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DreamHost spinout Akanda offers open source NFV for cloud providers

DreamHost has spun out Akanda, an open source NFV software company that offers Layer 3-7 network services for OpenStack clouds.

Akanda Inc., a company spun out from cloud provider DreamHost, will offer an open source, Layer 3-7 virtual network functions platform for OpenStack clouds. The company is calling its technology the first production-ready open source network functions virtualization (NFV) project.

NFV emerged as a technology movement aimed at transforming the networks of telecoms. But data center operators -- both cloud providers and large enterprises -- have increasingly co-opted the NFV concept as they seek to address the Layer 3-7 network services in cloud data centers. Akanda describes its technology as an open source NFV platform for tier 2 and tier 3 cloud providers.

Akanda is DreamHost's home-grown open source NFV

DreamHost developed Akanda's software in-house as it was building out a cloud with Nicira Networks' Layer 2 network overlay and OpenStack.

"DreamHost developed its own internal layer 3-plus functionality, including routing and load balancing," said Akanda CEO Henrik Rosendahl. "That project is Akanda, and it is in production [inside DreamHost] today for thousands of virtual machines."

OpenStack Neutron has lacked rich Layer 3-7 services so far, said Jason Edelman, a network engineer at a value-added reseller in New Jersey. And there are not that many functions beyond basic load balancing.

"There are still gaps in OpenStack networking. There is some primitive stuff in there for load balancing. But there isn't IP address management," Edelman said. "When you look at what else could be there, there could be agents and APIs specific to intrusion prevention and firewalls," Edelman said.

"OpenStack desperately needs better networking, and an arms race is on for who will provide that," said Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research. "There are people who see that OpenStack is going to be a fundamental part of NFV, but there needs to be technology that is highly reliable that holds it all together."

Akanda is releasing version 0.9 of its open source software, implying that it is not yet commercially ready. Today, the technology includes a routing component, which sits on top of VMware's (formerly Nicira) NSX Layer 2 overlay (note that NSX offers its own Layer 3-7 functions as well). The second component is RUG (a Big Lebowski reference, not an acronym), a management and orchestration platform that controls Akanda's Layer 3-7 services and integrates them with a Layer 2 overlay and OpenStack. Akanda's virtual network functions exist independently in its technology stack, but they are integrated with OpenStack Neutron, he said.

Today Akanda integrates with VMware NSX, but it will expand integration in the future. It will also add more services beyond the basic routing available today.

"As we move forward, we'll have load balancing as a service and firewall as a service," Rosendahl said. "And we'll be Layer 2 agonistic, with support for Linux bridge, OpenDaylight and other Layer 2 overlays. For the time being, it's all open source Layer 2 overlays, but we may go down the path of supporting Cumulus and others. I have a feeling we'll support hardware-based systems as well, some day."

The open source version of Akanda is available today on GitHub. The company will offer a commercial version that is highly scalable, with redundant, high availability features. Akanda will offer a monthly subscription for the commercial version that is based on the number of virtual machines it supports.

Nick Buraglio, a network engineer with a global research network, is excited to see a company offer an NFV platform to plug the gap between overlays and OpenStack. "I've been waiting for somebody to do it," he said.

Akanda will need to advance cross-vendor support with its platform, Buraglio said. "I want it to be a standard thing that's flexible, easy to implement and easy to understand," he said. "If [Akanda] can [become the Red Hat] of NFV, then I think the applications of that are very wide."

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We had a good talk with Akanda a few weeks ago, And adding Sean Roberts to run engineering is a very smart move. Bringing together operational experience out of Dreamhost with experience navigating the OpenStack Foundation waters.