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Cloud Native/NFV

CenturyLink Runner Automates Hybrid IT

CenturyLink today is introducing an automated infrastructure orchestration capability in a cloud-based service called Runner that it says will let enterprises and smaller businesses more effectively manage and use their cloud and data center infrastructure in a hybrid environment.

Built initially using Ansible tools, Runner automates a lot of the manual processes of turning IT resources up and down, configuring them and tracking performance across multiple public clouds -- including the CenturyLink cloud -- as well as private clouds and private data centers. Unlike hybrid cloud services from Verizon and AT&T, which focus on network connections to cloud, Runner is about managing the infrastructure itself, in an automated way that can save enterprises money, says Chris Kent, senior lead product manager at CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL)

He offers up a couple of quick examples: Runner would let any business power down infrastructure not in use, as during overnight hours, to save costs of operation, and turn it back up when needed, in automated fashion. And it lets companies automatically run patches across their entire infrastructure.


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"It is a state-based and massively parallel product, you can do thousands of servers and do [the process] repeatedly and you are going to get the same result every time," Kent tells Light Reading in an interview. Runner "will check to make sure [infrastructure] is the state it needs to be. It can be at any scale at any level, whether it's one person doing a couple of machines or an entire organization managing the enterprise infrastructure for a global set-up."

Initially, CenturyLink was designing an applications programming interface product but the feedback from users was that they wanted more, and Runner goes beyond that in delivering an open source automation and orchestration engine that is cloud-based and able to manage resources anywhere an Internet connection is available, he says. Today, many IT managers are using Puppet and Chef tools to do a lot of this manually.

Built on APIs and a dashboard developed internally at CenturyLink, Runner lets managers create jobs on the dashboard simply and run those jobs with a single click. The idea is to extract the need for manual human orchestration, both to reduce costs and error rates and to get beyond the growing complexity of hybrid environments, Kent says.

Once software clients are installed in a customer network, the platform essentially "listens for jobs" that are needed to be run, and that can include reacting to situations where resources are exceeding established thresholds of usage, he says. So if CPE or storage anywhere within the infrastructure hits an 80% level, there is an automated response.

Runner can manage network connections, to the extent that the user has that as an established capability already by subscribing, for example, to a bandwidth-on-demand capability.

CenturyLink sees Runner as a competitive advantage both for serving and retaining its current cloud platform customers and for attracting new ones. In developing the Ansible-based platform, the CenturyLink Cloud group has also contributed much of its work into the open source process.

"We basically took Ansible and blew it apart and put it back together with a bunch of features" that now apply to the multi-cloud environment, he says. "If you were to go in right now and download Ansible from RedHat, there are a bunch of modules in there that we have contributed back, so you can easily start creating things within our environment like load balancing management, group policy management and those kinds of things."

By contributing this to the code base, CenturyLink expects to lower the barrier of entry for other development teams to enable even more integration and automation, he says.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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