Starting RackN – Delivering open ops by pulling an OpenCrowbar Bunny out of our hat

When Dell pulled out from OpenCrowbar last April, I made a commitment to our community to find a way to keep it going.  Since my exit from Dell early in October 2014, that commitment has taken the form of RackN.

Rack N BlackToday, we’re ready to help people run and expand OpenCrowbar (days away from v2.1!). We’re also seeking investment to make the project more “enterprise-ready” and build integrations that extend ready state.

RackN focuses on maintenance and support of OpenCrowbar for ready state physical provisioning.  We will build the community around Crowbar as an open operations core and extend it with a larger set of hardware support and extensions.  We are building partnerships to build application integration (using Chef, Puppet, Salt, etc) and platform workloads (like OpenStack, Hadoop, Ceph, CloudFoundry and Mesos) above ready state.

I’ve talked with hundreds of people about the state of physical data center operations at scale. Frankly, it’s a scary state of affairs: complexity is increasing for physical infrastructure and we’re blurring the lines by adding commodity networking with local agents into the mix.

Making this jumble of stuff work together is not sexy cloud work – I describe it as internet plumbing to non-technical friends.  It’s unforgiving, complex and full of sharp edge conditions; however, people are excited to hear about our hardware abstraction mission because it solves a real pain for operators.

I hope you’ll stay tuned, or even play along, as we continue the Open Ops journey.

Need a physical ops baseline? Crowbar continues to uniquely fill gap

Robots Everywhere!I’ve been watching to see if other open “bare metal” projects would morph to match the system-level capabilities that we proved in Crowbar v1 and honed in the re-architecture of OpenCrowbar.  The answer appears to be that Crowbar simply takes a broader approach to solving the physical ops repeatably problem.

Crowbar Architect Victor Lowther says “What makes Crowbar a better tool than Cobbler, Razor, or Foreman is that Crowbar has an orchestration engine that can be used to safely and repeatably deploy complex workloads across large numbers of machines. This is different from (and better than, IMO) just being able to hand responsibility off to Chef/Puppet/Salt, because we can manage the entire lifecycle of a machine where Cobbler, Razor and Chef cannot, we can describe how we want workloads configured at a more abstract level than Foreman can, and we do it all using the same API and UI.”

Since we started with a vision of an integrated system to address the “apply-rinse-repeat” cycle; it’s no surprise that Crowbar remains the only open platform that’s managed to crack the complete physical deployment life-cycle.

The Crowbar team realized that it’s not just about automation setting values: physical ops requires orchestration to make sure the values are set in the correct sequence on the appropriate control surface including DNS, DHCP, PXE, Monitoring, et cetera.  Unlike architectures for aaS platforms, the heterogeneous nature of the physical control planes requires a different approach.

We’ve seen that making more and more complex kickstart scripts or golden images is not a sustainable solution.  There is simply too much hardware variation and dependency thrash for operators to collaborate with those tools.  Instead, we’ve found that decomposing the provisioning operations into functional layers with orchestration is much more multi-site repeatable.

Accepting that physical ops (discovered infrastructure) is fundamentally different from cloud ops (created infrastructure) has been critical to architecting platforms that were resilient enough for the heterogeneous infrastructure of data centers.

If we want to start cleaning up physical ops, we need to stop looking at operating system provisioning in isolation and start looking at the full server bring up as just a part of a broader system operation that includes networking, management and operational integration.

VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO) is smart move, it’s like using a Volvo to tow your ski boat

I’m impressed with VMware’s VIO (beta) play and believe it will have a meaningful positive impact in the OpenStack ecosystem.  In the short-term, it paradoxically both helps enterprises stay on VMware and accelerates adoption of OpenStack.  The long term benefit to VMware is less clear.

From VWVortex

Sure, you can use a Volvo to tow a boat

Why do I think it’s good tactics?  Let’s explore an analogy….

My kids think owning a boat will be super fun with images of ski parties and lazy days drifting at anchor with PG13 umbrella drinks; however, I’ve got concerns about maintenance, cost and how much we’d really use it.  The problem is not the boat: it’s all of the stuff that goes along with ownership.  In addition to the boat, I’d need a trailer, a new car to pull the boat and driveway upgrades for parking.  Looking at that, the boat’s the easiest part of the story.

The smart move for me is to rent a boat and trailer for a few months to test my kids interest.  In that case, I’m going to be towing the boat using my Volvo instead of going “all in” and buying that new Ferd 15000 (you know you want it).  As a compromise, I’ll install a hitch in my trusty sedan and use it gently to tow the boat.  It’s not ideal and causes extra wear to the transmission but it’s a very low risk way to explore the boat owning life style.

Enterprise IT already has the Volvo (VMware vCenter) and likely sees calls for OpenStack as the illusion of cool ski parties without regard for the realities of owning the boat.  Pulling the boat for a while (using OpenStack on VMware) makes a lot of sense to these users.  If the boat gets used then they will buy the truck and accessories (move off VMware).  Until then, their still learning about the open source boating life style.

Putting open source concerns aside.  This helps VMware lead the OpenStack play for enterprises but may ultimately backfire if they have not setup their long game to keep the customers.

Patchwork Onion delivers stability & innovation: the graphics that explains how we determine OpenStack Core

This post was coauthored by the DefCore chairs, Rob Hirschfeld & Joshua McKenty.

The OpenStack board, through the DefCore committee, has been working to define “core” for commercial users using a combination of minimum required capabilities (APIs) and code (Designated Sections).  These minimums are decided on a per project basis so it can be difficult to visualize the impact on the overall effect on the Integrated Release.

Patchwork OnionWe’ve created the patchwork onion graphic to help illustrate how core relates to the integrated release.  While this graphic is pretty complex, it was important to find a visual way to show how different DefCore identifies distinct subsets of APIs and code from each project.  This graphic tries to show how that some projects have no core APIs and/or code.

For OpenStack to grow, we need to have BOTH stability and innovation.  We need to give clear guidance to the community what is stable foundation and what is exciting sandbox.  Without that guidance, OpenStack is perceived as risky and unstable by users and vendors. The purpose of defining “Core” is to be specific in addressing that need so we can move towards interoperability.

Interoperability enables an ecosystem with multiple commercial vendors which is one of the primary goals of the OpenStack Foundation.

Ecosystem OnionOriginally, we thought OpenStack would have “core” and “non-core” projects and we baked that expectation into the bylaws.  As we’ve progressed, it’s clear that we need a less binary definition.  Projects themselves have a maturity cycle (ecosystem -> incubated -> integrated) and within the project some APIs are robust and stable while others are innovative and fluctuating.

Encouraging this mix of stabilization and innovation has been an important factor in our discussions about DefCore.  Growing the user base requires encouraging stability and growing the developer base requires enabling innovation within the same projects.

The consequence is that we are required to clearly define subsets of capabilities (APIs) and implementation (code) that are required within each project.  Designating 100% of the API or code as Core stifles innovation because stability dictates limiting changes while designating 0% of the code (being API only) lessens the need to upstream.  Core reflects the stability and foundational nature of the code; unfortunately, many people incorrectly equate “being core” with the importance of the code, and politics ensues.

To combat the politics, DefCore has taken a transparent, principles-based approach to selecting core.   You can read about in Rob’s upcoming “Ugly Babies” post (check back on 8/14) .

7 Open Source lessons from your English Composition class

We often act as if coding, and especially open source coding, is a unique activity and that’s hubris.   Most human activities follow common social patterns that should inform how we organize open source projects.  For example, research papers are very social and community connected activities.  Especially when published, written compositions are highly interconnected activities.  Even the most basic writing builds off other people’s work with due credit and tries create something worth being used by later authors.

Here are seven principles to good writing that translate directly to good open source development:

  1. Research before writing – take some time to understand the background and goals of the project otherwise you re-invent or draw bad conclusions.
  2. Give credit where due – your work has more credibility when you acknowledge and cross-reference the work you are building on. It also shows readers that you are not re-inventing.
  3. Follow the top authors – many topics have widely known authors who act as “super nodes” in the relationship graph. Recognizing these people will help guide your work, leads to better research and builds community.
  4. Find proof readers – All writers need someone with perspective to review their work before it’s finished. Since we all need reviewers, we all also need to do reviews.
  5. Rework to get clarity – Simplicity and clarity take extra effort but they pay huge dividends for your audience.
  6. Don’t surprise your reader – Readers expect patterns and are distracted when you don’t follow them.
  7. Socialize your ideas – the purpose of writing/code is to make ideas durable. If it’s worth writing then it’s worth sharing.  Your artifact does not announce itself – you need to invest time in explaining it to people and making it accessible.

Thanks to Sean Roberts (a Hidden Influences collaborator) for his contributions to this post.  At OSCON, Sean Roberts said “companies should count open source as research [and development investment]” and I thought he’s said “…as research [papers].”  The misunderstanding was quickly resolved and we were happy to discover that both interpretations were useful.

The Upstream Imperative: paving the way for content creators is required for platform success

Since content is king, platform companies (like Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon) win by attracting developers to build on their services.  Open source tooling and frameworks are the critical interfaces for these adopters; consequently, they must invest in building communities around those platforms even if it means open sourcing previously internal only tools.

This post expands on one of my OSCON observations: companies who write lots of code have discovered an imperative to upstream their internal projects.   For background, review my thoughts about open source and supply chain management.

Huh?  What is an “upstream imperative?”  It sounds like what salmon do during spawning then read the post-script!

Historically, companies with a lot of internal development tools had no inventive to open those projects.  In fact, the “collaboration tax” of open source discouraged companies from sharing code for essential operations.   Historically, open source was considered less featured and slower than commercial or internal projects; however, this perception has been totally shattered.  So companies are faced with a balance between the overhead of supporting external needs (aka collaboration) and the innovation those users bring into the effort.

Until recently, this balance usually tipped towards opening a project but under-investing in the community to keep the collaboration costs low.  The change I saw at OSCON is that companies understand that making open projects successful bring communities closer to their products and services.

That’s a huge boon to the overall technology community.

Being able to leverage and extend tools that have been proven by these internal teams strengthens and accelerates everyone. These communities act as free laboratories that breed new platforms and build deep relationships with critical influencers.  The upstream savvy companies see returns from both innovation around their tools and more content that’s well matched to their platforms.

Oh, and companies that fail to upstream will find it increasingly hard to attract critical mind share.  Thinking the alternatives gives us a Windows into how open source impacts past incumbents.

That leads to a future post about how XaaS dog fooding and “pure-play” aaS projects like OpenStack and CloudFoundry.

Post Script about Upstreaming:

Continue reading

4 item OSCON report: no buzz winner, OpenStack is DownStack?, Free vs Open & the upstream imperative

Now that my PDX Trimet pass expired, it’s time to reflect on OSCON 2014.   Unfortunately, I did not ride my unicorn home on a rainbow; this year’s event seemed to be about raising red flags.

My four key observations:

  1. No superstar. Past OSCONs had at least one buzzy community super star.  2013 was Docker and 2011 was OpenStack.  This was not just my hallway track perception, I asked around about this specifically.  There was no buzz winner in 2014.
  2. People were down on OpenStack (“DownStack”). Yes, we did have a dedicated “Open Cloud Day” event but there was something missing.  OpenSack did not sponsor and there were no major parties or releases (compared to previous years) and little OpenStack buzz.  Many people I talked to were worried about the direction of the community, fragmentation of the project and operational readiness.  I would be more concerned about “DownStack” except that no open infrastructure was a superstar either (e.g.: Mesos, Kubernetes and CoreOS).  Perhaps, OSCON is simply not a good venue open infrastructure projects compared to GlueCon or Velocity?  Considering the rapid raise of container-friendly OpenStack alternatives; I think the answer may be that the battle lines for open infrastructure are being redrawn.
  3. Free vs. Open. Perhaps my perspective is more nuanced now (many in open source communities don’t distinguish between Free and Open source) but there’s a real tension between Free (do what you want) and Open (shared but governed) source.  Now that open source is a commercial darling, there is a lot of grumbling in the Free community about corporate influence and heavy handedness.   I suspect this will get louder as companies try to find ways to maintain control of their projects.
  4. Corporate upstreaming becomes Imperative. There’s an accelerating upstreaming trend for companies that write lots of code to support their primary business (Google is a primary example) to ensure that code becomes used outside their company.   They open their code and start efforts to ensure its adoption.  This requires a dedicated post to really explain.

There’s a clear theme here: Open source is going mainstream corporate.

We’ve been building amazing software in the open that create real value for companies.  Much of that value has been created organically by well-intentioned individuals; unfortunately, that model will not scale with the arrival for corporate interests.

Open source is thriving not dying: these companies value the transparency, collaboration and innovation of open development.  Instead, open source is transforming to fit within corporate investment and governance needs.  It’s our job to help with that metamorphosis.