Kubernetes tool saves eBay from its OpenStack woes

TessMaster has helped eBay make containers its preferred code deployment method -- and speaks volumes about OpenStack's future role there

Kubernetes tool saves eBay from its OpenStack woes
Credit: Pixabay

Ebay's work with OpenStack has yielded fruit: A new container administration tool that makes better use of Docker and Kubernetes.

This is yet another thumbs-up for containers finding a place as as helpful units of work within an organization and for Kubernetes managing those workloads. But it's also a sign that even the biggest and most engineer-heavy IT organizations that can bend OpenStack to their will are favoring other solutions for developer convenience.

Meet your new master

TessMaster, as discussed in articles at InformationWeek and ZDNet, was designed to allow running Kubernetes at scale and inside eBay's custom cluster configuration, which allegedly consists of tens of thousands of servers running hundreds of thousands of VMs. A 2015 article at The Next Platform, detailing how eBay was augmenting OpenStack with Kubernetes, noted that the scale of eBay's datacenters compared to "those of the Rackspace Hosting and SoftLayer public clouds."

The original intention with using OpenStack this way way to allow developers to self-service their development needs. But over time, as the InformationWeek article notes, containers overtook VMs as the preferred way to manage code within OpenStack -- and OpenStack's existing container management tool, Magnum, wasn't up to the job.

To that end, eBay settled on Kubernetes as a management solution, with the internally developed TessMaster as its replacement for Magnum. The company also apparently uses its own custom build of Kubernetes, called Tess.io. TessMaster is not yet available as an open source project, but eBay has hinted nothing is preventing it from doing so. (It's not clear if Tess.io can or will be released as open source.)

From the inside out

Many of Kubernetes' usual benefits have been detailed in the above articles -- its open source origins and collaborative development, and the fact that being used internally at Google provided it with a trial by fire. But eBay's choice here is striking due to the context: It elected to roll its own Kubernetes-based solution for container management in OpenStack rather than try to improve Magnum.

This use of Kubernetes as a revitalizing ingredient for OpenStack parallels other, independent developments in the OpenStack world. Back in July, OpenStack mavens Mirantis announced a project to rework OpenStack's internal deployment system so that OpenStack could run as a series of Kubernetes-managed Docker containers.

Both examples involve overcoming or transcending OpenStack's limitations from the inside out by way of Kubernetes. In eBay's case, the problem was OpenStack's native container management system; here, the very deployment of OpenStack itself.

Ebay has consistently been touted as one of OpenStack's big success stories, but even the imprimatur of such A-list companies may be fading. The company has stuck with the open source cloud management framework, but at the expense of major internal effort. When InfoWorld's Eric Knorr talked to the company early last year -- presumably while TessMaster was under wraps -- it admitted that while OpenStack will continue to remain central to how the company manages its infrastructure, it'll be mostly used as a container meta-management system.

With developments like these on the table, OpenStack has two possibilities looming for its future. In one, it's reinvented from the inside out by container technology and becomes appealing to more than those who have the manpower to throw at it. In another, it's replaced incrementally by containers as a more granular solution to the same problems. It's remarkable that Kubernetes has now made both of those fates more likely.

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