¡Sí, Sí! That’s a Two Hundred Node Metal Docker Swarm Deployment

Today, RackN and Ubiquity Hosting announced a 200 node Docker Swarm deployment on hosted bare metal.

Leveraging the current Digital Rebar core and the RackN Swarm workload, this reference deployment was automatically configured using the same components that also work on a desktop VM deployment. That high fidelity deployment allows operators to start learning quickly on small systems then grow to AWS and if warranted, potentially smoothly transition to scale metal.

This deployment represents RackN starting a new chapter with Digital Rebar because it demonstrates a commitment deploy on any infrastructure: cloud, metal or something in between.

The RackN team started this journey with a “composable ops” vision that allows operators to mix and match. That spans both vendor physical resources and software components such as operating systems, software defined networking and platforms. In the 200 node Swarm cluster, physical infrastructure is provisioned by Ubiquity Hosting not Digital Rebar or RackN.  Historically, RackN focused on private infrastructure.  Now, users get the option of best-in-class metal deployment without having to own the infrastructure.

We experienced the futility of making Ops homogeneous and declared defeat.

Accepting that each data center has individual Ops was pivotal. Digital Rebar embraces heterogeneity at the most fundamental architectural level. Our system approach and unique composable abstractions allow users to make deployments portable between any infrastructure with existing tooling and operational processes. Portability means that we can both eliminate the fidelity gap as we scale and between deployments.

When multiple scales and sites can share deployment automation, we can finally work together on addressing critical operational issues like scale, high availability and upgrade

This 200 node deployment demonstrates more than scale and the deployment of the latest Docker technology. It is a milestone on the path toward sharable production operations.

Operators, they don’t want to swim Upstream

Operators Dinner 11/10

Nov 10, Palo Alto Operators Dinner

Last Tuesday, I had the honor of joining an OpenStack scale operators dinner. Foundation executives, Jonathan Bryce and Lauren Sell, were also on the guest list so talk naturally turned to “how can OpenStack better support operators.” Notably, the session was distinctly not OpenStack bashing.

The conversation was positive, enthusiastic and productive, but one thing was clear: the OpenStack default “we’ll fix it in the upstream” answer does not work for this group of operators.

What is upstreaming?  A sans nuance answer is that OpenStack drives fixes and changes in the next community release (longer description).  The project and community have a tremendous upstream imperative that pervades the culture so deeply that we take it for granted.  Have an issue with OpenStack?  Submit a patch!  Is there any other alternative?

Upstreaming [to trunk] makes perfect sense considering the project vendor structure and governance; however, it is a very frustrating experience for operators.   OpenStack does have robust processes to backport fixes and sustain past releases and documentation; yet, the feeling at the table was that they are not sufficiently operator focused.

Operators want fast, incremental and pragmatic corrections to the code and docs they are deploying (which is often two releases back).  They want it within the community, not from individual vendors.

There are great reasons for focusing on upstream trunk.  It encourages vendors to collaborate and makes it much easier to add and expand the capabilities of the project.  Allowing independent activity on past releases creates a forward integration mess and could make upgrades even harder.  It will create divergence on APIs and implementation choices.

The risk of having a stable, independently sustained release is that operators have less reason to adopt the latest shiny release.  And that is EXACTLY what they are asking for.

Upstreaming is a core value to OpenStack and essential to our collaborative success; however, we need to consider that it is not the right answer to all questions.  Discussions at that dinner reinforced that pushing everything to latest trunk creates a significant barrier for OpenStack operators and users.

What are your experiences?  Is there a way to balance upstreaming with forking?  How can we better serve operators?

More Signal & Less Noise: my OpenStack Tokyo Restrospective

We’re building real business on OpenStack. This seems especially true in Asia where the focus is on using the core not expanding it. At the same time, we’ve entered the “big tent” era where non-core projects are proliferating.

Let’s explore what’s signal and what’s noise … but before we start, here are quick links to my summit videos:


OpenStack summits are really family reunions. While aunt and uncles (Vendors) are busying showing off, all the cousins (Projects) are getting re-acquainted. Like any family it’s fun, competitive, friendly and sometimes dysfunctional.

Signal: Global Users and Providers

There are real deployments of OpenStack and real companies building businesses around the code base. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of people quietly making OpenStack work. Why quietly? It’s still more of a struggle than it should be.

Signal: Demand for Heterogeneous and Interop Environments

There’s no such thing as a mono-lithic cloud. Even within the community, Monty’s Shade API normalizer, is drawing attention. More broadly, everyone is using multiple cloud platforms and the trend accelerates due to container portability.

Signal: Container Workloads

Containers are dominating the cloud discussion for good reasons. They are pushing into OpenStack at the top (Platform), bottom (Deployment) and side (Scheduler). While OpenStack must respond architecturally, it’s not clear yet if it can pivot from virtualization focused to something broader fast enough (Mesos?).

Signal: Ansible

The lightweight DevOps tool seems to be winning the popularity contest. It may not be the answer to all problems, but it’s clearly part of helping solve a lot of them. Warning: Ansible complexity explodes on multi-tiered, scale and upgrade orchestration.

Signal: DefCore and Product Working Group (PWG)

Both efforts have crossed from a concept into decision-making bodies within the community. The work is far from over. DefCore needs users to demand compliance from vendors. Product WG needs developers to demand their management sign on to PWG roadmaps.

Noise: Distro vs Service Argument

There are a lot of ways to consume OpenStack. None of them are wrong but some are more aligned with individual vendor strategies than others. Saying one way to run OpenStack is more right is undermining our overall operability and usability objectives.

Noise: Contributor Metrics

We’ve created a very commit economy and summits are vendors favorite time to brag about their dedication to community via upstreaming. These metrics are incomplete at best and potentially destructive to the health of the project as vendors compete to win the commit race instead of the quality and ecosystem race.

Noise: Big Tent

We’ve officially entered the “big tent” era of OpenStack. This governance change was lead by the Technical Committee to address how we manage projects; however, there are broader user, operator, vendor and ecosystem implications. Unfortunately, even within the community, the platform implications of a loosely governed, highly inclusive community not completely understood.

Overall, I left Tokyo enthusiastic about OpenStack’s future as a platform and community; however, I also see that we have not structured how we mingle platform, community and ecosystem. This is especially true because OpenStack is just a part in the much broader cloud market and work outside OpenStack is continue to disrupt our plans. As a Board member, I’ll hoping to start a discussion about this and want to hear your opinions.

To avoid echo chamber, OpenStack must embrace competitive cloud ecosystem

Japanese Bullet Train View

I was in Japan before the Tokyo summit on a bullet train to Kyoto watching the mix of heavy industry and bucolic mountains pass by. That scene reflects an OpenStack duality: we want to be both a dominant platform delivering core cloud services and an open source values driven collective.

First, I fundamentally believe in the success of OpenStack as the open virtual infrastructure management platform.

I believe that we have solved the virtual compute/storage/network problem sufficiently to become the de facto open IaaS platform. While not perfect, the technologies are sufficient assuming we continue to improve ease of use and operational hardening. Pursing that base capability is my primary motivation for DefCore work.

I don’t believe that the OpenStack community is, or should try to become, the authority on “all things cloud.”

In the presence of Amazon, VMware, Microsoft and Google, we cannot make that claim with any degree of self-respect. Even newcomers like DigitalOcean have an undeniable footprint and influence. Those vendor platforms drive cloud ecosystems and technologies which foster fast innovation because there is no friction to joining their ecosystems and they are sufficiently large and stable enough to represent a target market. We’ve seen clear signs from Rackspace, HP and others that platform diversity improves cloud strength.

I continue to think we (OpenStack) spend too much time evaluating what is “in” or “out” of the project and too little time talking about what’s “on,” “under” and “with” the project like Kubernetes, Mesos, Docker, SDN, Hadoop and Ceph. That type of thinking creates distance between OpenStack efforts and the majority of the market.

What motivates the drive to an all open captive community? It’s the reasonable concern that critical parts of the infrastructure will become pay-to-play. For example, what if a non-OpenStack alternative to Heat Orchestration gained popularity for OpenStack implementers. Perhaps something that ran on Amazon also. That would create external pressure that would drive internal priorities. These “non-OpenStack” products would then have influence without having to contribute back to upstream.

Can we afford to have external entities driving internal priorities? Hell yes, that’s what customer adoption looks like.

OpenStack does not own the market sufficiently to create cloud echo chamber. The next wave of cloud innovation (my money is on container platforms) will follow the path of least resistance and widest adoption. We need to embrace that these innovations will not all be inside our community so that we can welcome them as part of our ecosystem. The community needs to find peace with that.

How do platforms die? One step at a time [the Fidelity Gap]

The RackN team is working on the “Start to Scale” position for Digital Rebar that targets the IT industry-wide “fidelity gap” problem.  When we started on the Digital Rebar journey back in 2011 with Crowbar, we focused on “last mile” problems in metal and operations.  Only in the last few months did we recognize the importance of automating smaller “first mile” desktop and lab environments.

A fidelityFidelity Gap gap is created when work done on one platform, a developer laptop, does not translate faithfully to the next platform, a QA lab.   Since there are gaps at each stage of deployment, we end up with the ops staircase of despair.

These gaps hide defects until they are expensive to fix and make it hard to share improvements.  Even worse, they keep teams from collaborating.

With everyone trying out Container Orchestration platforms like Kubernetes, Docker Swarm, Mesosphere or Cloud Foundry (all of which we deploy, btw), it’s important that we can gracefully scale operational best practices.

For companies implementing containers, it’s not just about turning their apps into microservice-enabled immutable-rock stars: they also need to figure out how to implement the underlying platforms at scale.

My example of fidelity gap harm is OpenStack’s “all in one, single node” DevStack.  There is no useful single system OpenStack deployment; however, that is the primary system for developers and automated testing.  This design hides production defects and usability issues from developers.  These are issues that would be exposed quickly if the community required multi-instance development.  Even worse, it keeps developers from dealing with operational consequences of their decisions.

What are we doing about fidelity gaps?  We’ve made it possible to run and faithfully provision multi-node systems in Digital Rebar on a relatively light system (16 Gb RAM, 4 cores) using VMs or containers.  That system can then be fully automated with Ansible, Chef, Puppet and Salt.  Because of our abstractions, if deployment works in Digital Rebar then it can scale up to 100s of physical nodes.

My take away?  If you want to get to scale, start with the end in mind.

Introducing Digital Rebar. Building strong foundations for New Stack infrastructure

digital_rebarThis week, I have the privilege to showcase the emergence of RackN’s updated approach to data center infrastructure automation that is container-ready and drives “cloud-style” DevOps on physical metal.  While it works at scale, we’ve also ensured it’s light enough to run a production-fidelity deployment on a laptop.

You grow to cloud scale with a ready-state foundation that scales up at every step.  That’s exactly what we’re providing with Digital Rebar.

Over the past two years, the RackN team has been working on microservices operations orchestration in the OpenCrowbar code base.  By embracing these new tools and architecture, Digital Rebar takes that base into a new directions.  Yet, we also get to leverage a scalable heterogeneous provisioner and integrations for all major devops tools.  We began with critical data center automation already working.

Why Digital Rebar? Traditional data center ops is being disrupted by container and service architectures and legacy data centers are challenged with gracefully integrating this new way of managing containers at scale: we felt it was time to start a dialog the new foundational layer of scale ops.

Both our code and vision has substantially diverged from the groundbreaking “OpenStack Installer” MVP the RackN team members launched in 2011 from inside Dell and is still winning prizes for SUSE.

We have not regressed our leading vendor-neutral hardware discovery and configuration features; however, today, our discussions are about service wrappers, heterogeneous tooling, immutable container deployments and next generation platforms.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting more about how Digital Rebar works (plus video demos).

Transitioning from a Bossy Boss into a Digital Age Leader [Series Conclusion]


We hope you’ve enjoyed our discussion about digital management over the last seven posts. This series was born of our frustration with patterns of leadership in digital organizations: overly directing leaders stifle their team while hands-off leaders fail to provide critical direction. Neither culture is leading effectively!

Digital managers have to be two things at once

We felt that our “cultural intuition” is failing us.  That drove us to describe what’s broken and how to fix it.

Digital work and workers operate in a new model where top-down management is neither appropriate nor effective. To point, many digital workers actively resist being given too much direction, rules or structure. No, we are not throwing out management; on the contrary, we believe management is more important than ever, but changes to both work and workers has made it much harder than before.

That’s especially true when Boomers and Millennials try to work together because of differences in leadership experience and expectation. As Brad is always pointing out in his book Liquid Leadership, “what motivates a Millennial will not motivate a Boomer,” or even a Gen Xer.

Millennials may be so uncomfortable having to set limits and enforce decisions that they avoid exerting the very leadership that digital workers need! While GenX and Boomers may be creating and expecting unrealistic deadlines simply because they truly do not understand the depth of the work involved.

So who’s right and who’s wrong? As we’ve pointed out in previous posts, it’s neither! Why? Because unlike Industrial Age Models, there is no one way to get something done in The Information Age.

We desperately need a management model that works for everyone. How does a digital manager know when it’s time to be directing? If you’ve communicated a shared purpose well then you are always at liberty to 1) ask your team if this is aligned and 2) quickly stop any activity that is not aligned.

The trap we see for digital managers who have not communicated the shared goals is that they lack the team authority to take the lead.

We believe that digital leadership requires finding a middle ground using these three guidelines:

  1. Clearly express your intent and trust, don’t force, your team will follow it
  2. Respect your teams’ ability to make good decisions around the intent.
  3. Don’t be shy to exercise your authority when your team needs direction

Digital management is hard: you don’t get the luxury of authority or the comfort of certainty.

If you are used to directing then you have to trust yourself to communicate clearly at an abstract level and then let go of the details. If you are used to being hands-off then you have to get over being specific and assertive when the situation demands it.

Our frustration was that neither Boomer nor Millennial culture is providing effective management. Instead, we realized that elements of both are required. It’s up to the digital manager to learn when each mode is required.

Thank you for following along. It has been an honor.