OpenCrowbar 2.1 Released Last Week with new integrations and support

Crowbar 2.1 Release brings commercial support, hardware configs, chef and saltstack

OpenCrowbarLast week, the Crowbar community completed the OpenCrowbar “Broom” release and officially designed it as v2.1.  This release represents 8 months of hardening of the core orchestration engine (including automated testing), the addition of true hardware support (in the optional hardware workload) and preliminary advanced integration with Chef and Saltstack.

Core Features:

  • RAID – Automatically set RAID configuration parameters depending on how the system will be used.
    • Support for LSI controllers
    • Single and Dual RAID configuration
  • BIOS – Automatically set BIOS settings depending on how the system will be used.
    • Configuration setting for Dell PE series systems
  • Out of Band Support-  Configure and manage systems via their OOB interface
    • Support for IPMI and WSMan
  • RPM Installation (it riseth again!) – Install OpenCrowbar via a standard RPM instead of a Docker container


  • SaltStack integration – OpenCrowbar can install SaltStack as a configuration tool to take over after “Ready State”
  • Chef Provisioning (was Chef Metal) – OpenCrowbar driver allows Chef to build clusters on bare metal using the Crowbar API.


  • Automated smoke test and code coverage analysis for all pull requests.

And…v2.1 is the first release with commercial support!

RackN ( offers consulting and support for the OpenCrowbar v2.1 release.  The company was started by Crowbar founders Greg Althaus, Scott Jensen, Dan Choquette, and myself specifically to productize and extend Crowbar.

Want to try it out?

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.

Connecting the dots: Dell stays course on OpenStack private

rob pdx drivingWhen it comes to OpenStack, I don’t just work for Dell: I’m the technical lead for our OpenStack-powered private Cloud Solution and an elected director to the OpenStack Foundation board.

Frankly, the announcement of our change in public cloud strategy overshadowed our increasing level of investment in OpenStack-powered private cloud solutions (we are hiring!).  Sam Greenblatt, Dell Product Group VP and Chief Architect, is very specific that the recent announcements are about increasing investment where Dell is already successful plus accelerating with new features (such as leadership in HyperV enablement).

The fact that we focused on our decision to pivot away from Dell hosted public cloud distracted from the strategic choices that we’ve been making.  In the lean process that we use, pivots are a positive sign of listening and self-honesty.  Sadly, that distraction led to confusion, misleading comments, and implications that Dell was dropping OpenStack or questioning OpenStack sustainability and market success.

For the record, Dell was one of the first companies to support OpenStack with supporting quotes from Forrest Norrod (Dell GM for Servers and my direct boss) way back  in July 2010.  Our private OpenStack based cloud, built on open source Crowbar, was the first to market 2 years ago (deploying Cactus!).  We’ve been investing steadily in both fundamental improvements to OpenStack deployment and being early supporting the Grizzly release.

I am not implying that OpenStack’s future is certain (we have a lot of work to do) or that Dell OpenStack strategy will not change again; however, I know first-hand that both are on much firmer footing than some reports have implied.

Installing SSD + Windows8 = Blank Primary Monitor (fixable!)

2012-10-28_12-44-51_691I could not find the solution to this easily, so I’m leaving a breadcrumb trail here… I did not keep the links so I cannot give proper attribution but will try to pay it forward.

Short version: Try HDMI/VGA output if your Win8 primary monitor is blank.  Then update the BIOS.

Long version:

I decided to update my wife’s Dell Inspiron N5110 laptop to an SSD and Windows 8.  Sadly, the machine’s factory config had a very slow HDD and that was impacting the system’s total performance.  Replacing the HDD with an SSD required major surgery to the laptop – it is not for the faint of heart.

After installing the SSD and installing Windows 8 (painless!) the system booted though the splash screen and turned off the display.  Yes, it simply went completely blank.

I stumbled upon a tip that suggested that the system was working but using the HDMI output.  That proved correct.  I was able to complete the configuration using HDMI and/or VGA monitors.

Even after completing and updating the monitor (still blank) was clearly working because the BIOS screens and splash screen worked on the monitor.  Deleting the Video Card from Devices did NOT work.

Ultimately, I found a site that recommended updating the BIOS (was A09, now A11 from 11/2012).  The BIOS update corrected the problem.

I should have known to update the BIOS and firmware before starting the upgrade.  I hope you learn from my experience.

Oh…. the SSD+Win8 made an AMAZING performance difference.  It’s like a brand new 10x faster laptop and an excellent investment.  I’ve become a bit of a Linux appologist; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find Windows 8 to be very usable once I learned the latest hot-key assignments (Search on Win key -> Win+F).

double Block Head with OpenStack+Equallogic & Crowbar+Ceph

Block Head

Whew….Yesterday, Dell announced TWO OpenStack block storage capabilities (Equallogic & Ceph) for our OpenStack Essex Solution (I’m on the Dell OpenStack/Crowbar team) and community edition.  The addition of block storage effectively fills the “persistent storage” gap in the solution.  I’m quadrupally excited because we now have:

  1. both open source (Ceph) and enterprise (Equallogic) choices
  2. both Nova drivers’ code is in the open at part of our open source Crowbar work

Frankly, I’ve been having trouble sitting on the news until Dell World because both features have been available in Github before the announcement (EQLX and Ceph-Barclamp).  Such is the emerging intersection of corporate marketing and open source.

As you may expect, we are delivering them through Crowbar; however, we’ve already had customers pickup the EQLX code and apply it without Crowbar.

The Equallogic+Nova Connector


If you are using Crowbar 1.5 (Essex 2) then you already have the code!  Of course, you still need to have the admin information for your SAN – we did not automate the configuration of the storage system, but the Nova Volume integration.

We have it under a split test so you need to do the following to enable the configuration options:

  1. Install OpenStack as normal
  2. Create the Nova proposal
  3. Enter “Raw” Attribute Mode
  4. Change the “volume_type” to “eqlx”
  5. Save
  6. The Equallogic options should be available in the custom attribute editor!  (of course, you can edit in raw mode too)

Want Docs?  Got them!  Check out these > EQLX Driver Install Addendum

Usage note: the integration uses SSH sessions.  It has been performance tested but not been tested at scale.

The Ceph+Nova Connector


The Ceph capability includes a Ceph barclamp!  That means that all the work to setup and configure Ceph is done automatically done by Crowbar.  Even better, their Nova barclamp (Ceph provides it from their site) will automatically find the Ceph proposal and link the components together!

Ceph has provided excellent directions and videos to support this install.

Interview Transcript about OpenStack, Foundation, Dell & Crowbar

Rafael Knuth, Dell Rafael Knuth (@RafaelKnuth with Dell as EMEA Social Media Community Manager) has set an ambitious objective to interview all 24 of the OpenStack Foundation Board members.  I have the privilege of being the first interview posted (Japanese version!).   Here’s the whole series.

This is not puff interview – We spent an hour together and Rafael did not shy away from asking hard questions like “Why did Dell jump into OpenStack?” and “is VMware a threat to OpenStack?”  Rather than posting the whole transcript (it’s posted here), I’m including the questions (as a teaser) below.   There is some real meat in these answers about OpenStack, Dell, Crowbar and challenges facing the project.

WARNING: My job is engineering, not marketing.  You may find my answers (which are MY OWN ANSWERS) to be more direct that you are expecting.  If you find yourself needing additional circumlocution then simply close your browser and move on.

Some highlights…

Dell’s interest in OpenStack has been very pragmatic. OpenStack is something we really see a market need for.

Rackspace …  runs on OpenStack pretty much off trunk …  That’s exactly the type of vibrant community we want to see.  At the same time, there is a growing community that wants to use OpenStack distributions with support, certifications and they are fine with being 6 months behind OpenStack off trunk. That’s good, and we want that shadow, we want that combination of pure minded early adopters and less sophisticated OpenStack users both working together.

We are working with different partners to bring OpenStack to different customers in different ways. It is confusing. Your question about Dell Crowbar was right … it is targeted at a certain class of users, and I don’t want enterprise customers who expect a lot of shiny chrome and zero touch. That’s not the target by now for Dell Crowbar. We definitely need that sort of magic decoder page to help customers understand our commercial offering.

Questions from Interview:

  1. Dell is one of the very early contributors to OpenStack. Why is Dell engaging in this project?
  2. How does Dell contribute to OpenStack?
  3. Let’s talk a bit about Dell Crowbar, your team’s deployment mechanism for OpenStack.
  4. Let’s talk a bit about OpenStack raw vs. OpenStack distributions.
  5. What are the biggest barriers to OpenStack adoption as of now?
  6. What does a customer specifically need to do when moving from OpenStack Essex to Folsom for example?
  7. My next question is around proof of concept versus production, Rob. How are customers using OpenStack and can you give examples for both scenarios?
  8. I hear very often two different statements: “Open Stack is an alternative to Amazon.” The other is: “OpenStack is an alternative to VMware … maybe, hopefully in two or three years from now.”  Which of both statements is true?
  9. How do you view VMware joining OpenStack. Is it a threat to OpenStack or does VMware add value to the project?
  10. Let us speak about market adoption. Who are the early adopters of OpenStack? And when do you expect OpenStack to hit the tipping point for mass market adoption?
  11. Rob, for all those interested in Dell’s commercial offering around OpenStack … can you give a brief overview?
  12. Dell TechCenter that provides customers an overview over our OpenStack offering: Dell Crowbar as our DevOps tool in its various shapes and forms, OpenStack distros we support … cloud services we build around OpenStack … hardware capabilities optimized for OpenStack.
  13. What are the challenges for the OpenStack Board of Directors?

Big Data to tame Big Government? The answer is the Question.

Today my boss at Dell, John Igoe, is part of announcing of the report from the TechAmerica Federal Big Data Commission (direct pdf), I was fully expecting the report to be a real snoozer brimming with corporate synergies and win-win externalities. Instead, I found myself reading a practical guide to applying Big Data to government. Flipping past the short obligatory “what is…” section, the report drives right into a survey of practical applications for big data spanning nearly every governmental service. Over half of the report is dedicated to case studies with specific recommendations and buying criteria.

Ultimately, the report calls for agencies to treat data as an asset. An asset that can improve how government operates.

There are a few items that stand out in this report:

  1. Need for standards on privacy and governance. The report calls out a review and standardization of cross agency privacy policy (pg 35) and a Chief Data Officer position each agency (pg 37).
  2. Clear tables of case studies on page 16 and characteristics on page 11 that help pin point a path through the options.
  3. Definitive advice to focus on a single data vector (velocity, volume or variety) for initial success on page 28 (and elsewhere)

I strongly agree with one repeated point in the report: although there is more data available, our ability to comprehend this data is reduced. The sheer volume of examples the report cites is proof enough that agencies are, and will be continue to be, inundated with data.

One short coming of this report is that it does not flag the extreme storage of data scientists. Many of the cases discussed assume a ready army of engineers to implement these solutions; however, I’m uncertain how the government will fill positions in a very tight labor market. Ultimately, I think we will have to simply open the data for citizen & non-governmental analysis because, as the report clearly states, data is growing faster than capability to use it.

I commend the TechAmerica commission for their Big Data clarity: success comes from starting with a narrow scope. So the answer, ironically, is in knowing which questions we want to ask.