Mirantis scored an eight-figure, multi-year deal to provide AT&T with core infrastructure software to run the carrier’s 5G services. The central component of that core infrastructure is Kubernetes and is part of AT&T’s previously announced Airship initiative.

Mirantis CEO and co-founder Adrian Ionel explained that the company’s platform allows Kubernetes to be run on-premises, on bare metal, or in the cloud. And in the case of its latest work with AT&T, that Kubernetes base supports OpenStack as a workload on top of the container orchestrator.

Ionel explained that its work showed that Mirantis was able to bind the Kubernetes substrate to bare metal and that it could get that substrate to work at scale. He said that Mirantis expects the platform to run a few thousand nodes this year, and then scale to 10,000 nodes over the next three years, and more than 20,000 nodes “in the years to come.”

“This is really about Kubernetes taking a prime role in the future infrastructure of a gigantic carrier,” Ionel said. “The scale of this is really staggering.”

In addition to its 5G service, the platform is also supporting AT&T’s FirstNet public safety network that is running as a workload on the carrier’s Network Cloud infrastructure. “This really shows the security improvements that have been made by the Kubernetes ecosystem,” Ionel added.

Kubernetes, OpenStack

For the AT&T implementation, Mirantis is running OpenStack on top of Kubernetes. But, Ionel said that’s not the only way for those two platforms to operate. He explained that operators should view them equally with the correct implementation dictated by the network architecture.

“My view is that the ideal architecture will be for Kubernetes to run on bare metal on-premises with everything running on top,” Ionel said. “But for those with a lot of OpenStack already deployed, they can run Kubernetes on top to manage containers and virtual machines and take advantage of a level of abstraction that is not quite there with Kubernetes.”

As an example, Ionel said Mirantis was working with India’s Reliance Jio on running OpenStack on top of Kubernetes. It is also working on a smaller deployment with carmaker Volkswagen to run Kubernetes on OpenStack in an on-premises environment.

The AT&T agreement, obviously, also calls for Mirantis to join the Airship project. As part of that work, Mirantis is focused on integration between the Drydock pluggable bare metal provisioning API for Airship and the OpenStack Ironic project that provisions bare metal machines. It’s also working on streamlining the initial configuration process for deploying Kubernetes-native services on-premises, and supporting multiple operating systems to broaden the choice of virtual network functions (VNFs).

Mirantis’ work also involves integration of code from its Mirantis Cloud Platform (MCP). That integrated cloud platform supports virtual machines (VMs) using OpenStack, containers using Kubernetes, and bare metal, all on the same cloud.

The company last year launched its MCP Edge platform that is based on Kubernetes. It uses the container orchestration platform, OpenStack, and Mirantis’ DriveTrain infrastructure manager to support operators in deploying a combination of container, VMs, and bare metal points of presence (POP) that are connected by a unified management plane.

“It’s basically a Kubernetes distro that is purpose built for service provider edge deployments,” explained Boris Renski, co-founder and chief marketing officer at Mirantis. “We are specifically targeting the infrastructure substrate that infrastructure would run at an aggregation location.”

Airship Rising

AT&T launched Airship last May through a partnership with SK Telecom, Intel, and the Open Stack Foundation. That work evolved out of past work between the organizations as part of the OpenStack Helm project that started in 2017.

The initial focus of Airship is the implementation of a declarative platform to introduce OpenStack on Kubernetes (OOK) and the lifecycle management of the resulting cloud. Basically, Airship allows operators to manage cloud sites at every stage from creation through minor and major updates, including configuration changes and OpenStack upgrades. It does this through a unified, declarative, fully containerized, and cloud-native platform.

“What Airship allows us to do is containerize our control plane,” Amy Wheelus, vice president of AT&T’s Network Cloud, told SDxCentral during a carrier event late last year. “This reduces the size of the control plane so the overhead went down and the unit cost is better. It also allows us to move faster.”

Airship is also the basis for AT&T’s 5G network launch. “5G is our first use case,” Wheelus said, adding that the carrier has virtualized its 5G core that is now riding on its Network Cloud and being provisioned by Airship.

Wheelus at that time also mentioned that the carrier was still working through maturation issues with the platform. She explained that the most pressing issue is minimizing the impact on network operations during more frequent update cycles.

“In Network Cloud if I have to reboot a host there will be an impact,” Wheelus said. “VNFs today are not as mature as a traditional IT app that works on the cloud. Those are more stateful, and that is a challenge for rebooting in a container environment.”

Renski said that the Airship ecosystem has made significant maturity gains that Mirantis is now bringing back into its MCP product. This includes replacing some of its DriveTrain lifecycle management components with what it’s developing with Airship.