Led by AT&T, Dell takes flight to Airship open source project

Dell Technologies is joining the Airship open infrastructure project, which has been spearheaded by AT&T, in order to goose open source automation around bare metal and the provisioning of the telco cloud infrastructure.

The Airship project was formed in May 2018 by AT&T, along with SK Telecom, Intel and the OpenStack Foundation. AT&T started using Airship in December of last year.

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In February, AT&T signed three-year $10 million deal with Mirantis to use Airship for the AT&T's Network Cloud build out. Airship 1.0 launched in April of this year while Airship 2.0 will take flight in the first half of next year.

Despite gaining traction, AT&T realized it needed more partners in the Airship ecosystem, and snagging Dell was a big win, according to AT&T's Ryan van Wyk, assistant vice president of network cloud engineering. With Airship, Dell will work with AT&T and other Airship members on open source edge computing and 5G software infrastructure.

"We've been working for a while now to bring Dell into the Airship community and there's kind of a win-win here for them," van Wyk said. They have agreed to join the community and go after a set of priorities that will help us accelerate our 2.0 roadmap for Airship and specifically speak to their core competency in the hardware space.

"We're going to have them focused on working the Redfish API integration into Airship to make it easier to talk to the hardware itself. Things like remote ISO boot, and then have them working on some hardware validation capabilities integrating with a new project that's out there called Metal3-io that is going to help us integrate natively with the Cluster API in Kubernetes. This is all about how do we banish complexity in the platform with respect to dealing with bare metal servers and provisioning the machines themselves."

In addition to Metal3-io and the Kubernetes Cluster API, Dell, and Dell EMC, will also work within Airship on OpenStack Ironic. Van Wyk said that other entities are working on some of the same areas as Dell within Airship, but Dell's expertise will help speed up the deployment of physical infrastructures.

"They're going to work on RAID and BIOS configuration, exposing that to be able to be declared as part of the platform declaration that takes place in Airship," van Wyk said. "Airship allows you to declare in YAML what you want the platform to look like and then Airship goes and executes that. As we scale we want to move to a larger footprint and more geographically diverse footprints.

"One of the goals of Airship is trying to get to new footprints, smaller footprints and we think we'll get there by essentially enabling what we call the ephemeral control plane. Another goal of Airship is to feed the flywheel of SDN and allow us to lower the barrier to entry when deploying this type of infrastructure and then deploying software-defined networking access on top of that. "

Van Wyk said that an ephemeral control plane was on the roadmap for Airship 2.0.

"An ephemeral control plane is where essentially the control resources will deploy on the nodes that need to be managed," van Wyk said. "It will do whatever configurational management orchestration is required, and then they will essentially uninstall themselves and release the capacity back to the compute. Therefore they're only alert for the period they need to do action and then they go away.

"To achieve stuff like that you need some of the capabilities that we're going to be working on with Dell in terms of the native integration with the Kubernetes Cluster API, being able to talk to the machines directly, to configure things remotely. All that kind of builds together to make that possible."

Van Wyk said that Airship was still in the pilot phase having elected its technical committee last month. He said the roadmap for Airship included the Redfish control of the hardware near the end of this year.

"It'll start with the Redfish work, they'll prioritize that at the front-end and that'll probably get delivered in 2019," he said. "Then some of the hardware validation stuff probably by the middle of next year with the RAID and BIOS stuff at the tail end, probably in the third quarter. There will probably be working versions of various iterations of it (Airship 2.0), alphas, betas and so forth, starting early next year.

"I think the core message here is that we'll continue to be focused on investing in Airship and its community to make delivering open infrastructure easier for operators. Part of our goal with 2.0 is essentially to deliver a streamlined, best of breed, platform to achieve that. We want to deliver a project that an operator can just pick up and go run with. They don't have to do a bunch of custom wrapper development to make things ready."

Airship is also used as the infrastructure and manager for a number of the LF Edge's Akraino Edge blueprints, which are frameworks for 5G, IoT and a range of edge use cases.