Interview: Mirantis Co-Founder Boris Renski Talks OpenStack

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 20, 2015

Earlier this month, Mirantis announced the launch of Mirantis OpenStack 6.0, the latest version of its OpenStack cloud computing distribution. According to the company, it is based on OpenStack Juno, and version 6.0 is the first OpenStack distribution to let partners write plugins that install and run their products automatically.

OStatic has been running a series of interviews with movers and shakers on the cloud computing and Big Data scenes, and you may have seen this week’s interview with Ben Hindman from Mesosphere. In this latest interview, we caught up with Boris Renski, CMO and Co-Founder of Mirantis (shown), to talk about the company’s latest OpenStack distribution, cloud computing, and more. Here are his thoughts.

How did you first get involved with Mirantis, and how did the company initially take shape?

The company was founded a decade ago by Alex Freedland, who serves as the company chairman today. At that time it was a contract software engineering company focused on solving hardcore algorithmic problems for the EDA industry. I joined in 2006, when Mirantis bought my company of 50 people doing very similar work. We did a complete reboot and pivoted the company to OpenStack in January 2011 and have grown almost 10x since then. 

Some people feel like the OpenStack arena is getting crowded. Within it, what is Mirantis' competitive advantage?

We see only four credible vendors left standing in the OpenStack market: Mirantis, Red Hat, VMware and HP. Our competitive advantage at Mirantis is our pure-play focus. We only do OpenStack. We have no other product or services agenda to upsell, cross-sell or lock-in any customers. This OpenStack only approach lets us provide a better solution for both kinds of customers we serve - the developers that use Mirantis OpenStack and the infrastructure team that has to run it. Unlike our competitors, we are not burdened by other products in our solutions portfolio. We focus on supporting those OpenStack configurations that customers really need, not those that pull other products in our list of offerings. This applies to the infrastructure level (under OpenStack) and platform / developer tools level (on top of OpenStack). For instance, you can run Mirantis OpenStack on CentOS, with Ceph storage, Juniper Contrail for SDN and Pivotal's distribution of Cloud Foundry on top - a combination very commonly desired by OpenStack adopters but impossible for any of our big competitors to deliver and support.

Do you think the OpenStack scene is headed for consolidation, with a few big companies scooping up smaller companies?

The consolidation has already happened, I predicted it in December 2013. CloudStaling, Metacloud, and eNovance were acquired. Rackspace and StackOps pivoted to focus their business on managed hosting. MorphLabs seem to have gone away altogether. Piston and Nebula are still around, but seem to be in a niche that doesn't directly compete with Mirantis' OpenStack distribution. It is us, Red Hat, VMware and HP...and that's it.  

Do you think some of the companies currently backing OpenStack may not be so committed to completely open standards and open support strategies? Are some clearly more committed to openness than others?

I am sure that everybody has good intentions and would love to be committed to open standards. It's just a matter of legacy. If you have a multi-billion dollar business and you are a public company, you simply can't ship an OpenStack configuration that would cannibalize your existing business (see Clayton Christensen and the “Innovator’s Dilemma”). If you are a CEO of a public company and you do something like this, you'll be out the next day. Red Hat can't ship OpenStack on Ubuntu with Cloud Foundry on top. VMware can't ship OpenStack on KVM. EMC can't ship OpenStack with Ceph. But infrastructure and ops guys want Ceph and KVM and developers want Cloud Foundry and Docker. 

With your most recent 6.0 OpenStack release, customers can write or leverage plugins for the Fuel deployment manager and add to OpenStack's functionality. How would you position this, and open-sourcing the Fuel library, as competitive advantages?

With Fuel plug-ins our partner vendors can now get Mirantis OpenStack to run with their storage and networking out-of-the-box. The big problem with a complicated piece of software like OpenStack is installation and management. Every vendor in the infrastructure space wants to have an OpenStack story. But you don't quite get this story, until you enable your customers to deploy and scale OpenStack with ease. Just writing an OpenStack driver is not enough because you have to then manually configure it.  Few operations people can do this successfully (which is why we have a huge education business at Mirantis training people how to use OpenStack, more than 5,000 students to date). With installer plug-ins for Fuel, now any storage or networking vendor can get that complete OpenStack story. Fuel effectively becomes an InstallShield for OpenStack. And because Fuel is completely open and free, you don't even have to tie yourself to Mirantis OpenStack. You can write a Fuel plug-in and tinker with Fuel to get it to deploy your own OpenStack distro.

A lot of people considering or deploying OpenStack aren't familiar with tools like the OpenStack Tempest test suite, or Rally, used for validation and more. What can OpenStack users get out of these and the various certification and validation offerings that Mirantis has?

After you deploy OpenStack and before you unleash it onto your development teams (and risk looking like an idiot when everything breaks), you want to validate that OpenStack works via a series of sanity and load tests. Fuel already features a health check feature, which leverages tempest - an OpenStack testing project. Rally takes that to the next step and allows you to script custom load scenarios for OpenStack and profile the behavior of the cloud under load. We don't bundle Rally in our OpenStack distribution, but it is very popular in the community to help guide architectural decisions. We use Rally with some of our larger customers. 

Red Hat has proven that offering support and training for open source tools can be an outstanding business model. How does that model compare to your vision for Mirantis?

It is an outstanding model and we very successful embracing much of this approach. But there are many important variations of this model. In the case of Red Hat, you need to pay them money first and then you'll get the right to use the commercial version of the product. In the case of Mirantis, we don't really have a commercial version. What you download from our website is our commercial product, too. What you get with support is an SLA on case resolution and SLA on fixes and patches to various bugs. You can think of Mirantis as the Hortonworks of OpenStack in terms of business model. But, in general, it is not very different from Red Hat.