API Driven Metal = OpenCrowbar + Chef Provisioning

The OpenCrowbar community created a Chef-Provisioning driver that allows you to quickly build hardware clusters using Chef cookbooks.

2012-08-05_14-13-18_310When we started using Chef in 2011, there was a distinct gap around bootstrapping systems.  The platform did a great job of automation and even connecting services together (via the Search anti-pattern, see below) but lacked a way to build the initial clusters automatically.

The current answer to this problem from Chef is refreshingly simply: a cookbook API extension called Chef Provisioning.  This approach uses the regular Chef DSL in recipes to create request and bind a cluster into Chef.  Basically, the code simply builds an array of nodes using an API that creates the nodes if they are missing from the array in the code.  Specifically, when a node is missing from the array, Chef calls out to create the node in an external system.

For clouds, that means using the API to request a server and then inject credentials for Chef management.  It’s trickier for physical gear because you cannot just make a server in the configuration you need it in.  Physical systems must first be discovered and profiled to ready state: the system must know how many NICs and disk drives are available to correctly configure the hardware prior to laying down the Operating System.

Consequently, Chef Provisioning automation is more about reallocation of existing discovered physical assets to Chef.  That’s exactly the approach the OpenCrowbar team took for our Chef Provisioning driver.

OpenCrowbar interacts with Chef Provisioning by pulling nodes from the System deployment into a Chef Provisioning deployment.  That action then allows the API client to request specific configurations like Operating System or network that need to be setup for Chef to execute.  Once these requests are made, Crowbar will simply run its normal annealing processes to ready state and then injects the Chef credentials.  Chef waits until the work queue is empty and then takes over management of the asset.  When Chef is finished, Crowbar can be instructed to reconfigure the node back to a base state.

Does that sound simple?  It is simple because the Crowbar APIs match the Chef needs very cleanly.

It’s worth noting that this integration is a great test of the OpenCrowbar API design.  Over the last two years, we’ve evolved the API to make it more final result focused.  Late binding is a critical concept for the project and the APIs reflect that objective.  For Chef Provisioning, we allow the integration to focus on simple requests like “give me a node then put this O/S on the node and go.”  Crowbar has the logic needed to figure out how to accomplish those objectives without much additional instruction.

Bonus Side Note: Why Search can become an anti-pattern?  

Search is an incredibly powerful feature in Chef that allows cross-role and cross-node integration; unfortunately, it’s also very difficult to maintain as complexity and contributor counts grow.  The reason is that search creates “forward dependencies” in the scripts that require operators creating data to be aware of downstream, hidden consumers.  High Availability (HA) is a clear example.  If I add a new “cluster database” role to the system then it is very likely to return multiple results for database searches.  That’s excellent until I learn that my scripts have coded search to assume that we only return one result for database lookups.  It’s very hard to find these errors since the searches are decoupled and downstream of the database cookbook.  Ultimately, the community had to advise against embedded search for shared cookbooks

7 takeaways from DevOps Days Austin

Block Tables

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at DevOpsDays Austin and continue to be impressed with the enthusiasm and collaborative nature of the DOD events.  We also managed to have a very robust and engaged twitter backchannel thanks to an impressive pace set by Gene Kim!

I’ve still got a 5+ post backlog from the OpenStack summit, but wanted to do a quick post while it’s top of mind.

My takeaways from DevOpsDays Austin:

  1. DevOpsDays spends a lot of time talking about culture.  I’m a huge believer on the importance of culture as the foundation for the type of fundamental changes that we’re making in the IT industry; however, it’s also a sign that we’re still in the minority if we have to talk about culture evangelism.
  2. Process and DevOps are tightly coupled.  It’s very clear that Lean/Agile/Kanban are essential for DevOps success (nice job by Dominica DeGrandis).  No one even suggested DevOps+Waterfall as a joke (but Patrick Debois had a picture of a xeroxed butt in his preso which is pretty close).
  3. Still need more Devs people to show up!  My feeling is that we’ve got a lot of operators who are engaging with developers and fewer developers who are engaging with operators (the “opsdev” people).
  4. Chef Omnibus installer is very compelling.  This approach addresses issues with packaging that were created because we did not have configuration management.  Now that we have good tooling we separate the concerns between bits, configuration, services and dependencies.  This is one thing to watch and something I expect to see in Crowbar.
  5. The old mantra still holds: If something is hard, do it more often.
  6. Eli Goldratt’s The Goal is alive again thanks to Gene Kims’s smart new novel, The Phoenix project, about DevOps and IT  (I highly recommend both, start with Kim).
  7. Not DevOps, but 3D printing is awesome.  This is clearly a game changing technology; however, it takes some effort to get right.  Dell brought a Solidoodle 3D printer to the event to try and print OpenStack & Crowbar logos (watch for this in the future).

I’d be interested in hearing what other people found interesting!  Please comment here and let me know.

OpenStack Summit: Let’s talk DevOps, Fog, Upgrades, Crowbar & Dell

If you are coming to the OpenStack summit in San Diego next week then please find me at the show! I want to hear from you about the Foundation, community, OpenStack deployments, Crowbar and anything else.  Oh, and I just ordered a handful of Crowbar stickers if you wanted some CB bling.

Matt Ray (Opscode), Jason Cannavale (Rackspace) and I were Ops track co-chairs. If you have suggestions, we want to hear. We managed to get great speakers and also some interesting sessions like DevOps panel and up streaming deploy working sessions. It’s only on Monday and Tuesday, so don’t snooze or you’ll miss it.

My team from Dell has a lot going on, so there are lots of chances to connect with us:

At the Dell booth, Randy Perryman will be sharing field experience about hardware choices. We’ve got a lot of OpenStack battle experience and we want to compare notes with you.

I’m on the board meeting on Monday so likely occupied until the Mirantis party.

See you in San Diego!

PS: My team is hiring for Dev, QA and Marketing. Let me know if you want details.

Crowbar 2.0 Design Summit Notes (+ open weekly meetings starting)

I could not be happier with the results Crowbar collaborators and my team at Dell achieved around the 1st Crowbar design summit. We had great discussions and even better participation.

The attendees represented major operating system vendors, configuration management companies, OpenStack hosting companies, OpenStack cloud software providers, OpenStack consultants, OpenStack private cloud users, and (of course) a major infrastructure provider. That’s a very complete cross-section of the cloud community.

I knew from the start that we had too little time and, thankfully, people were tolerant of my need to stop the discussions. In the end, we were able to cover all the planned topics. This was important because all these features are interlocked so discussions were iterative. I was impressed with the level of knowledge at the table and it drove deep discussion. Even so, there are still parts of Crowbar that are confusing (networking, late binding, orchestration, chef coupling) even to collaborators.

In typing up these notes, it becomes even more blindingly obvious that the core features for Crowbar 2 are highly interconnected. That’s no surprise technically; however, it will make the notes harder to follow because of knowledge bootstrapping. You need take time and grok the gestalt and surf the zeitgeist.

Collaboration Invitation: I wanted to remind readers that this summit was just the kick-off for a series of open weekly design (Tuesdays 10am CDT) and coordination (Thursdays 8am CDT) meetings. Everyone is welcome to join in those meetings – information is posted, recorded, folded, spindled and mutilated on the Crowbar 2 wiki page.

These notes are my reflection of the online etherpad notes that were made live during the meeting. I’ve grouped them by design topic.

Introduction

  • Contributors need to sign CLAs
  • We are refactoring Crowbar at this time because we have a collection of interconnected features that could not be decoupled
  • Some items (Database use, Rails3, documentation, process) are not for debate. They are core needs but require little design.
  • There are 5 key topics for the refactor: online mode, networking flexibility, OpenStack pull from source, heterogeneous/multi operating systems, being CDMB agnostic
  • Due to time limits, we have to stop discussions and continue them online.
  • We are hoping to align Crowbar 2 beta and OpenStack Folsom release.

Online / Connected Mode

  • Online mode is more than simply internet connectivity. It is the foundation of how Crowbar stages dependencies and components for deploy. It’s required for heterogeneous O/S, pull from source and it has dependencies on how we model networking so nodes can access resources.
  • We are thinking to use caching proxies to stage resources. This would allow isolated production environments and preserves the run everything from ISO without a connection (that is still a key requirement to us).
  • Suse’s Crowbar fork does not build an ISO, instead it relies on RPM packages for barclamps and their dependencies.
  • Pulling packages directly from the Internet has proven to be unreliable, this method cannot rely on that alone.

Install From Source

  • This feature is mainly focused on OpenStack, it could be applied more generally. The principals that we are looking at could be applied to any application were the source code is changing quickly (all of them?!). Hadoop is an obvious second candidate.
  • We spent some time reviewing the use-cases for this feature. While this appears to be very dev and pre-release focused, there are important applications for production. Specifically, we expect that scale customers will need to run ahead of or slightly adjacent to trunk due to patches or proprietary code. In both cases, it is important that users can deploy from their repository.
  • We discussed briefly our objective to pull configuration from upstream (not just OpenStack, but potentially any common cookbooks/modules). This topic is central to the CMDB agnostic discussion below.
  • The overall sentiment is that this could be a very powerful capability if we can manage to make it work. There is a substantial challenge in tracking dependencies – current RPMs and Debs do a good job of this and other configuration steps beyond just the bits. Replicating that functionality is the real obstacle.

CMDB agnostic (decoupling Chef)

  • This feature is confusing because we are not eliminating the need for a configuration management database (CMDB) tool like Chef, instead we are decoupling Crowbar from the a single CMDB to a pluggable model using an abstraction layer.
  • It was stressed that Crowbar does orchestration – we do not rely on convergence over multiple passes to get the configuration correct.
  • We had strong agreement that the modules should not be tightly coupled but did need a consistent way (API? Consistent namespace? Pixie dust?) to share data between each other. Our priority is to maintain loose coupling and follow integration by convention and best practices rather than rigid structures.
  • The abstraction layer needs to have both import and export functions
  • Crowbar will use attribute injection so that Cookbooks can leverage Crowbar but will not require Crowbar to operate. Crowbar’s database will provide the links between the nodes instead of having to wedge it into the CMDB.
  • In 1.x, the networking was the most coupled into Chef. This is a major part of the refactor and modeling for Crowbar’s database.
  • There are a lot of notes captured about this on the etherpad – I recommend reviewing them

Heterogeneous OS (bare metal provisioning and beyond)

  • This topic was the most divergent of all our topics because most of the participants were using some variant of their own bare metal provisioning project (check the etherpad for the list).
  • Since we can’t pack an unlimited set of stuff on the ISO, this feature requires online mode.
  • Most of these projects do nothing beyond OS provisioning; however, their simplicity is beneficial. Crowbar needs to consider users who just want a stream-lined OS provisioning experience.
  • We discussed Crowbar’s late binding capability, but did not resolve how to reconcile that with these other projects.
  • Critical use cases to consider:
    • an API for provisioning (not sure if it needs to be more than the current one)
    • pick which Operating Systems go on which nodes (potentially with a rules engine?)
    • inventory capabilities of available nodes (like ohai and factor) into a database
    • inventory available operating systems

OpenStack Deploy Day generates lots of interest, less coding

Last week, my team at Dell led a world-wide OpenStack Essex Deploy event. Kamesh Pemmaraju, our OpenStack-powered solution product manager, did a great summary of the event results (200+ attendees!). What started as a hack-a-thon for deploy scripts morphed into a stunning 14+ hour event with rotating intro content and an ecosystem showcase (videos).  Special kudos to Kamesh, Andi Abes, Judd Maltin, Randy Perryman & Mike Pittaro for leadership at our regional sites.

Clearly, OpenStack is attracting a lot of interest. We’ve been investing time in content to help people who are curious about OpenStack to get started.

While I’m happy to be fueling the OpenStack fervor with an easy on-ramp, our primary objective for the Deploy Day was to collaborate on OpenStack deployments.

On that measure, we have room for improvement. We had some great discussions about how to handle upgrades and market drivers for OpenStack; however, we did not spend the time improving Essex deployments that I was hoping to achieve. I know it’s possible – I’ve talked with developers in the Crowbar community who want this.

If you wanted more expert interaction, here are some of my thoughts for future events.

  • Expert track did not get to deploy coding. I think that we need to simply focus more even tightly on to Crowbar deployments. That means having a Crowbar Hack with an OpenStack focus instead of vice versa.
  • Efforts to serve OpenStack n00bs did not protect time for experts. If we offer expert sessions then we won’t try to have parallel intro sessions. We’ll simply have to direct novices to the homework pages and videos.
  • Combining on-site and on-line is too confusing. As much as I enjoy meeting people face-to-face, I think we’d have a more skilled audience if we kept it online only.
  • Connectivity! Dropped connections, sigh.
  • Better planning for videos (not by the presenters) to make sure that we have good results on the expert track.
  • This event was too long. It’s just not practical to serve Europe, US and Asia in a single event. I think that 2-3 hours is a much more practical maximum. 10-12am Eastern or 6-8pm Pacific would be much more manageable.

Do you have other comments and suggestions? Please let me know!

Hungry for Operational Excellence? ChefConf 2012 satisfies!

Since my team at Dell sponsored the inaugural ChefConf, we had the good fortune to get a handful of passes and show up at the event in force.  I was also tapped for a presentation (Chef+Crowbar gets Physical+OpenStack Cloud) and Ignite session (Crowbar history).

I live demo’ed using a single command window with knife to manage both physical and cloud infrastructure.    That’s freaking cool!  (and thanks to Matt Ray for helping to get this working)

It’s no surprise that I’m already a DevOps advocate and Opscode enthusiast, there were aspects of the conference that are worth reiterating:

  • Opscode is part of the cadre of leaders redefining how we operate infrastructure.  The energy is amazing.
  • The acknowledgement of the “snowflake” challenge where all Ops environments are alike, but no two are the same.
  • A tight integration between Operations and lean delivery because waterfall deployments are not sustainable
  • Opscode’s vision is rooted in utility.  You can be successful without design and then excel when you add it.  I find that refreshing.
  • There was a fun, friendly (“hug driven development?!”) and laid back vibe.  This group laughed A LOT.
  • For a first conference, Opscode did a good job with logistics and organization.
  • I saw that the back rooms and hallways are buzzing with activity.  This means that people are making money with the technology.

Crowbar + Chef installs & manages OpenStack Essex (Live Demo, 45 minutes):

 

Ignite Talk about Dell Crowbar History (5 minutes)

Dell Team at the OpenStack Spring 2012 Summit

It’s OpenStack Summit time again for my team at Dell and there’s deployment in the air. It’s been an amazing journey from the first Austin summit to Folsom today. Since those first heady days, the party has gotten a lot more crowded, founding members have faded away, recruiters became enriched as employees changed email TLDs and buckets of code was delivered.

Throughout, Dell has stayed the course: our focus from day-one has been ensuring OpenStack can be deployed into production in a way that was true to the OpenStack mission of community collaboration and Apache-2-licensed open source.

We’ve delivered on the making OpenStack deployable vision by collaborating broadly on the OpenStack components of the open source Crowbar project. I believe that our vision for sustainable open operations based on DevOps principles is the most complete strategy for production cloud deployments.

We are at the Folsom Summit in force and we’re looking forward to discussions with the OpenStack community. Here are some of the ways to engage with us:

  • Demos
    • During the summit (M-W), we’ll have our Crowbar OpenStack Essex deployments running. We kicked off Essex development with a world-wide event in early March and we want more people to come and join in.
    • During the conference (W-F), we’ll be showing off application deployments using enStratus and Chef against our field proven Diablo release.
  • Speakers
    • Thursday 1:00pm, OpenStack Gains Momentum: Customers are Speaking Up by Kamesh Pemmaraju (Dell)
    • Friday 9:50am, Deploy Apps on OpenStack using Dashboard, Chef and enStratus by Rob Hirschfeld (Dell), Matt Ray (Opscode) and Keith Hudgins (enStratus).
    • Friday 11:30am, Expanding the Community Panel
      including Joseph George (Dell)
    • This fun round trip road trip from Rackspace & Dell HQs in Austin to the summit and home again promises to be an odyssey of inclusion. Dell OpenStack/Crowbar engineer Andi Abes (@a_abes). Follow @RoadstackRV to follow along as they return home and share their thoughts about the summit!
  • Parties
    • Monday 6pm Mirantis Welcome Party, co-sponsored with Dell, at Sens Restaurant (RSVP)
    • Tuesday 5pm “Demos & Drinks” Happy Hour, co-hosted by Dell, Mirantis, Morphlabs, Canonical at the Hyatt Regency Hospitality Room off the Atrium

My team has been in the field talking to customers and doing OpenStack deployments. We are proud to talk about it and our approach.

Mostly importantly, we want to collaborate with you on our Essex deployments using Crowbar.  Get on our list, download/build crowbar, run the “essex-hack” branch and start banging on the deploy.  Let’s work together to make this one rock solid Essex deploy.