Say Hi to Subutai

I learned about Subutai from Philip Sheldrake of the Digital Life Collective (and much else) and thought it deserved attention here at Linux Journal, so I offered this space for that. Alex Karasulu did most of the writing, but it was a team effort with help from Jon 'maddog' Hall, Philip Sheldrake and Steve Taylor.—Doc Searls

What Is Subutai?

Subutai is an open-source project and platform that lets anyone share, barter or rent computer resources to create clouds from the edge rather than centralized locations. Available devices can attach to these clouds hovering on the edge. We started calling it Social Cloud Computing, but technically, Subutai is a dynamic p2p multi-cloud made possible thanks to Lightweight Linux Containers and software-defined networking. Think Amazon's Virtual Private Cloud, but running on your computers and the computers of social contacts who share their computer resources with you. Or, think AirBnB on computers for the people's cloud.

Subutai partners with the Digital Life Collective, a member co-operative that researches, develops, funds and supports what we call "tech we trust"—those technologies that put the individual's autonomy, privacy and dignity first, or that support those technologies that do. Our tech, not their tech.

We work together so Subutai can help prevent our privacy from being compromised and our every action from being analyzed. That means not being tied to large cloud providers and giving us the option to use resources we have on hand.

How Does It Work?

You set how much of your computers' resources you're willing to share with others. Rules and quotas are used to share with contacts from your social-media accounts. Once your network of friends, family and colleagues share with you, the stage is set to create clouds across shared computer resources.

When someone creates a cloud, peer computers authorized to share resources with the cloud's owner swarm together (like bees) to form an n-way virtual private network (VPN). A peer is a group of computers with resources that can be shared with others. A peer can be a rack of computers or a single virtual machine running on your laptop.

Peers contribute resources into the VPN as Linux container hosts. Whatever the underlying hardware, operating system or virtualization technology, resources are presented canonically to environments as containers. The VPN provides secure connectivity between these containers across the internet.

Template containers can be fired up based on Docker images to install infrastructure rapidly. Subutai has a blueprint feature for standing up complicated application stacks over several containers. It's a simple JSON-based templating format similar to Amazon's Cloud Formation templates. Use blueprints to fire up application stacks within environments, and/or build environments using your favorite devops tools for automation. Subutai blueprints support Ansible and other tools out of the box.

You basically have your own virtual data center ready to go and how you build it out is up to you. The best thing is, it's free, open source, and your mileage depends on who you know and your social-media network, not your wallet.

What's with the Name, Dude?

We think Subutai is totally bad-assed mind-explosion-inducing madness: that's why we named it after one of the greatest bad asses of all time, General Subutai (aka The Dog of War). The Apache people working on the project really like the meritocratic approach Subutai used where doers rule regardless of their background. Plus, Jon 'maddog' Hall, the project's principal advisor, and CEO of the company that originally authored Subutai, thought the name was befitting.


Alex Karasulu is an entrepreneur with 25+ years of experience in the software industry and a recognized leader in the Open Source community. He is widely known as the original author of the Apache Directory Server.