DENVER – AT&T remains one of the most committed supporters of the Airship open infrastructure project, which recently unveiled an important 1.0 release and solidified the OpenStack Foundation’s (OSF’s) infrastructure efforts. For AT&T, that project has allowed it to simplify its network operations and – more importantly – keeps open the door for the operator to integrate other open source infrastructure platforms.
“Airship has been a good catalyst for the community,” Wheelus said during an interview at this week’s Open Infrastructure Show in Denver. “The re-branding for the OSF and its focus on open infrastructure will pay dividends over time. … We don’t really want to compete on infrastructure.”
That focus on open infrastructure was highlighted by the OSF re-naming its annual OpenStack Summit to the Open Infrastructure Show. The Airship 1.0 release was a significant part of the event’s keynote address.
The Airship project was initially based on the OpenStack Helm project that launched in 2017. AT&T, SK Telecom (SKT), and Intel took that base and updated it to provide a number of loosely coupled, interoperable open source tools for automated cloud provisioning. Those companies last year contributed the code to the OpenStack Foundation as the Airship project.
For AT&T, Airship was central to the revamp of its AT&T Integrated Cloud (AIC) platform that it was using to power the software overhaul of its network operations. Wheelus explained that Airship allowed the carrier to fix some of the issues it was beginning to run into with that legacy platform.
“It really allowed us to simplify software delivery and lifecycle management,” she noted. “That was one of the pain points with AIC and how we initially implemented those processes wasn’t ideal.”
Wheelus noted that AT&T is now using all of the Airship components in its network. And that the carrier has been able to release five updates to its Airship platform this year. “We are doing that this year with minimal interruptions to our testing,” she said.
One increasingly important component of Airship is Kubernetes. The orchestration platform allows for management of containers in an infrastructure architecture and is housed within the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). Wheelus noted that the Kubernetes integration shows the collaborative efforts touted by OSF Director Jonathan Bryce during his keynote presentation.
“What’s important is to show you can integrate and work across what are the best platforms in open source,” Wheelus said. “We need to work together because technology is evolving. Five years ago containers were just a blip, but now they are something that everyone wants to work with.”
However, that work continues at a cautious pace. Wheelus explained that while the carrier is moving for deeper Kubernetes integration, there are still some challenges tied to multi-tenancy, which is the ability to isolate tenants of a cluster, and throughput.
“Security and throughput capabilities for our runtime are not quite there yet as an industry,” she said, adding that AT&T was working with the Kubernetes and OpenStack community to solve those issues.
Wheelus explained that on the first issue, “We containerized our control plane so we don’t have multi-tenancy and don’t have to be concerned over security because we don’t have another tenant.” The carrier also continues to rely on a virtual machine (VM)-based runtime environment, but that “we will ultimately evolve that to a containerized runtime environment,” Wheelus said.
One area of focus within the OpenStack Foundation that could help is the Kata container project. That project was launched in late 2017, and is focused on running a dedicated kernel within each container as opposed to the standard container practice of sharing a kernel between multiple containers. The OSF this week confirmed Kata containers as a pilot project and ready for use in production environments.
Wheelus said that AT&T was looking to begin work with the Kata container community to support a multi-tenant structure for its container deployments.
As for throughput, Wheelus noted that “for some reason you don’t get the same performance as in bare metal and VMs, so we need to solve that with the networking open source projects. It’s an evolution and we are going to continue to see that evolve.”