Platform9 brings cloud management as a service to VMware users

Private cloud environments can bring CIOs efficiencies, but they can be difficult to set up and manage, especially if using open source software. Cloud service startup Platform9 will manage it for you as a service – and it just launched support for VMware, too.

Platform9’s service offering revolves around OpenStack, the open source cloud orchestration layer originally developed by RackSpace. OpenStack is a control system that manages cloud computing platforms. It sits atop a third party virtual machine layer, known as the hypervisor, which handles the separation of operating systems from the hardware. It is possible to run OpenStack atop multiple hypervisors to support legacy environments, but configuration and setup can be complicated.

OpenStack has been dogged by questions of manageability. It provides an open platform for cloud services, but takes some legwork to configure and scale. This is what Platform9 set out to fix.

CEO Sirish Raghuram, who originally worked at VMware, saw clients having problems running enterprise cloud systems on Amazon Web Services. He suggested that they use VMware in a co-location environment, but they explained that it would take too large an investment in engineers.

“We started the company to offer an Amazon -like experience for any infrastructure that you already own,” he said. “It’s a management fabric based on OpenStack that creates and manages the private cloud.”

Platform9 does all this as a hosted service. It installs agents on customers’ existing hardware, and then runs the management layer from its own site.

Until recently, Platform9 could only manage OpenStack atop the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor found natively in Linux, but this week, it announced support for vSphere, VMware’s own virtualization system.

The rationale for this is that large numbers of enterprise customers have already invested in vSphere, not least because it is a better platform for certain kinds of applications, said Raghuram, specifically enterprise applications that are native to the cloud.

“If you need the underlying infrastructure to be resilient, then vSphere is for you,” he said. “There are also budgetary and operational dynamics at play. If you just justified a $3 million vSphere investment, you can’t say ‘hard left, we’re going totally OpenStack’.”

He also argues that vSphere is a portal-based IT operations system, deployed before Amazon Web Services ushered in API-based self-service models that enable software developers to directly access cloud-based services on their own.

“Openstack has a control plane that’s agnostic, and it has drivers for KVM. The VMware stuff wasn’t really a priority for us, but at the same time, vSphere is popular in the enterprise, and with 6 million hypervisors out there, that won’t change overnight,” he said. “Those people have been looking for a way to deliver some functionality that OpenStack has.”

What other hypervisor systems is the company interested in? Hyper-V, Microsoft’s system, is low on Rahuram’s list of priorities. He argues that organizations that have latched on to the cloud are more linens-centric than Windows-centric.

“Hyper-V adopters are often traditional enterprise IT shops that bordered as part of the standard enterprise operating system,” he said.

Instead, he is targeting the DevOps culture, in which software developers and operations teams work more intimately together using typically open source-based products.

The company is focused on private cloud solutions today, in which CIOs want to make better use of on-premise hardware. But won’t those CIOs be nervous about handing off management to a remote third party?

“When you deploy a solution on-premise, the IT group owns the service level agreement. OpenStack is difficult to ‘operationalize’ and the IT is not confident owning that SLA,” he argues. “We provide the SLA contractually, so it’s our neck on the line. It’s not the IT person. They don’t have the responsibility for it, we do.”

That may be cold comfort if a private cloud goes down, business is disrupted, and the CEO is on the warpath, though.

In time, the company will begin to target hybrid cloud environments with its services, where customers are using some equipment on-premise in conjunction with hosted equipment elsewhere.

Platform9’s service proposition has excited investors enough to give it $10 million in series B funding. The funding round, which it announced this week, brings its total funding to $40.5 million. The round was led by Menlo Ventures, and previous investor Redpoint Ventures also participated. He will be using the money to accelerate its product roadmap.

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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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