Private Cloud Bakeoff – Top Platforms for Virtualization Playgrounds

August 09th, 2016

Paulo Maligaya

Paulo Maligaya

DevOps Lead, AsiaPAC
This summer, I keep finding myself working on or around virtualization.  It’s pretty ironic (pun fully intended) for a bare metal company like Packet to spend cycles on virtualization.  But with huge demand for hypervisor-less Packet bare nodes from customers wanting to play with, test and manage the new breed of private cloud “in a box” options, we’re learning more about the various the features, networking options and use cases in popular products.

While most people spend their summer months comparing the virtues of various sunscreens, drones, or craft brews - most of us on the Packet team can just as often be caught geeking out on the latest ARM chipsets, m.2 flash form factors or Go binaries for reverse proxy load balancing.  Don’t get me wrong, we love a good combination of beer, drones and always recommend sunscreen… but one has to have their priorities in order!
This summer, I keep finding myself working on or around virtualization.  It’s pretty ironic (pun fully intended) for a bare metal company like Packet to spend cycles on virtualization.  But with huge demand for hypervisor-less Packet bare nodes from customers wanting to play with, test and manage the new breed of private cloud “in a box” options, we’re learning more about the various the features, networking options and use cases in popular products.  Two years ago, it was hard to find a solution beyond VMWare if you wanted a stable private cloud platform -- but today there are numerous compelling options.  Building and maintaining a private cloud is no longer a science project.
No thanks to marketing departments worldwide, the definition of exactly what a private cloud is could be debated at length and probably never agreed upon.  But as this is my blog post, I’ll choose my own definition: a private cloud is a single tenant infrastructure environment that can be deployed in the location of your choice.  I’m going to further narrow the playing field by saying it must have a management GUI and an API to access, deploy or manage resources.  Fair enough?  If you don’t think so, hit me up on twitter (@packethost) or stop reading ;-)

Can you name 20 private cloud platforms?  I only got to 18.

As you’ll see in a moment, I came up with a shortened list of 18 products – all of which are available for download or sale today – to include in our bake off.  This was more than we expected to find when we started making our list.  And looking at the relative age of these solutions, the vast majority have been launched or gained traction in the past 24 months.  Basically, this is pretty crazy growth.  Why? And what’s the market adoption actually look like?
If you read our blog often, you’ll recognize that a big part of Packet’s view on the cloud is that software continues to eat the world and is actively attacking the infrastructure market.  Developers have internalized the value of public cloud services like AWS and GCE and, primarily through open source software, are hacking away at the software ecosystem that surrounds and powers it.  Software is starting to deliver the DevOps experience to users outside the walls of the big public clouds.  Looking at the number of “VMWare” alternatives in our list that provide private cloud experiences, it seems plenty of entrepreneurs feel there is value to be created in making this part of the stack easier and less expensive (or just plain better).
But are these platforms delivering on the promise of a cloud experience or is it all just marketing hype?  Let’s find out.

The List

We’ve broken down our list into a few major technology categories.  The lines are blurring and many cross over, but we took at stab at 5 distinct categories, as follows:

  1. Incumbents
  2. OpenStack or Friends
  3. KVM / QEMU “VM” Frontends
  4. Other “Stacks”
  5. Container Stacks
Product Category Vendor License Virtualization? Released
VMWare Incumbents VMWare Paid ESXI 2002
HyperV Incumbents Microsoft Paid HyperV 2008
Platform9 OpenStack Platform9 SaaS KVM, QEMU, XEN 2015
HPE Helion OpenStack HPE Paid KVM, QEMU, XEN 2014
Mirantis OpenStack Mirantis Paid KVM, QEMU, XEN 2013
Proxmox VM Frontends Proxmox Paid KVM, LXC 2008
Virtualizor VM Frontends Softaculous Paid OpenVZ, KVM, Xen 2010
SolusVM VM Frontends OnApp Paid OpenVZ, KVM, Xen 2010
Virtkick VM Frontends VirtKick SaaS KVM 2016
CloudStack Other Stacks n/a OSS Xen, VMWare, KVM 2008
Eucalyptus Other Stacks HPE OSS Xen, VMWare, KVM 2008
AzureStack Other Stacks Microsoft Paid HyperV n/a
Oracle Cloud IAAS Other Stacks Oracle Paid OracleVM 2013
Jelastic Other Stacks Jelastic Paid LXC 2011
Virtuozzo Other Stacks Virtuozzo Paid OpenVZ 2001
Tectonic Container Stacks CoreOS Paid Rkt / Docker 2015
Docker Datacenter Container Stacks Docker Paid Docker 2015
Rancher Container Stacks Rancher Labs OSS Docker 2015
DC/OS Container Stacks Mesosphere OSS Docker 2015
Triton Enterprise Container Stacks Joyent OSS SmartOS, KVM 2015
Kontena Container Stacks Kontena OSS Docker 2015


VMWare - King of the Incumbents?VMWare and it’s ESXI hypervisor and vCenter suite remain the king of the enterprise datacenter.  There is significant tribal knowledge, documentation and software built around VMWare and its hypervisor supports a huge number of guest VM types.  Now on its 6.0 release train, perhaps the most confusing thing about the VMWare product suite is the number of “v-somethings” that are out there!  There is a ton of marketing speak going into the product line, with vCloud, vSphere, vRealize, vCenter and vSAN, but at the heart of it is all is the ESXI hypervisor and the GUI-driven management of virtualized server instances.  

HyperV has given VMWare a run for its money in the small enterprise market, particularly for Windows-centric IT shops, given some licensing advantages specific to Windows guest instances.  It’s also basically free if you don’t need or want a GUI.  I won’t give a blow by blow on the VMWare vs HyperV situation, but there is a good overview of feature differences, UI and licensing models, over here.

OpenStack and Friends

Make Openstack Great Again!Perhaps the most interesting movement in the private cloud space has been in the mind-share leading OpenStack project.  Pretty much since it’s start, OpenStack has been notoriously hard to configure, maintain and scale for anybody except Python+networking+server+hardware demi gods.  Over the past year, there has been a trend in delivering usability over feature-driven projects in the OpenStack community, with some companies completely changing the delivery model and others simply investing significantly into custom deployment and management solutions.

Platform9, a ~2 year old startup founded by several early VMWare executives, is challenging the typical OpenStack experience by offering a SaaS-driven fully managed experience that gets rid of the Horizon interface and replaces it with a hosted control plane.  The control panel should feel comfortable to an IT person and can support managing Kubernetes driven infrastructure as well as KVM or VMware virtualized server instances.

Mirantis is the only significant “pure play” OpenStack vendor left not owned by an incumbent hardware, software or networking company (e.g. HPE, RedHat and Cisco).  They continue to lead in commits and influence in the core OpenStack community. 

KVM / QEMU “VM” Frontends

Getting a second wind are the traditional Virtual Private Server or VPS control panels, which have extended their capabilities to link together hosts, provide APIs and offer many of the same features as public cloud solutions like OpenStack.  One key differentiator, is that some of these offerings are squarely targeted at hosting providers, managed services providers or IT organizations that have similar “multi-tenant” needs.  This is a growing market as IT organizations work to reinvent themselves as internal service providers for developers, IT consumers and other stakeholders.

Proxmox is a mature open source solution offered as an alternative for VMware/HyperV, but often used by service providers due to its open source licensing model and foundation around the Debian Linux operating system.  It has strong support for Linux Containers (LXC) in addition to para-virtualized guests on top of KVM. 

ProxMox to the Rescue
A Screenshot of ProxMox

An emerging startup backed by TechStars is capitalizing on the success of Digital Ocean, a VPS cloud provider known for its super-clean UI and developer focus.  With it’s two offerings, for service providers and for business with heavy VM usage, it aims to bring a similar experience to the private cloud market.

Other Stacks

With no other clear place to classify these, I affectionately have clumped together the hybrid or orphaned projects into an “Other” category.  There is a huge variety in these offerings, with somewhat failed open source projects like Eucalyptus and CloudStack (some would argue that point with me at length!) to the emerging Microsoft AzureStack-in-a-box (literally a box, sadly, according to the latest press articles).

Some of the more noteworthy offerings are from container-originator Virtuozzo, who has taken its huge experience in running service-provider virtualization solutions based on LXC and added enterprise storage virtualization and networking features.  

Jelastic has a comprehensive solution that tries to go more up the stack, offering both a container-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service solution bundled with its core virtualization offering.

Lastly, let’s not forget Oracle!  It’s super confusing about what they sell -- but reports and press releases suggest you can get the Oracle IaaS solution as a service or fully on premise, most likely around it’s highly engineered servers.

Container Stacks

With the rise of Docker, container-based platforms have seen enormous growth and investment in the past few years.  Some enforce strict new constructs of cloud-native computing standards, mainly in adopting distributed computing concepts.  Others simply offer a way to manage container environments from an operations standpoint -- with a focus on logging, infrastructure visibility and performance management.

CoreOS’ Tectonic solution stands out as the most comprehensive “stack” in the Kubernetes movement, and includes the CoreOS operating system, Rkt runtime and enterprise features like identity management.   Docker Datacenter is providing similar benefits, yet built around the Docker Inc suite of offerings (Docker runtime and Docker Compose and Swarm for scheduling and container management).

Mesosphere has gained huge attention for its DC/OS offering, promising a slick UI and at-scale way to manage workload for big data as well as web applications. 

Rancher, from the founding team of CloudStack, offers the most operationally-focused toolset, and doesn’t take sides by offering support for Docker Swarm, Kubernetes and Mesos scheduling mechanisms, in addition to its own Cattle offering.  The focus is on user interface, logging, composability and environments.

Rancher's UI

Last but not least is Joyent’s Triton framework, recently acquired by Samsung.  The only offering put out by a public cloud provider, Triton is based around Joyent’s SmartOS (open source solaris) and is fully open source.  With its non-Linux roots, it initially struggled to gain adoption, but with recent efforts to support Linux and the container waive (which some could argue all began so many years ago with Solaris Jails), Joyent has found a following in those that need operationally tested cloud software in their own datacenters.

In Conclusion

Whether you are looking to dive into the bold new world of container-only platforms or just wanting a private playground for running virtual machines, there are tons of great choices for building, running and managing a private cloud platform.  Please note that many of these work great on Packet out of the box, including our native DC/OS deployment using Terraform, Tectonic via the web-based provisioner, and OpenStack via Platform9.  Others we’re working to make even easier for deployment, including Proxmox, VirtKick and both VMWare and HyperV.  Stayed tuned!

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