMware’s ESXi hypervisor, its vSphere add-on functions, and the vCenter management console comes just ahead of VMware’s annual VMworld extravaganza next week in San Francisco, and it puts Sirish Raghuram, co-founder and CEO, in direct contention with VMware, which is polishing up its own VMware Integrated OpenStack, a variant of the OpenStack controller that integrates tightly with the server virtualization stack. But then again, even if Platform9 launched last summer and delivered its first product to remotely manage OpenStack clouds running the KVM hypervisor, that contention was always inevitable.

By The Numbers

It all comes down to the numbers, as it always does. VMware has 500,000 customers, and this time last year, VMware had something on the order of 45 million virtual machines spanning all of the licenses of the ESXi hypervisor. It could be as high as 50 million now. Raghuram estimates that there are around 6 million servers worldwide running ESXi, giving VMware around a 60 percent share of virtualized X86 iron. (If these numbers are correct, there is a lot more bare metal out there than most people think.) But here it the interesting bit: Raghuram says that under 2 percent of the VMware installed base is using the vCloud Director or vRealize Automation Center tools that convert virtualized servers clusters into metered and orchestrated clouds with self-service and DevOps tools. That includes customers who get the license to the software as part of enterprise license agreements and still decide not to use it. This kind of thing happens all the time with enterprise software and is by no means us picking on VMware. It is the nature of companies to be conservative. And to be precise, that 2 percent is a figure that represents the share of the VMware base that is running it and are happy with it, as Raghuram clarifies.

“Students in school for the past five or more years know how to use Amazon APIs – that is what they learn. So they go into the workforce and they know how to use the public cloud, but the private cloud, which is essentially the virtualization investment in the enterprise, is hidden behind these firewalls that exist between IT and the rest of the organization. Developers have to send tickets and have meetings to get things done. VMware tried to fix that with vCloud Director, but the product is extremely hard to operationalize.”

That said, Platform9 thinks companies want a cloud controller experience that is more like AWS and less like either OpenStack or vCloud/vRealize as it comes out of the box. And the VMware customer base is a vast, open base and one that might be more readily converted to clouds with an OpenStack option. VMware’s own efforts to have OpenStack wrap around its tools shows is maybe more than a stop-gap, also-ran effort.

VMware, we imagine, would argue that the vCloud Director tools that are now part of vRealize can and do bring the kind of experience that Raghuram says is lacking. And as a software engineer who worked at VMware from 2001 through the founding of Platform9 three years ago – and who was given the task of improving the architecture of vCloud Director – perhaps it is worth hearing Raghuram out.

“If you look at vCloud Director from a customer point of view, it is extremely complex to run and it is also inconsistent with AWS,” Raghuram tells The Next Platform. “Students in school for the past five or more years know how to use Amazon APIs – that is what they learn. So they go into the workforce and they know how to use the public cloud, but the private cloud, which is essentially the virtualization investment in the enterprise, is hidden behind these firewalls that exist between IT and the rest of the organization. Developers have to send tickets and have meetings to get things done. VMware tried to fix that with vCloud Director, but the product is extremely hard to operationalize.”

To get a look and feel like AWS, the Eucalyptus cloud controller, which is now owned by Hewlett-Packard and is part of its Helion cloud stack, was the tool of choice. Eucalyptus predates OpenStack, and while OpenStack initially was interested in AWS API compatibility, the OpenStack Foundation – at strong urging from Rackspace Hosting, a rival of AWS in the public cloud business and with NASA one of the original founders of OpenStack five years ago – decided they did not want to clone AWS. That said, OpenStack is familiar enough in terms of the workflows, the paradigm, and the interface that those who know AWS can quickly learn how to use OpenStack. This, again, is probably why VMware was so enthusiastic about its own OpenStack implementation, which lets every key piece of VMware server virtualization software plug into the OpenStack framework, when it debuted as a concept last year. (VIO is shipping this year and will no doubt be a big topic of conversation at VMworld.)

While VIO is interesting in that it solves some of the usability and familiarity issues of vCloud/vRealize by giving VMware customers an OpenStack shell to wrap around their server virtualization, Raghuram says it has some issues. First, VIO is, for many customers, too locked into VMware. (Others won’t care and will prefer one throat to choke.) Second, says Raghuram, VIO doesn’t solve the problem of actually managing an OpenStack implementation. AWS may not support customers applications, but it makes sure the infrastructure and platform services it provides are running and if something goes wrong, they fix it. If you set up VIO to wrap around ESXi and vSphere, if something goes wrong, customers have to fix it. With Platform9, it is a managed service and whether you use KVM or ESXi hypervisors, if something goes wrong with OpenStack or those hypervisors, then Platform9 fixes it as part of its subscription fees. OpenStack and hypervisor upgrades and patches are also done by Platform9.

This is similar to the Rackspace Managed Cloud, which puts Rackers in charge of supporting a private cloud installed at an enterprise. But, says Raghuram, they are managing the private clouds with more people and less automation than Platform9 is bringing to bear.

Not including Rackspace, which has an untold number of VMs on its cloud running under OpenStack using a XenServer hypervisor, we estimate that the size of the OpenStack controller base using the KVM hypervisor is probably on the order of maybe 4 million virtual machines – or about an order of magnitude smaller than the number of ESXi VMs running in the world. So having ESXi and vSphere support for The Next Platform9 tools after seven months of beta testing is a big deal for Platform9. But it is also just as important to consider the 200,000 or so accounts on AWS that are true corporate accounts with lots of developers. Many tens of thousands of these, which is about a fifth of the total 1 million-plus customer base of AWS, are targets for services like those offered by Platform9 as they move from the public cloud to a private cloud. Raghuram characterized this opportunity of being at least several tens of thousands of potential customers.

And, importantly, so are the shops that want to use KVM, ESXi, and other hypervisors on a mixed private cloud. Platform9 is agnostic about hypervisors and will eventually get around to supporting Microsoft’s Hyper-V running under OpenStack, too, but right now it is working on getting support for Docker containers out the door. One issue, says Raghuram, is that the Windows Server world (outside of the Azure public cloud and a few other big shops) does not have the same DevOps mindset that the open source community has. Docker certainly does, and Platform9 wants to strike while the container iron is hot.


Docker containers will not run atop a hypervisor in the Platform9 stack, but rather on bare metal, and rather than using the Magnum project APIs, which will integrate Google’s Kubernetes container management system with OpenStack, Platform9 may use the Nova-Docker APIs instead. (This remains to be seen.) This Docker support will beta this year and be generally available in 2016, says Raghuram.

Platform9 has two versions of its service. The Lite Edition costs $999 per year for a subscription and is aimed at prototypes or very small installations with three servers. The Enterprise Edition can scale to any number of servers and costs $2,400 per server per year. The charges are the same if customers want to use KVM or ESXi hypervisors, but that charge does not include fees for ESXi and vSphere licenses. As point of reference, vRealize Advanced Edition, which has most of the bells and whistles, costs $6,750 per socket (not per server), and vRealize Enterprise Edition, which includes the whole cloud enchilada from VMware, costs $9,950 per socket. vRealize Operations can scale to cover up to 100,000 VMs; Platform9 scales to 500 servers, up from 100 machines at the beginning of this year and presumably going to scale a lot further in the coming quarters.

vSphere Enterprise, which is the one most companies go for, costs $2,875 per socket and vSphere Enterprise Plus costs $3,495; those are perpetual licenses for all the VMware software, with a 20 percent to 25 percent annual support fee on top of that. The point is that Platform9 is considerably less expensive than vRealize on two socket servers. How much? On 100 two-socket servers, which is a modest starter cloud, the Platform9 managed OpenStack costs $1.2 million over five years, while vRealize Enterprise Edition will run just under $4 million. (That’s just under $2 million for licenses and another $2 million for support after the first year.) You can bet that Platform9 will be making economic as well as technical arguments for its service compared to vRealize. The savings can cover vSphere Enterprise Plus licensing for five years with plenty of money left over for other VMware stuff.

In other news, Platform9 has raised its Series B round of funding of $10 million, led by Menlo Ventures and with participation from Redpoint Ventures, which did the company’s $4.5 million Series A round last fall.

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