Interview with Matt Haines of Time Warner Cable

OpenStack enables open source shift at Time Warner Cable

Sky with clouds and grass
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Flickr user: theaucitron (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Time Warner Cable is going big with OpenStack.

Just a year into their production use of OpenStack for powering their internal cloud, they are leveraging it for everything from video to networking to deploying web applications, all on an in-house OpenStack cloud spread across two data centers. And this rapid change is getting noticed inside the company.

Matt Haines, Vice President of Cloud Engineering and Operations for Time Warner Cable, gave a talk at the OpenStack Summit in Vancouver about the cultural shift taking place as the company further leverages and participates in OpenStack. In this interview, we caught up with Matt to learn a little bit more about how their OpenStack experience has been so far and where they see it headed in the future.

Tell me a little bit about the work you do with OpenStack for Time Warner Cable.

I was brought in about a year and a half ago to create an Infrastructure as a Service platform for the whole company. My customers are all of the internal developers and engineers who build and host applications that serve Time Warner Cable customers: video, broadband, and voice products.

In providing an Infrastructure as a Service platform for the company, I’m actually deploying a handful of technologies to suit the needs of the applications. The company didn’t have an elastic, scale-out type of infrastructure so I brought in OpenStack.

How long has Time Warner Cable been working with OpenStack now?

We started in January of 2014, and it took us about six months to get our first production deployment up. When I spoke about the standup in a keynote at the Paris OpenStack Summit last year, that was just at post-launch. Now we’ve been up for coming up on our one year anniversary of going live, and the team continues to add operational capabilities to it, and to increase the scale and footprint that we have for it. We’re building out new services, including some network functions like load balancing and DNS. We’re also adding different tiers of block storage to meet the needs of certain customers who wanted very fast storage.

Why OpenStack?

We’re not exclusive to OpenStack; we do deploy some other virtualization technologies in other parts of the organization. But in trying to find something that would fill that niche of an elastic, programmatic infrastructure, the choices there aren’t as numerous. Certainly there are public cloud options like Amazon Web Services, but those don’t really fit our needs.

We have a lot of data centers, and a lot of content needs to stay inside of our network. So within those requirements, OpenStack was the clear favorite.

It has become, at this point, the Linux of cloud software, and remains the private cloud option of choice. In terms of comparing it to other commercial products out there, one of my goals was to reduce costs for infrastructure, along with improving the time that it takes for application developers to get their applications out there. OpenStack certainly helps in that manner because, not only is it open source, but it allows us to run a very commodity hardware platform under the covers, and that commodity hardware platform allows us to work with multiple vendors and really drive for competition-based pricing for all our components.

There are costs involved, of course. I have a team that continues to contribute to the OpenStack code base. So that’s a cost of using OpenStack, but the leverage we get with that far outweighs the minimal cost of the folks we have helping with that.

What’s been your experience working with the community?

I came from HP, and we had a long history of open source project participation, but contributing to open source projects is fairly new for Time Warner Cable.

When I went to sign us up with the Openstack Foundation, folks weren’t quite sure what it was that I was going to be doing. I actually wrote the company’s open source contribution policy so we could get this kicked off.

I think we’re probably the first group in the company who really contributed heavily to an open source project. The people we brought in to the OpenStack team have almost all come from the outside with lots of experience in open source projects. We’ve incubated a team that has a tremendous amount of experience in open source contributions, and I hoping that other teams see that now as a way to participate in other projects.

Have other parts of the company considered embracing open source because of the progress your department is making?

Our progress is being seen. We have a large development organization that embraces using a number of open source tools that are out there. I think people can see the advantage of the contribution side for projects like OpenStack—that for us to use it effectively, we need to get our changes upstream, otherwise we’d end up carrying a lot of patches. So, I think people are seeing that it’s a realistic and viable software model.

On the other hand, there is a cultural basis within Time Warner Cable and the cable industry in general which is typically more vendor-oriented. So even when people see it, it takes a little bit of time to get people comfortable moving there in their own direction. Not to give too much away about my talk in Vancouver, but my talk is about the cultural issues that open source and OpenStack have brought to the company.

What’s been the reaction from your internal customers to your OpenStack installation?

I think the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive for the folks who have taken the effort to develop on it and also for those who have started to migrate their applications to it. We have a couple of teams in the development side of our company who already had familiarity with an elastic cloud-based environment. And so they were our early adopters; as soon as we had it ready, they were ready to start using it. They’ve been happy to see that they have fairly capacity for their needs.

For a lot of the other customers, it’s been a gradual process through this past year of education, and why it’s different from some of the other alternatives that they’ve been using today that I offer in other parts of my shop. Generally it’s met with first a little bit of hesitation, but once people start to play with it, they’re really blown away with how fast it is, just in terms of virtual machine creation time: how everything is self-provisioned and has APIs that they can use to programmatically control their infrastructure. Those are some things that they just haven’t ever had.

What we start to see is that as we’re onboarding a team with one small application of theirs, and they’ll be back for more. For example is, we’re building out a new tier of block storage because one of these teams that was dipping their toes in the water decided to dive in, and they needed hundreds of terabytes of fast storage. It’s fun to watch, and that’s kind of what happens...

People poke around a bit, they get excited, and they want to do more.

What are some of the workloads teams are bringing to your OpenStack cloud?

We have a number of web applications. One of the teams is responsible for building web applications that the customer sees, so they’re building actual portals. These include special products we’re building for customers, like sports and news. Time Warner Cable also has an IP video-based product that’s available through desktops and mobile devices, and pieces of that also get hosted.

Our media sales group hosts a lot of data in our object storage system that they need access to, and want it reliably stored; our object storage is automatically replicated between the two regions. We have a team that’s responsible today for a pretty important part of what runs the video portion of the company, both for what we call classic video, delivered through the cable connection as well as our IP video. It is a complex system of many different services and interfaces and gateways, and we’re looking at moving a number of those pieces to Openstack, especially the pieces which need to scale.

Time Warner Cable today is doing a pilot of our next-generation set top navigation products, and that’s basically a cloud-based set top box. Our cloud represents a wide range of applications that support our services.

What are you looking forward to as OpenStack progresses?

I’m looking forward to continual progress and stability in some of the important areas which have been moving a lot recently. Networking in particular has been moving around a lot, and I’m hoping we get IPv6 nailed once and for all. There have been a lot of contributions in the last go-round to really help with that particular element. Also NFV and some of the related services like Designate are important to us.

Monasca is a new project for doing operational monitoring. We’re in the process of rolling that out in the Time Warner Cable cloud for our operational monitoring needs, as well as for our customers who need monitoring as a service. I’m really looking forward to the community hopefully pushing that project forward.

From talking to a lot of my customers at Time Warner Cable, I’m looking for things that will hopefully make their experiences a little easier than just having the raw IaaS.

This would include platforms like CloudFoundry, but it could be lots of other software services that companies are taking the time to make sure run well on OpenStack IaaS. For example, we just rolled out a Dropbox-like feature running on our OpenStack cloud for the company. I’m also interested in whether we can do Windows VDI on OpenStack. So I’m hoping that the ecosystem of people running things on top of OpenStack continues to grow.

OpenStack Summit
Speaker Interview

This article is part of the Speaker Interview Series for OpenStack Summit Vancouver, a five-day conference for developers, users, and administrators of OpenStack Cloud Software.

About the author

Jason Baker - I use technology to make the world more open. Linux desktop enthusiast. Map/geospatial nerd. Raspberry Pi tinkerer. Data analysis and visualization geek. Occasional coder. Cloud nativist. Civic tech and open government booster.