OpenInfra Summit 2023: The name of the game is 'it just works'

OpenInfra Summit, Vancouver, B.C., Canada – When 750 OpenStack, StarlingX and Kata Containers developers and users gathered, they weren't there for new, exciting developments. They were there to share their knowledge, insights and best practices of this open-source cloud software family. 

You see, the OpenInfra programs aren't so much about lauding the latest new features. They're about delivering stability and security for customers that demand reliability above all other considerations.  

It's no surprise then that their leading customers are the telecommunications companies. When people use their smartphones, they need one important thing: a connection. Put simply, this is why telcos such as AT&T, Deutsche Telekom and Verizon all rely on OpenInfra software. 

That's not to say that you can't do new things with OpenInfra programs. Far from it! Here are some of the top takeaways from this year’s OpenInfra Summit. 

Storage is cool again 

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and chip-maker powerhouse NVIDIA revealed at OpenInfra Summit that its ML efforts rely on OpenStack's object storage component, Swift, for ML storage. This enables NVIDIA to support massive datasets that were previously impossible to handle, improve performance and increase workload portability – ultimately allowing NVIDIA to speed up the critical ML first epoch, when an ML model first ingests data. 

"With the rise of AI and ML technologies, our primary role as storage providers is to fuel the engine with as much data as possible, as quickly as possible,” John Dickinson, NVIDIA's principle systems software engineer, said. 

Indeed, storage solutions must offer high capacity, availability and aggregate throughput to keep up with the ever-higher data demand. 

Feeling edgy 

Businesses also need software that can deal with edge computing, and that's where StarlingX, the Linux/OpenStack edge computing stack, comes in. 

"In today's world, we expect a computing network that can handle self-driving cars, always-on connectivity everywhere, drone delivery systems and smart cities. Thankfully, in 2014, along came Kubernetes,” said Jeff Gowan, marketing director for Wind River, the company behind StarlingX. 

“Kubernetes is designed for massively distributed systems. So, just like OpenStack provided the infrastructure to support [virtual machines] at scale, StarlingX provides the infrastructure to run Kubernetes in a distributed network,” said Gowan. 

StarlingX is already up and running for top international telecoms like Deutsche Telekom, T-Systems, Verizon and Vodafone. Looking ahead, Wind River expects StarlingX to roll out soon in medical centers, factories and other campus environments where it will be used to make the most of private 5G networks. 

StarlingX’s selling point is that it's power-efficient and can run on a single core of Intel 4th Generation Xeon Processors (a.k.a. Sapphire Rapids). StarlingX is also now being ported to the ARM processor family. When you are talking about thousands of sites, the power and cost savings add up quickly.  

Security is key 

Stability and performance are all well and good, but security is vital in today's cloud world. That's where Kata Containers, hardware-secured containers, come in. This marriage of container size and portability with virtual machine security makes it ideal for users who are concerned about data and process privacy. Kata Containers do this by relying on AMD SVM and Intel VT-x CPU-based virtualization technology for this protection. 

Kata Containers is becoming “the name customers ask for when it comes to security,” said Michael Withrow, Microsoft's Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) product manager, at the conference. 

Microsoft has been working on integrating Kata with Azure for over a year now, Withrow explained. Within Azure, this marriage of technologies will be used for workload isolation from a shared host, untrusted container isolation (a.k.a. sandboxing) and multi-tenancy with shared clusters. Practically speaking, Withrow said Microsoft sees large markets for this in consumer markets, banking, healthcare, the public sector and defense markets. 

While the Kata-Azure integration isn't quite ready for production yet, it's now in public preview. Microsoft hopes to have it available for customers' commercial use within the next few months, according to Withrow. “I expect many users to flock to it once it opens up for business,” he added. 

To sum it all up, OpenInfra Summit was all about good old productivity rather than hot new technology — and that was just fine for its attendees and, as one expects, their customers.