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Bharti Airtel overhauls test/dev with container infrastructure

Startup AppOrbit's approach to container infrastructure deployment beat out Red Hat's OpenShift as a large Indian telco overhauled its test environments for speedier development.

A major telco revved up its app development and freed IT ops specialists to focus on production reliability when it replaced VMs with container infrastructure in its test environment.

Bharti Airtel, headquartered in New Delhi, India, has more than 300 million customers for its mobile telecom services in more than 20 countries in Asia and Africa. It's a VMware shop for applications in production, and deploys them to production VMs with Red Hat's Ansible configuration management and automation tool. But the IT organization began to eye container infrastructure, beginning with its dev and test environments, where it deployed AppOrbit's Kubernetes-based software over the last 18 months to quickly provision container infrastructure for application testing.

"We replaced 100 VMs in our test bed with containers and cut our costs by 60%," said Ankush Dhingan, DevOps engineer at Bharti Airtel. "It also brought our time to provision environments for unit and user acceptance testing from four hours down to two to three minutes."

Bharti Airtel also looked at OpenStack and Red Hat's OpenShift Container Platform for this purpose but was swayed by AppOrbit's approach to container storage in its eponymous software suite. Version 2.0, released last month, introduced the concept of an Application Capsule, in which groups of containers each perform compute, data, network and security roles for a given application. Modules called AppPorter and AppVizor extract data about production application environments into an Application Capsule, where it can then be replicated and redeployed in containers in the container environment. So far, Bharti Airtel has replicated up to 2 TB of application data in minutes between environments, which Red Hat OpenShift couldn't match, Dhingan said.

AppOrbit data sets
App deployment with data sets in AppOrbit 2.0

OpenShift integrates with Red Hat's external Gluster Storage-based Container-Native Storage platform, but AppOrbit manages data sets as objects in a fast scale-out storage layer that runs within Kubernetes nodes. When these data sets are stored in a central data catalog, application teams can provision new application environments tagged with contextual metadata. Similarly, the tool can share application environment snapshots with other stakeholders if needed to resolve bugs in application code.

"Usually, when you copy an application with its data, it takes a huge amount of time, but AppOrbit's replication includes the data set and moves it in a way that's not possible with other tools," Dhingan said.

We replaced 100 VMs in our test bed with containers and cut our costs by 60% ... [and] brought our time to provision environments ... from four hours down to two to three minutes.
Ankush DhinganDevOps engineer, Bharti Airtel

Bharti Airtel is the second telco to vouch for AppOrbit publicly. In July 2017, Ericsson used AppOrbit for an app developed for T-Mobile, and also cited AppOrbit's approach to data management as a standout feature. However, both telcos have limited their initial use of the product to test environments.

Bharti Airtel hasn't decided whether it will use AppOrbit to port containers to production. Converting the production environment from VMs to containers will be a slow process, Dhingan said, as the IT staff gets familiarized with containers and ensures sustained production application reliability rates with container infrastructure.

In the meantime, Bharti Airtel has integrated AppOrbit with its Jenkins CI/CD pipeline, which allows developers to provision test environments on their own, and frees operations to focus on production reliability.

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