HashiCorp shops hope new Consul service comes at lower cost

Multi-cloud hosted services planned for HashiCorp products, including Consul, Vault and Nomad, would reduce IT ops overhead, users say, but prices must be affordable.

Offloading HashiCorp Consul operations work to a new, multi-cloud managed service platform intrigues some IT pros, but they hope it will also have cost advantages over existing enterprise products.

HashiCorp plans to build a HashiCorp Cloud Platform (HCP) that will include managed versions of Consul service mesh, Nomad container orchestration, Vault secrets management and Terraform infrastructure as code (IaC) products.

This week, HashiCorp took its first step in that plan with a private beta version of the HashiCorp Consul Service on AWS. The cloud-native software vendor also moved its previously announced Consul Service on Azure to public beta this week, with general availability expected in July.

The new services lay the groundwork for an abstraction layer within HCP called the HashiCorp Virtual Network, which will simplify the management of network minutiae such as AWS VPCs and Azure VNets for users, automatically connect individual cloud networks through peering, and centralize multi-cloud network management through Consul service discovery and service mesh.

The Consul service is especially interesting to HashiCorp shops because service mesh is both crucial to multi-cloud workloads and difficult to manage.

"There are a lot of features in Consul that we haven't enabled because it takes time to manage it well, so I'll be watching this product closely," said Phil Fenstermacher, systems engineer at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. "It has the potential to make it easier for smaller companies like ours to fully adopt the HashiCorp Suite following all of the best practices."

So far, William & Mary has focused on Consul's service discovery and key value stores, rather than its service mesh and advanced networking features, Fenstermacher said.

IT pros already well-versed in HashiCorp products welcomed the prospect of offloading operations work to managed services. But they added that a pricing advantage over self-managed enterprise editions of HashiCorp's software would also be crucial.

"[HCP] could be a game changer in many ways, by allowing customers to skip boilerplate work, but it's quite dependent on the pricing," said Andrey Devyatkin, senior systems engineer at Hippo, New York-based makers of an app that manages prescription drug pricing. "Smaller companies still might choose to run their own installation, but if it's a reasonable price, that will open it up to many more companies."

HashiCorp users hope that HCP pricing will be similar to that of Terraform Cloud, which includes a free tier added by the company last September, and starting list prices of $20 per user, per month. HashiCorp doesn't publicly disclose pricing numbers for the on-premises Terraform Enterprise, but six-figure price tags annually for the HashiCorp Enterprise Suite aren't unusual, according to Devyatkin and others.

"Changes to their self-managed enterprise products haven't been favorable for heavy users that weren't expecting to invest far into six or even seven digits in capital expenses," said Mike Ruth, staff security engineer at Cruise Automation, a self-driving car service in San Francisco. Ruth declined to specify whether his company was among those that had paid such prices.

"If the licensing for their HashiCorp Consul Service offering is less expensive, on a subscription basis, that might make a more enticing offer for many customers," he added.

Multi-cloud interest grows
With multi-cloud management interest on the rise, HashiCorp's Consul managed service could prove key to virtual networking problems, experts said.

HashiCorp Consul, Vault services to lead cloud rollout

HashiCorp plans managed services for all four of its major software products that will include coordinating the integrations between them, and company officials expect the cloud platform to appeal to users who want multi-cloud support for multiple products. However, some analysts said services for HashiCorp Consul and Vault might have broader appeal and higher value to enterprise users than similar services for Terraform.

"I'm not sure how many people really have the problem of needing multi-cloud support for provisioning with Terraform," said Tom Petrocelli, analyst at Amalgam Insights. "But multi-cloud management is really a virtual networking problem, and this service could give Consul a leg up in the service mesh world."

[HCP] could be a game changer in many ways, by allowing customers to skip boilerplate work, but it's quite dependent on the pricing. Smaller companies still might choose to run their own installation, but if it's a reasonable price, that will open it up to many more companies.
Andrey DevyatkinSenior systems engineer, Hippo

Consul service mesh also has an opportunity to capitalize on confusion about Istio, stemming from Google's reluctance to donate it to an open source foundation for governance and potentially disruptive architecture changes in Istio 1.5, Petrocelli said. Consul also has the advantage of being compatible with multiple types of infrastructure, including containers, virtual machines and bare-metal servers, while Istio specializes in Kubernetes integration.

Consul has the steepest learning curve of the HashiCorp products, but multi-cloud support for HashiCorp Vault will also have strong appeal because cloud security is so critical to get right, experts said.

"Managing secrets organization-wide is a huge burden now for enterprises," said Gregg Siegfried, an analyst at Gartner. "Having a service that spans cloud providers would be huge."

Users will have to wait a little longer to get a look at the full HashiCorp Cloud Platform -- a Vault managed service on AWS is next on the roadmap, followed by a similar service on Azure. GCP support for Terraform and Nomad will come next. Company officials didn't give expected release dates for those services, other than to say the goal is to make the overall platform generally available in the next year.

HCP services will support hourly on-demand and annual prepaid pricing for production workloads and will also offer a low cost nonproduction development option, according to a company spokesperson. Annual prices will be similar to existing software prices and will be discounted compared to hourly prices. Specific HCP Consul prices will be announced when the service becomes generally available.

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