Still, challenges remain. "If you have a shared cluster, you get this storming herd problem where everyone wants to do the same thing at the same time," says Francis. "You could put limits on it, but you’d have to build an infrastructure to define limits for our processes, and the Python notebooks weren’t really designed for that. We have existing environments that do these things, but we needed to make it real, expansive, and scalable. Being able to spin that up on demand, tear it down, and make that much more dynamic, became a critical thought process for us."
Made up of managers from technology, infrastructure, production operations, development and information security, Francis’s team was able to look at the problem holistically and come up with a solution that made sense for BlackRock. "Our initial straw man was that we were going to build everything using Ansible
and run it all using some completely different distributed environment," says Francis. "That would have been absolutely the wrong thing to do. Had we gone off on our own as the dev team and developed this solution, it would have been a very different product. And it would have been very expensive. We would not have gone down the route of running under our existing orchestration system. Because we don’t understand it. These guys [in operations and infrastructure] understand it. Having the multidisciplinary team allowed us to get to the right solutions and that actually meant we didn’t build anywhere near the amount we thought we were going to end up building."
In search of a solution in which they could manage usage on a user-by-user level, Francis’s team gravitated to Red Hat’s OpenShift
Kubernetes offering. The company had already experimented with other cloud-native environments, but the team liked that Kubernetes was open source, and "we felt the winds were blowing in the direction of Kubernetes long term," says Francis. "Typically we make technology choices that we believe are going to be here in 5-10 years’ time, in some form. And right now, in this space, Kubernetes feels like the one that’s going to be there." Adds Uri Morris, Vice President of Production Operations: "When you see that the non-Google committers to Kubernetes overtook the Google committers, that’s an indicator of the momentum."
Once that decision was made, the major challenge was figuring out how to make Kubernetes work within BlackRock’s existing framework. "It’s about understanding how we can operate, manage and support a platform like this, in addition to tacking it onto our existing technology platform," says Project Manager Michael Maskallis. "All the controls we have in place, the change management process, the software development lifecycle, onboarding processes we go through—how can we do all these things?"
The first (anticipated) speed bump was working around issues behind BlackRock’s corporate firewalls. "One of our challenges is there are no firewalls in most open source software," says Francis. "So almost all install scripts fail in some bizarre way, and pulling down packages doesn’t necessarily work." The team ran into these types of problems using Minikube
and did a few small pushes back to the open source project.