SmartDataCenter and the Merits of Being Opinionated

February 05, 2015 - by Bryan Cantrill

Recently, Randy Bias of EMC (formerly of CloudScaling) wrote an excellent piece on Why “Vanilla OpenStack” doesn’t exist and never will. If you haven’t read it and you are anywhere near a private cloud effort, you should consider it a must-read: Randy debunks the myth of a vanilla OpenStack in great detail. And it apparently does need debunking; as Randy outlines, those who are deploying an on-premises cloud expect:

  • A uniform, monolithic cloud operating system (like Linux)
  • Set of well-integrated and interoperable components
  • Interoperability with their own vendors of choice in hardware, software, and public cloud

We at Joyent can vouch for these expectations, because years ago we had the same aspirations for our own public cloud. Though perhaps unlike others, we have also believed in the operating system as differentiator — and specifically, that OS containers are the foundation of elastic infrastructure — so we didn’t wait for a system to emerge, but rather endeavored to write our own. That is, given the foundation of our own container-based operating system — SmartOS — we set out to build exactly what Randy describes: a set of well-integrated, interoperable components on top of a uniform, monolithic cloud operating system that would allow us to leverage the economics of commodity hardware. This became SmartDataCenter, a container-centric distributed system upon which we built our own cloud and which we open sourced this past November.

The difference between SmartDataCenter and OpenStack mirrors the difference between the expectations for OpenStack and the reality that Randy outlines: where OpenStack is accommodating of many different visions for the cloud, SmartDataCenter is deliberately opinionated. In SmartDataCenter you don’t pick the storage substrate (it’s ZFS) or the hypervisor (it’s SmartOS) or the network virtualization (it’s Crossbow). While OpenStack deliberately accommodates swapping in different architectural models, SmartDataCenter deliberately rejects it: we designed it for commodity storage (shared-nothing — for good reason), commodity network equipment (no proprietary SDN) and (certainly) commodity compute. So while we’re agnostic with respect to hardware (as long as it’s x86-based and Ethernet-based), we are prescriptivist with respect to the software foundation that runs upon it. The upshot is that the integrator/operator retains control over hardware (and the different economic tradeoffs that that control allows), but needn’t otherwise design the system themselves — which we know from experience can result in greatly reduced times of deployment. (Indeed, one of the great prides of SmartDataCenter is our ease of install: provided you’re racked, stacked and cabled, you can get a cloud stood up in a matter of hours rather than days, weeks or longer.)

So in apparent contrast to OpenStack, SmartDataCenter only comes in “vanilla” (in Randy’s parlance). This is not to say that SmartDataCenter is in any way plain; to the contrary, by having such a deliberately designed foundation, we can unlock rapid innovation, viz. our emerging Docker integration with SmartDataCenter that allows for Docker containers to be deployed securely and directly on the metal. We are very excited about the prospects of Docker on SmartDataCenter, and so are other people. So in as much as SmartDataCenter is vanilla, it definitely comes with whipped cream and a cherry on top!