A multinational company that's the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world, Huawei has more than 180,000 employees. In order to support its fast business development around the globe, Huawei has eight data centers for its internal I.T. department, which have been running 800+ applications in 100K+ VMs to serve these 180,000 users. With the rapid increase of new applications, the cost and efficiency of management and deployment of VM-based apps all became critical challenges for business agility. "It's very much a distributed system so we found that managing all of the tasks in a more consistent way is always a challenge," says Peixin Hou, the company's Chief Software Architect and Community Director for Open Source. "We wanted to move into a more agile and decent practice."
After deciding to use container technology, Huawei began moving the internal I.T. department's applications to run on Kubernetes. So far, about 30 percent of these applications have been transferred to cloud native.
"By the end of 2016, Huawei's internal I.T. department managed more than 4,000 nodes with tens of thousands containers using a Kubernetes-based Platform as a Service (PaaS) solution," says Hou. "The global deployment cycles decreased from a week to minutes, and the efficiency of application delivery has been improved 10 fold." For the bottom line, he says, "We also see significant operating expense spending cut, in some circumstances 20-30 percent, which we think is very helpful for our business." Given the results Huawei has had internally – and the demand it is seeing externally – the company has also built the technologies into FusionStage™, the PaaS solution it offers its customers.
Huawei's Kubernetes journey began with one developer. Over two years ago, one of the engineers employed by the networking and telecommunications giant became interested in Kubernetes, the technology for managing application containers across clusters of hosts, and started contributing to its open source community. As the technology developed and the community grew, he kept telling his managers about it.
And as fate would have it, at the same time, Huawei was looking for a better orchestration system for its internal enterprise I.T. department, which supports every business flow processing. "We have more than 180,000 employees worldwide, and a complicated internal procedure, so probably every week this department needs to develop some new applications," says Peixin Hou, Huawei's Chief Software Architect and Community Director for Open Source. "Very often our I.T. departments need to launch tens of thousands of containers, with tasks running across thousands of nodes across the world. It's very much a distributed system, so we found that managing all of the tasks in a more consistent way is always a challenge."
In the past, Huawei had used virtual machines to encapsulate applications, but "every time when we start a VM," Hou says, "whether because it's a new service or because it was a service that was shut down because of some abnormal node functioning, it takes a lot of time." Huawei turned to containerization, so the timing was right to try Kubernetes. It took a year to adopt that engineer's suggestion – the process "is not overnight," says Hou – but once in use, he says, "Kubernetes basically solved most of our problems. Before, the time of deployment took about a week, now it only takes minutes. The developers are happy. That department is also quite happy."
Hou sees great benefits to the company that come with using this technology: "Kubernetes brings agility, scale-out capability, and DevOps practice to the cloud-based applications," he says. "It provides us with the ability to customize the scheduling architecture, which makes possible the affinity between container tasks that gives greater efficiency. It supports multiple container formats. It has extensive support for various container networking solutions and container storage."
And not least of all, there's an impact on the bottom line. Says Hou: "We also see significant operating expense spending cut in some circumstances 20-30 percent, which is very helpful for our business."
Pleased with those initial results, and seeing a demand for cloud native technologies from its customers, Huawei doubled down on Kubernetes. In the spring of 2016, the company became not only a user but also a vendor.
"We built the Kubernetes technologies into our solutions," says Hou, referring to Huawei's FusionStage™ PaaS offering. "Our customers, from very big telecommunications operators to banks, love the idea of cloud native. They like Kubernetes technology. But they need to spend a lot of time to decompose their applications to turn them into microservice architecture, and as a solution provider, we help them. We've started to work with some Chinese banks, and we see a lot of interest from our customers like China Mobile and Deutsche Telekom."
"If you're just a user, you're just a user," adds Hou. "But if you're a vendor, in order to even convince your customers, you should use it yourself. Luckily because Huawei has a lot of employees, we can demonstrate the scale of cloud we can build using this technology. We provide customer wisdom." While Huawei has its own private cloud, many of its customers run cross-cloud applications using Huawei's solutions. It's a big selling point that most of the public cloud providers now support Kubernetes. "This makes the cross-cloud transition much easier than with other solutions," says Hou.
Within Huawei itself, once his team completes the transition of the internal business procedure department to Kubernetes, Hou is looking to convince more departments to move over to the cloud native development cycle and practice. "We have a lot of software developers, so we will provide them with our platform as a service solution, our own product," he says. "We would like to see significant cuts in their iteration cycle."
Having overseen the initial move to Kubernetes at Huawei, Hou has advice for other companies considering the technology: "When you start to design the architecture of your application, think about cloud native, think about microservice architecture from the beginning," he says. "I think you will benefit from that."
But if you already have legacy applications, "start from some microservice-friendly part of those applications first, parts that are relatively easy to be decomposed into simpler pieces and are relatively lightweight," Hou says. "Don't think from day one that within how many days I want to move the whole architecture, or move everything into microservices. Don't put that as a kind of target. You should do it in a gradual manner. And I would say for legacy applications, not every piece would be suitable for microservice architecture. No need to force it."
After all, as enthusiastic as Hou is about Kubernetes at Huawei, he estimates that "in the next 10 years, maybe 80 percent of the workload can be distributed, can be run on the cloud native environments. There's still 20 percent that's not, but it's fine. If we can make 80 percent of our workload really be cloud native, to have agility, it's a much better world at the end of the day."
In the nearer future, Hou is looking forward to new features that are being developed around Kubernetes, not least of all the ones that Huawei is contributing to. Huawei engineers have worked on the federation feature (which puts multiple Kubernetes clusters in a single framework to be managed seamlessly), scheduling, container networking and storage, and a just-announced technology called Container Ops, which is a DevOps pipeline engine. "This will put every DevOps job into a container," he explains. "And then this container mechanism is running using Kubernetes, but is also used to test Kubernetes. With that mechanism, we can make the containerized DevOps jobs be created, shared and managed much more easily than before."
Still, Hou sees this technology as only halfway to its full potential. First and foremost, he'd like to expand the scale it can orchestrate, which is important for supersized companies like Huawei – as well as some of its customers.
Hou proudly notes that two years after that first Huawei engineer became a contributor to and evangelist for Kubernetes, Huawei is now a top contributor to the community. "We've learned that the more you contribute to the community," he says, "the more you get back."