Google & Netflix Launch 'Kayenta' for Cloud-Scale Continuous Software Delivery

Kayenta is open source software designed to help operators incrementally roll out application upgrades at cloud-scale without breaking things.

Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading

April 10, 2018

4 Min Read
Google & Netflix Launch 'Kayenta' for Cloud-Scale Continuous Software Delivery

Enterprises looking to deploy application updates rapidly without breaking things are getting help from two of the biggest and most successful hyperscale cloud providers.

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) are teaming up to launch "Kayenta," an open source tool for continuous software delivery at cloud scale.

Kayenta is designed to help cloud application providers get beyond the old "waterfall" software delivery method, where updates take months or years to come out, and move to a continuous update cycle, where updates are happening all the time.

Figure 1: Cloud-scale applications are complex and easily broken, much like this 1931 device from cartoonist Rube Goldberg. Cloud-scale applications are complex and easily broken, much like this 1931 device from cartoonist Rube Goldberg.

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The problem with continuous updates to software delivered over the cloud -- a.k.a. software-as-a-service, or SaaS -- is that developers find it difficult to test software to be sure it doesn't break production systems before deployment. The solution to that problem is to deploy to a small number of users at first, test for problems, and then deploy to a larger number if no problems are found. If problems are found, then roll back, adjust and iterate. This process is called "canary analysis," after the old practice of coal miners bringing canaries to work (great for the coal miners, hard on the canaries).

Using canary analysis, it's easy to detect problems if the update crashes your application, but slight degradations of service can be difficult to detect, and yet extremely harmful if deployed to users on a global scale, Andrew Phillips, Google Cloud product manager, said in an interview.

"As humans, we're bad at detecting small changes, and we're very bad at determining whether a small change is in the statistically expected range of fluctuations," Phillips said. In other words, it can be difficult to determine whether a small change in application performance is due to a code update, or whether the change is just random.

That's where Kayenta comes in. Kayenta is an open source tool that works with Spinnaker -- an open source continuous deployment tool initially developed by Netflix -- to automate rolling out software updates at small scale, test for small changes, and then either roll the update out at wider scale or roll it back for bug fix, Phillips said.

"Every organization says, on the one hand, we must move faster, but we also have to stay safe -- can't afford to break all our production applications," Phillips said. Kayenta is designed to help enterprises resolve that paradox.

"Developed jointly by Google and Netflix, Kayenta is an evolution of Netflix's internal canary system, reimagined to be completely open, extensible, and capable of handling more advanced use cases," according to a post on the Google blog Tuesday. "It gives enterprise teams the confidence to quickly push production changes by reducing error-prone, time-intensive, and cumbersome manual or ad-hoc canary analysis."

Kayenta apparently competes with at least one startup. Jyoti Bansal, who founded AppDynamics, which sold to Cisco for $3.7 billion last year, is focused on "continuous application delivery as a service" with his new startup, Harness. Harness is designed to let app developers get new features and upgrades out to users fast, while also ensuring security and application stability. (See AppDynamics Founder Launches 'Harness' for Continuous App Delivery.)

And in a related development, startup Gremlin is looking to make "chaos engineering" widely available -- taking out components of an Internet application, such as individual servers or connections -- on a controlled basis, to test whether the system recovers gracefully. (See Gremlin Looks to Bring 'Chaos Engineering' to the Masses)

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About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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