Antsle: Initial thoughts

The Antsle is a slick piece of hardware that is billed as a “private cloud.” Capable of running LXC and Docker containers and KVM virtual machines, its software, antMan, is a nice addition to an otherwise-limited set of options.

antMan

Within this interface, you can create new VMs, what they call antlets, in either a type of KVM or LXC. Under the hood, antMan runs on antsleOS, a modified Gentoo, and runs Qemu. I actually quite like antMan. It provides a nice web interface to KVM and Qemu to resize, start, stop, clone, add network bridges, etc. to VMs.

The only “secret sauce” here seems to be the web interface and the customization to Gentoo. Outside of that, it’s invoking Qemu, something you could write your own interface to do if you were wanting to. But I like it.

Templates

The templates are outdated. Importing your own Docker image, LXC image, or KVM image is pretty straight-forward, the latter of which, LXC and KVM, can be done through the web interface. However, as helpful as the docs are, there’s no docs on creating your own images. Ubuntu 16.04 is … 3 years old.

So that leaves me with Packer. Or creating a blank antlet using the Blank template. The caveat is that the blank template has a storage minimum of 100GB, it can’t be resized down, and when you upload an ISO, the ISO gets deleted when you are done. So if you want to create multiple VMs with say a more recent Ubuntu, you have to upload the ISO each time you create a VM. Or create your own template.

The upside is that templates are just standard qcow2 images, which means Packer could be used … if I could get it to work. I’ve been fighting getting an image created, so if anybody has any insight, that’d be great. This of course isn’t a problem with Antsle, but I am (mostly) in this predicament because of the outdated templates.

Because this is using the tried-and-true KVM, you have Windows support. Of course you have to bring your own license, but I’ve been wanting a lab that’s not on my laptop.

ROI

ROI for me isn’t just the financial. It’s also the intangible – stress of management, ease of use, that sort of thing. But … let’s look at the financial.

Financial ROI

Some back-of-the-napkin math. Let’s look at 1GB/1CPU VPS providers:

  • Amazon Lightsail (Ubuntu 18.04): $5
  • Linode (Ubuntu 19.04): $5
  • DigitalOcean (Ubuntu 19.04): $5

Okay, pretty straight-forward. Three major VPS providers offer 1GB/1CPU VMs for $5 each. I think that’s pretty cheap. I’m not counting space here, but usually you’ll find 20GB and up on these included in the price.

Alright, here’s my Antsle:

  • 32GB RAM
  • 2TB (2x1TB)
  • 8 cores
  • $2300 (one-time)

I’m CPU bound. I like the RAM and the space, but the 8 cores is interesting. For any of these three VPS providers, I can get 7 machines for $35. On my Antsle, I can get a maximum of 7 machines because I’m CPU-bound. And each machine costs me a base price of $329. But I’m also on the hook for electricity. The Antsle is low-power thanks to its Atom processor, but with the VPS providers, the electricity and physical security is built in to the cost.

Not looking too good for the financial ROI, but can the Antsle redeem itself?

Ease-of-Use ROI

With the VPS providers, I click a button and get a VM in minutes. With the Antsle, I click a button and get a VM in seconds to minutes. Depending on what I’m doing, I can get a VM running a bit faster than the common VPS providers. This is probably due to the schedulers used that look for free space more than the speed of the software. I have one piece of physical hardware. These providers have probably hundreds, so these schedulers and other orchestrations are used to find what’s physically available to send a request to allocate space to then create a new VM.

The ease-of-use is seemingly split.

Privacy ROI

This, I think, is the most intangible. And sure, I already mentioned other things, like creating images, but the biggest thing for me is the privacy. The Antsle’s selling point is a private cloud. I have VMs on-prem in my control.

With these providers, they are multi-tenant. The host gets owned, your VMs get owned. The provider gets a law enforcement request, your VM risks getting swept up in the response to the legal request. You mess up ACLs and accidentally expose internal things, that are already on the Internet, and you expose things to the world.

With the Antsle, I get the wins of the providers, but keep things private.

Conclusion

The Antsle is a neat piece of hardware. No fans, custom software integrations to standard tools, and a one-time cost, it’s overall pretty good. Yeah, the up-front cost is a bit annoying. The outdated images are annoying. But getting your own images uploaded, it’s yours.

I don’t buy in to the “private cloud” in the traditional sense – it’s a server with software. But then again, what’s AWS, Azure, GCP, and other providers?

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