Cisco HyperFlex Application Platform – Cisco’s Kubernetes Service?

Photo by Tri Eptaroka Mardiana on Unsplash

It’s been a few weeks now since we returned from Cisco Live Barcelona. With the current COVID-19 situation, it feels as if the event happened in a different, safer world. Regardless of current developments, Cisco shared encouraging news about the evolution of HyperFlex called HXAP, or HyperFlex Application Platform. The HCI solution is now capable of supporting container-based application modernization initiatives.

It would be a long endeavour to recapitulate on HyperFlex itself. TECHunplugged’s Max Mortillaro covered HyperFlex in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 (1, 2). Since this HCI platform has matured, we asked instead Aniket Patankar (Product Management HyperFlex, Cisco Data Center BU) to explain the differentiators and customer benefits of HyperFlex (see at the bottom of this article for the video link).

Leaving HCI aside, what is HXAP, and why organizations may want to consider this platform?

Containers on top of HCI

Cisco HXAP builds upon Cisco HXDP (or HyperFlex Data Platform, one not so nice way to introduce more complicated and confusing acronyms), which is nothing else than the HyperFlex HCI platform we already know. What changes however is once we go from hardware to software. Here, the approach is quite different than what VMware is doing.

While VMware took the road of integrating Kubernetes and containers the closest to its hypervisor platform, Cisco decided that containers deserve a clean slate design. With HXAP, customers get a native, full upstream Kubernetes environment that is curated by Cisco. In their words, customers should expect a production grade environment that is hardened, secure and reliable.

How does that works, though? Cisco’s HXAP runs in a virtual environment that uses the KVM hypervisor (Cisco advertises that as a selling point that eliminates the “hypervisor tax”). This environment is not exposed to the user; instead they access Cisco’s SaaS Intersight management platform to perform operational activities at the infrastructure level, with Kubernetes nodes, and with Kubernetes clusters.

HXAP Intersight

The solution also includes native technologies such as container networking, container storage, and ingress and L7 load balancer, logging, monitoring, as well as a container registry and a service mesh.

Where next?

Cisco mentioned that the roadmap is to build an extensible platform leveraging open source technologies, with features such as bare-metal provisioning and serverless functions.

We recommend that you look at the “Additional Resources” section below (after Conclusion) for more technical information about Cisco HyperFlex Application Platform. We were privileged to attend a technical deep-dive session at Tech Field Day Extra, and we’ve embedded the video for your convenience, as well as two video interviews we made with Aniket Patankar.

Conclusion

HXAP is a welcome innovation for Cisco. It provides their customer base with a native option to deploy and consume container services on-premises, while continuing to work and leverage a platform they are accustomed to. The value of this solution lies obviously on avoiding building a complex stack (house of cards?), especially for organizations which are new to such platforms.

Enterprise Kubernetes offerings have their advantages but also their limitations. At the very least, they provide risk-adverse customers a sort of assurance that they are not alone in their journey, would things go awfully wrong. It also helps Cisco customers to leverage their investments in HyperFlex, and Cisco to demonstrate their commitment to HyperFlex and to the data center market, while continuing to be relevant as the focus shifts away from commoditized virtualization into the greener pastures of application refactoring and DevOps models.

Should organizations adopt these kind of on-premises solutions? As always it depends. There are many factors to take in consideration and Kubernetes is just one of the technologies that can enable organizations on their DevOps journey. The main challenge organizations will run into will invariably be around processes and people. Having an integrated platform helps keep the technical challenges under control, but they are just one aspect of the overall discussion.

But we can’t blame Cisco for that, and we have to say that HXAP was a nice surprise. Perhaps calling that Cisco Kubernetes Service might have been better, although it has implications on how / where that eventual service would be consumed, and that goes beyond having an infrastructure platform.

Additional Resources

TECHunplugged recorded two videos with Aniket Patankar at Cisco Live Europe 2020:

How does Cisco HyperFlex differentiates from other HCI solutions? What are the benefits for customers? We interviewed Aniket Patankar at Cisco Live Europe 2020 in Barcelona to discover more.
Is Cisco jumping into the bandwagon of Enterprise-targeted Kubernetes platforms? What is exactly Cisco HyperFlex Application Platform? We interviewed Aniket Patankar at Cisco Live Europe 2020 in Barcelona to discover more.

Don’t miss Aniket’s presentation about HXAP at Tech Field Day Extra at Cisco Live Europe 2020 to get Cisco’s perspective: