Awnix: OpenStack Power with SDN

Rick Kundiger, Founder & CEO The deployment of any kind of infrastructure platform, especially at a large scale for enterprise workloads, often faces issues regarding flexibility, budget, security, and agility. Businesses and Government organizations are facing increased pressure to provide more and more services at a faster pace, in a secure manner, and at a lower cost. Proprietary platforms, and their expensive licensing fees, silo’d personnel, and silo’d architectures are no longer in favor. DevOps is real, and enterprises are embracing it. Downtime or “ maintenance windows” are accepted less while the need for continuous delivery continues to rise. Self-service is in, and service tickets are out. In short, it is 2016, not 2006, and data center hardware and software infrastructure, processes, and needs have evolved. The platform must evolve with them. This is the new normal, this is the “cloud”.

However, this new norm doesn’t change the need for security, high availability of critical services, comprehensive backup and disaster recovery, and regulatory compliance (for some industries). Many businesses and government organizations have valid concerns that moving away from legacy platforms will cause problems due to possible increases in complexity, lack of necessary enterprise features, lack of security, lack of personnel knowledgeable on the new platform, and lack of support. The thought is that only the largest organizations, with big budgets and a deep bench of highly skilled IT personnel, can accomplish the goal of moving from legacy this new Cloud norm.

These same businesses and government organizations have looked to the public Cloud to meet their needs in the new norm. Many have found that the public Cloud may meet some of their needs, but the previously mentioned concerns remain and are compounded by other concerns. These include protection of intellectual property, privacy, and the ability to control the Cloud’s technology roadmap to meet unique requirements. These organizations are stuck—unable to utilize public Cloud and concerned about implementing their own private Cloud.

Enter Awnix Engineered Systems for OpenStack with SDN

Moving from legacy to the private Cloud is complex. “Hundreds of decisions must be made regarding hardware and software architectures and infrastructures, explains Rick Kundiger, CEO, Awnix. “New equipment and software must be purchased, installed, and configured. Extensive testing must be conducted, virtual workloads must be migrated and any gaps the enterprise needs must be addressed. This can cost an organization hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and a year or more to complete. We overcome this by providing a curated, turnkey, OpenStack-based appliance to our customers so they can get down to business faster than they could if they took the DIY route.”

It all began in 2012, when architects Rick Kundiger and Mike Meskill were tasked with building a new virtualization platform for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the time, the USDA’s Federal Data Centers were facing a series of challenges around cost, flexibility, and agility of their existing legacy virtualization platform. The desired solution was to deploy a cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platform that can offer massive scalability and simplicity of implementation while driving down operating costs and maintaining security. Embracing “the core builder and manager of cloud computing platforms,” the duo decided to transform the challenges into their strengths.

The first step was to find a virtualization framework that would help with the cost, flexibility, and agility issues. After looking at all the options, OpenStack was their preferred choice. Next, they had to develop a working platform in 90 days. They began by using the OpenStack Folsom release code from trunk and integrating Software Defined Networking (SDN). It was at a time when OpenStack was relatively new in the market and was facing a number of issues. Deploying OpenStack was very complicated and the networking service, Quantum at the time (now called Neutron), was immature and insufficient.

“Deploying OpenStack was very complex,” says Meskill. “It also had gaps in its networking service and SDN didn’t fully integrate with OpenStack at that time. So we worked closely with Nicira—pretty much the pioneer of what we call SDN today—to get SDN integrated, installed OpenStack on some end-of-life equipment, and presented the platform to the CIO of the Federal Data Center, who was impressed and agreed to fund our project to build an enterprise-grade version.”

By the end of 2013 Rick and Mike had built and deployed a multi-site, multi-tenant OpenStack-based Cloud platform with integrated SDN, developed a support and operations team and associated processes, and certified the security of the Cloud platform for use by Government organizations under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) “High” and FedRAMP.

All our products are designed to meet the stringent requirements of the regulated market space…We don’t build less secure solutions, whether we are deploying for a Federal agency or a public company

The response they received from government entities both within the USDA and outside of it was overwhelmingly positive. “During one presentation to the CIO of USCIS was shown a live demo and at the end stated, ‘that is magic,’” says Mike Meskill, “You don’t get much better feedback than that!”

This type of response was common amongst the over two dozen Federal Government organizations that they provided demos to. “This got us thinking about creating Awnix,” says Rick Kundiger, “We knew OpenStack with SDN was amazing, and apparently a lot of others agreed with us. The market was underserved and wanted to help IT organizations save money and increase productivity.” So Rick and Mike resigned from the Federal Government in 2014 and today Awnix is helping large enterprise clients leverage the power of OpenStack to increase agility and reduce costs surrounding their IT infrastructure.

Understanding the Enterprise Challenges

With decades of experience designing and deploying complex new platforms and systems for the Federal Government for military and civilian organizations within the United States and throughout the world, Rick and Mike designed and developed a turnkey, hyperconvered, OpenStack Cloud platform with SDN. “It’s an appliance,” explains Mike Meskill, CTO and Founder, Awnix. “We spent weeks brainstorming all of the issues we’ve ever experienced when deploying a new platform, from idea to production use, and created a design which is delivered complete and ready to use improving time to market and return-on-investment (ROI).”

Awnix is not first company to deliver pre-built racks of hardware and software, “but we are the first to do it for OpenStack,” notes Kundiger, CEO and Founder, Awnix, “We also provide support, managed services, monitoring, and train clients on how to administer the platform on their own. We want them to know how to administer OpenStack to help address the local knowledge concern, and we’re always here to back them up with support if they have an issue or a question.” Awnix continually tests multiple distributions of OpenStack with SDN in their lab, on real hardware, to ensure they provide their clients with curated and stable platform and smooth update and upgrade experience as well. “We don’t test on DevStack,” Kundiger says, “and we don’t deploy Triple-O. That’s like putting a see-saw on top of a see-saw.”

Awnix’s OpenStack Cloud’s self-service capabilities deliver ROI as well. Developers no longer have to wait to get their VMs as their build request sits in a ticket queue somewhere. They can log in, build the VMs, networks, firewalls, anything they need by themselves, and get to work. “When developers are more productive, they iterate faster and deliver value to the organization faster. With our platform, they can model their own applications, so when they go to production, implementation is simplified,” states Meskill. “We call all of this ‘ticket destruction’; our goal is to help our clients eliminate all the help desk tickets, so they can move faster and deliver value faster.”

The company further addresses enterprise IT concerns by investing in a series of features like back-up and restore, off-siting and Disaster Recovery (DR), instance (VM) high availability, and dynamic resource scheduling, that are primitive in OpenStack. Many businesses and government organizations are required to have some of these capabilities by regulation while others need them to protect their data or ensure their critical services stay online. “We developed these tools, so that companies and government agencies can immediately use the features they need to meet compliance requirements, and the peripheral benefit is they also help those without such external requirements, but need to keep their data safe and services online,” says Meskill.

When it comes to security, Awnix has that covered, “All our products are designed to meet the stringent requirements of the regulated market space, without compromising usability or driving up costs. We don’t build less secure solutions, whether we are deploying for a Federal agency or a public company,” he adds. All these Awnix tools combined, delivers an enterprise-like experience with OpenStack—true to the company’s work culture, “solving problems, rather than just delivering infrastructure.”

Backup, Restoration, DR, and HA Made Easy

Whether it's a government agency subject to regulatory compliance, or a business that wishes to protect its data and services, backup and Disaster Recovery (DR) is a key criterion for choosing any Cloud platform.
Mike Meskill, CTO & Founder“Our ARChive product delivers this. It’s built with the government and regulated markets in mind but is applicable to any corporation or organization that wants to ensure their critical workloads, services, and data are safe,” explains Kundiger. ARChive is a backup, restoration tool, delivering both DR and business continuity services, including replication of volumes, images, instances, networks, tenants, and more.

The use-cases for ARChive are numerous. It is designed to backup all instances automatically by default and has a customizable backup and retention policy. It can be configured to run on a single OpenStack cloud, replicate one-to-one with another Cloud, or in a meshed topology with backups being replicated across multiple OpenStack Clouds in a many-to-one or one-to-many type of scenario. ARChive has even been used by an Awnix client to perform a rebuild of a production OpenStack Cloud. “The customer needed to change distributions but couldn’t lose any data or go offline during the transition,” says Kundiger, “So we used ARChive to backup and restore one OpenStack Cloud to another and cutover, all users, tenants, everything, we then rebuilt that cloud, failed everything back, and then rebuilt the secondary cloud with zero loss of data or configurations.”

"We call all of this “ticket destruction;” our goal is to help our clients eliminate all the help desk tickets, so they can move faster and deliver value faster"

Another innovation in Awnix’s arsenal is Awnix High Availability (HA) solution—which offers the ability to restart instances—virtual machines—on other hosts. “Our HA software runs on all nodes and has been tested up to 250 nodes so far, it notifies the admin via Slack, e-mail, or text of any node failures and takes appropriate action,” states Meskill, although he considers the HealthCheck component of the HA service, which monitors node via custom scripts, as their coolest development. “Instance HA today simply means restarting an instance on another node if the one it is on fails. Our HA product is unique in industry and goes beyond that by enabling the admin to write a custom HealthCheck script to monitor all hardware, software, and services on the node. If the HealthCheck script discovers an issue the admin will be notified and instances migrated—live—before there is an outage. We want to enable our customers to resolve issues before they happen wherever possible.”

Staying ahead of the Competition

“Building the best thing, solving complex problems, creating whole new designs and tools, and doing this while keeping costs down—that is our legacy,” says Meskill. “Our goal is simple: we want raving fans, not just happy customers,” he adds. OpenStack has new releases every six months and new peripheral projects that often pop up. “If there is a new OpenStack software project that a customer wants to use which we haven’t installed or integrated before, we’ll simply learn and do it,” says Kundiger, who confidently devoirs OpenStack as the future of cloud computing. Well, he seems to be right as Forrester Research’s newly issued report, ‘The State of Cloud Platform Standard, Q4 2016,’ regards OpenStack as the de facto standard for computing and storage in the cloud.

In addition, though OpenStack faces tough battle from other IaaS platforms, Kundiger believes that OpenStack’s approach to cloud computing will make it a safe bet always . Forrester’s research report too acknowledges Kundiger’s view as it states OpenStack as the only Open Source IaaS project that has any real momentum or clout.

Racing ahead in the sector, Awnix will continue its focus on adding innovative features to the OpenStack space, providing an enterprise-ready, out-of-the-box experience. This will include new features as well as ongoing product refinements. “Part of the value we bring to our clients is keeping track of what’s happening in the OpenStack community, so that we’re constantly delivering the most current and well-curated set of services that they need in order to support the IT services their application developers need,” reveals Kundiger. Another key focus is to continue to improve features around core projects like Nova compute, Cinder block storage, Swift object storage, Neutron networking, Keystone identity management, and Glance image service.

Awnix’s team also keeps a keen eye on the container orchestration systems, which are often considered as the biggest competitor for OpenStack. “We have been using containers ourselves for years, and we continue watching the container ecosystem, build and evaluate container orchestration system releases of note, and are currently developing and testing a container-centric engineered system to bring to market as demand picks up and we can ensure it is both secure and stable,” concludes Meskill highlighting the company’s bottom line—‘Awnix is a solutions company, not just an OpenStack company.’


Lees Summit, MO

Rick Kundiger, Founder & CEO and Mike Meskill, CTO & Founder

Provider of engineered systems for OpenStack with Software Defined Networking (SDN)