DNS is critical – getting physical ops integrations right matters

Why DNS? Maintaining DNS is essential to scale ops.  It’s not as simple as naming servers because each server will have multiple addresses (IPv4, IPv6, teams, bridges, etc) on multiple NICs depending on the systems function and applications. Plus, Errors in DNS are hard to diagnose.

Names MatterI love talking about the small Ops things that make a huge impact in quality of automation.  Things like automatically building a squid proxy cache infrastructure.

Today, I get to rave about the DNS integration that just surfaced in the OpenCrowbar code base. RackN CTO, Greg Althaus, just completed work that incrementally updates DNS entries as new IPs are added into the system.

Why is that a big deal?  There are a lot of names & IPs to manage.

In physical ops, every time you bring up a physical or virtual network interface, you are assigning at least one IP to that interface. For OpenCrowbar, we are assigning two addresses: IPv4 and IPv6.  Servers generally have 3 or more active interfaces (e.g.: BMC, admin, internal, public and storage) so that’s a lot of references.  It gets even more complex when you factor in DNS round robin or other common practices.

Plus mistakes are expensive.  Name resolution is an essential service for operations.

I know we all love memorizing IPv4 addresses (just wait for IPv6!) so accurate naming is essential.  OpenCrowbar already aligns the address 4th octet (Admin .106 goes to the same server as BMC .106) but that’s not always practical or useful.  This is not just a Day 1 problem – DNS drift or staleness becomes an increasing challenging problem when you have to reallocate IP addresses.  The simple fact is that registering IPs is not the hard part of this integration – it’s the flexible and dynamic updates.

What DNS automation did we enable in OpenCrowbar?  Here’s a partial list:

  1. recovery of names and IPs when interfaces and systems are decommissioned
  2. use of flexible naming patterns so that you can control how the systems are registered
  3. ability to register names in multiple DNS infrastructures
  4. ability to understand sub-domains so that you can map DNS by region
  5. ability to register the same system under multiple names
  6. wild card support for C-Names
  7. ability to create a DNS round-robin group and keep it updated

But there’s more! The integration includes both BIND and PowerDNS integrations. Since BIND does not have an API that allows incremental additions, Greg added a Golang service to wrap BIND and provide incremental updates and deletes.

When we talk about infrastructure ops automation and ready state, this is the type of deep integration that makes a difference and is the hallmark of the RackN team’s ops focus with RackN Enterprise and OpenCrowbar.

Docker-Machine Crowbar Driver Delivers Metal Containers

I’ve just completed a basic Docker Machine driver for OpenCrowbar.  This enables you to quickly spin-up (and down) remote Docker hosts on bare metal servers from their command line tool.  There are significant cost, simplicity and performance advantages for this approach if you were already planning to dedicate servers to container workloads.

Docker Machine

The basics are pretty simple: using Docker Machine CLI you can “create” and “rm” new Docker hosts on bare metal using the crowbar driver.  Since we’re talking about metal, “create” is really “assign a machine from an available pool.”

Behind the scenes Crowbar is doing a full provision cycle of the system including installing the operating system and injecting the user keys.  Crowbar’s design would allow operators to automatically inject additional steps, add monitoring agents and security, to the provisioning process without changing the driver operation.

Beyond Create, the driver supports the other Machine verbs like remove, stop, start, ssh and inspect.  In the case of remove, the Machine is cleaned up and put back in the pool for the next user [note: work remains on the full remove>recreate process].

Overall, this driver allows Docker Machine to work transparently against metal infrastructure along side whatever cloud services you also choose.

Want to try it out?

  1. You need to setup OpenCrowbar – if you follow the defaults ( ip, user, password) then the Docker Machine driver defaults will also work. Also, make sure you have the Ubuntu 14.04 ISO available for the Crowbar provisioner
  2. Discover some nodes in Crowbar – you do NOT need metal servers to try this, the tests work fine with virtual machines (tools/kvm-slave &)
  3. Clone my Machine repo (Wde’re looking for feedback before a pull to Docker/Machine)
  4. Compile the code using script/build.
  5. Allocate a Docker Node using  ./docker-machine create –driver crowbar testme
  6. Go to the Crowbar UI to watch the node be provisioned and configured into the Docker-Machines pool
  7. Release the node using ./docker-machine rm testme
  8. Go to the Crowbar UI to watch the node be redeployed back to the System pool
  9. Try to contain your enthusiasm :)

Want More?  Linux binary & readme.

Manage Hardware like a BOSS – latest OpenCrowbar brings API to Physical Gear

A few weeks ago, I posted about VMs being squeezed between containers and metal.   That observation comes from our experience fielding the latest metal provisioning feature sets for OpenCrowbar; consequently, so it’s exciting to see the team has cut the next quarterly release:  OpenCrowbar v2.2 (aka Camshaft).  Even better, you can top it off with official software support.

Camshaft coordinates activity

Dual overhead camshaft housing by Neodarkshadow from Wikimedia Commons

The Camshaft release had two primary objectives: Integrations and Services.  Both build on the unique functional operations and ready state approach in Crowbar v2.

1) For Integrations, we’ve been busy leveraging our ready state API to make physical servers work like a cloud.  It gets especially interesting with the RackN burn-in/tear-down workflows added in.  Our prototype Chef Provisioning driver showed how you can use the Crowbar API to spin servers up and down.  We’re now expanding this cloud-like capability for Saltstack, Docker Machine and Pivotal BOSH.

2) For Services, we’ve taken ops decomposition to a new level.  The “secret sauce” for Crowbar is our ability to interweave ops activity between components in the system.  For example, building a cluster requires setting up pieces on different systems in a very specific sequence.  In Camshaft, we’ve added externally registered services (using Consul) into the orchestration.  That means that Crowbar will either use existing DNS, Database, or NTP services or set it’s own.  Basically, Crowbar can now work FIT YOUR EXISTING OPS ENVIRONMENT without forcing a dedicated Crowbar only services like DHCP or DNS.

In addition to all these features, you can now purchase support for OpenCrowbar from RackN (my company).  The Enterprise version includes additional server life-cycle workflow elements and features like HA and Upgrade as they are available.

There are AMAZING features coming in the next release (“Drill”) including a message bus to broadcast events from the system, more operating systems (ESXi, Xenserver, Debian and Mirantis’ Fuel) and increased integration/flexibility with existing operational environments.  Several of these have already been added to the develop branch.

It’s easy to setup and test OpenCrowbar using containers, VMs or metal.  Want to learn more?  Join our community in Gitteremail list or weekly interactive community meetings (Wednesdays @ 9am PT).

Talking Functional Ops & Bare Metal DevOps with vBrownBag [video]

Last Wednesday (3/11/15), I had the privilege of talking with the vBrownBag crowd about Functional Ops and bare metal deployment.  In this hour, I talk about how functional operations (FuncOps) works as an extension of ready state.  FuncOps is a critical concept for providing abstractions to scale heterogeneous physical operations.

Timing for this was fantastic since we’d just worked out ESXi install capability for OpenCrowbar (it will exposed for work starting on Drill, the next Crowbar release cycle).

Here’s the brown bag:

If you’d like to see a demo, I’ve got hours of them posted:

Video Progression

Crowbar v2.1 demo: Visual Table of Contents [click for playlist]

too easy to bare metal? Ansible just works with OpenCrowbar

2012-01-15_10-21-12_716I’ve talked before about how OpenCrowbar distributes SSH keys automatically as part of its deployment process.  Now, it’s time to unleash some of the subsequent magic!

[5/21 Update: We added the “crowbar-access” role to the Drill release that allows you to inject/remove keys on a per node basis from the API or CLI at any point in the node life-cycle]

If you provision servers with your keys in place, then Ansible will just work with truly minimal configuration (one line in a file!).

Video Demo (steps bellow):

Here are my steps:

  1. Install OpenCrowbar and run some nodes to ready state [videos]
  2. Install Ansible [simple steps]
  3. Add hosts range “192.168.124.[81:83]  ansible_ssh_user=root” to the
    “/etc/ansible/hosts” file
  4. If you are really lazy, add “[Default] // host_key_checking = False” to your “~/.ansible.cfg” file
  5. now ping the hosts, “ansible all -m ping”
  6. pat yourself on the back, you’re done.
  7. to show off:
    1. touch all machines “ansible all -a “/bin/echo hello”
    2. look at types of Linux “ansible all -a “uname -a”

Further integration work can make this even more powerful.  

I’d like to see OpenCrowbar generate the Ansible inventory file from the discovery data and to map Ansible groups from deployments.  Crowbar could also call Ansible directly to use playbooks or even do a direct hand-off to Tower to complete an install without user intervention.

Wow, that would be pretty handy!   If you think so too, please join us in the OpenCrowbar community.

Online Meetup Today (1/13): Build a rock-solid foundation under your OpenStack cloud

Reminder: Online meetup w/ Crowbar + OpenStack DEMO TODAY

HFoundation Rawere’s the notice from the site (with my added Picture)

Building cloud infrastructure requires a rock-solid foundation. 

In this hour, Rob Hirschfeld will demo automated tooling, specifically OpenCrowbar, to prepare and integrate physical infrastructure to ready state and then use PackStack to install OpenStack.


The OpenCrowbar project started in 2011 as an OpenStack installer and had grown into a general purpose provisioning and infrastructure orchestration framework that works in parallel with multiple hardware vendors, operating systems and devops tools.  These tools create a fast, durable and repeatable environment to install OpenStack, Ceph, Kubernetes, Hadoop or other scale platforms.


Rob will show off the latest features and discuss key concepts from the Crowbar operational model including Ready State, Functional Operations and Late Binding. These concepts, built into Crowbar, can be applied generally to make your operations more robust and scalable.

OpenCrowbar v2.1 Video Tour from Metal to OpenStack and beyond

With the OpenCrowbar v2.1 out, I’ve been asked to update the video library of Crowbar demos.  Since a complete tour is about 3 hours, I decided to cut it down into focused demos that would allow you to start at an area of interest and work backwards.

I’ve linked all the videos below by title.  Here’s a visual table on contents:

Video Progression

Crowbar v2.1 demo: Visual Table of Contents [click for playlist]

The heart of the demo series is the Annealer and Ready State (video #3).

  1. Prepare Environment
  2. Bootstrap Crowbar
  3. Add Nodes ♥ Ready State (good starting point)
  4. Boot Hardware
  5. Install OpenStack (Juno using PackStack on CentOS 7)
  6. Integrate with Chef & Chef Provisioning
  7. Integrate with SaltStack

I’ve tried to do some post-production so limit dead air and focus on key areas.  As always, I value content over production values so feedback is very welcome!