We are very lucky to produce an exclusive interview with Santa, who kindly answered our questions just a few days after his last tour. Believe it or not, Santa now runs Cilium!

Dear Santa, welcome to this interview! We just finished 2023’s tour. How did it go, this year?

Ho! Hey! Hello, thanks for having me. That’s right, the Elves and I finished our tour in the early hours in the morning of the 25th of December. Once again, we managed to bring toys and presents to children, young or grown-up, all around the world. This year, the team was particularly well organised, and we managed to deliver more presents than ever before, even with the increased delays due to the decreasing number of chimneys.

These are great news. How do you explain the progress you’ve made?

For some parts, this is due to cultural changes. In 2023, we realised that we were behind in terms of well-being and mental healthcare. We’ve been asking children to be well-behaved for centuries, but now we started to run initiatives to encourage our team to be nice at work, too. Another thing is that many of us decreased our consumption of meat and rich food, and we’ve felt more on shape.

But we also implemented technical changes on our infrastructure, and observed huge improvements from it. The truth is: we switched to Cilium.

What infrastructure? And what were you using before Cilium?

What do you mean, “what infrastructure”? How do you think we’ve been tracking wish lists for billions of children over the years? Or ordering parts and components for building toys? Or handling stocks and delivery? We’ve been in business for centuries, and we’re really good at it. We were pioneers in terms of databases. At the beginning though, we only had pens and paper. But when computers took off, we soon got equipped. We grew our own infrastructure, first with mainframes, then with racks of servers. The North Pole is ideal for cooling hardware, you know. Ten years ago, we started to deploy all our infra with OpenStack, but this ended badly. The Elves threatened to quit if we couldn’t find an alternative. So we turned to external providers. We do have a few rebel Elves running clusters of Raspberry Pis internally while muttering things about Vim or Emacs, but in reality most of our workflows now take place in hosted clouds. We ported all of our databases there, even if there has been some overhead due to data privacy restrictions. GDPR didn’t help, but we found our way to compliance.

More recently, we started to get our hands dirty with Kubernetes and to deploy pods, services, and volumes at scale, in a more convenient way.

How did these previous solutions work for you?

Well, we got the presents sorted all these years, haven’t we? But some solutions worked better than others, as we’ve discovered through the years.

On the early days of the Internet, for example, we tried to provide online forms for wish lists, but the lack of encryption made it easy for people to intercept the requests and add useless items to play pranks on their friends. We also had a good time rebuilding our database after that child named Robert'); DROP TABLE Children; -- filled the form. Robert, don’t be surprised you stopped receiving presents after that day.

Also, a few years back, we decided to follow the hype and we deployed a solution based on blockchain. We had all presents registered into a chain, so that we could guarantee their provenance and their delivery. As it turns out, no child has ever cared where the toys come from, or how they all fit nicely into the chain, or whether you can use cryptographic primitives to ensure that a toy car has not been tampered with.

Thankfully, at the end of the year we’ve always managed to bend the tools to our needs, and to deliver. It’s just that some years are easier than others.

So why did you try Cilium?

Since we’ve started managing clusters with Kubernetes, we’ve had a good experience. However, the IT Elves have always found it difficult to connect multiple clusters, or to observe what’s going on in the cluster. We first heard about Cilium when fans of the project asked for some Cilium swag for Christmas in 2021. In 2023, we learned that Cilium entered (then completed) its graduation process, and felt that the project was mature enough to give it a try. We deployed it on our clusters, and it turned out this was exactly what we needed.

How did Cilium change the situation?

Ho! Cilium has been a game-changer. A revolution. A new era. We deliver in so many countries! We have clusters at AWS, GKE, Azure, and several other providers. Cilium allows us to connect the clusters seamlessly together, so that all our services can communicate together. We have XDP acceleration or bandwidth management to handle the peak of traffic when Christmas comes near. We have transparent encryption to make sure that no data leaks and that nobody sees whether a child has been good or bad.

In terms of performance, we observed an increase of 80% of requests processed by seconds, which translates into 564 additional toys produced each minute and a 7% improvement in order accuracy, with a 12% reduction of the duration of the tour.

With Cilium, we’ve been using this eBPF thing to run the dataplane in the kernel, and it’s fast, and it’s resilient! I’m all excited. It’s as if I got a Christmas present to myself, this year. The Elves are excited, too: they changed their traditional green liveries to light green, yellow, blue, purple, and red ones, matching the colours of the Cilium logo!

Rumour has it you renamed the reindeers, can you tell more about that?

Oh, yeah I did! When I noticed all the benefits we obtain with Cilium, I got so excited that I started to rename them all. Dasher and Dancer now go as Clustermesh and Servicemesh. Vixen is VXLAN. We also have XDP, Metrics, DSR, Hubble, and Tetragon.

To be accurate, there is one I didn’t rename. Rudolph remains Rudolph. It’s not really that I was attached to the name, you see. But the name has been hardcoded by everyone in so many workflows everywhere that, when we simulated a change, it completely crashed our CI. I had to abandon the idea.

What do you plan for the year ahead?

Usually, I take a couple months to rest after the rush before Christmas, and to recover from the stress of the delivery night. But this year was easier on the team, and we’re all so excited, that we won’t rest for long. We have a few plans for 2024. Some Elves want to integrate AI into our workflow. They claim that it can help reading and sorting the letters we receive, or designing the ideal presents.

Tetragon is also on our list. Our servers are mostly secure, but Bad Folks have occasionally managed to divert a few toys. Remember that year when you asked me for this wonderful gift, but didn’t get it? That was the Grinch exploiting a zero-day vulnerability against our infra to steal presents. But I am hopeful that Tetragon will help detect any attempt in the future, and all requests should be addressed. Too bad you’re a grown-up now!

We also have plans to explore Cilium itself even further. We’re following the project very closely, looking out for new features. In fact, I brought an early present to some of the Cilium developers, and I’m curious to see where this will take them. In the meantime, we consider getting involved and contributing to Cilium ourselves. I already created a Pull Request to add myself to the list of users.

Many thanks for your replies! We wish you a very Happy New Year 2024

There’s no doubt that 2024 will be an interesting year. And when December comes back, the Elves and I will be back to town, ready like never before. Enjoy the presents we brought, and Happy New Year to you all. Ho! Ho! Ho!