How OpenStack installer (crowbar + chefops) works (video from 3/14 demo)

July 24th 2012 Update:

This page is very very old and Crowbar has progressed significantly since this was posted.  For better information, please visit the Crowbar wiki and  review my Crowbar 2 writeups.

August 5th 2011 Update:

While still relevant and accurate, the information on this page does not reflect the latest information about the now Apache 2 released Crowbar code.  In the 4+ months following this post, we substantially refactored the code make make it more modular (see Barclamps), better looking, and multi-vendor/multi-application (Hadoop & RHEL).  If you want more information, I recommend that you try Crowbar for yourself.

Original March 14th 2011 Text:

I’ve been getting some “how does Crowbar work” inquiries and wanted to take a shot at adding some technical detail.   Before I launch into technical babble, there are some important things to note:

  1. Dell has committed to open source release the code for Crowbar (Apache 2)
  2. Crowbar is an extension of Chef Server – it does not function stand alone and uses Chef’s APIs to store all it’s data.
  3. The OpenStack components install is managed by Chef cookbooks & recipes jointly developed by Dell, Opscode and Rackspace.
  4. Crowbar can be used to simply bootstrap your data center; however, we believe it is the start of a cloud operational model that I described in the hyperscale cloud white paper.

LIVE DEMO (video via Barton George): If you’re at SXSW on 3/14 @ 2pm in Kung Fu Salon, you can ask Greg Althaus to explain it – he does a better job than I do.

Here’s what you need to know to understand Crowbar:

Crowbar is a PXE state machine.

The primary function of Crowbar is to get new hardware into a state where it can be managed by Chef.   To get hardware into a “Chef Ready” state, there are several steps that must be performed.  We need to setup the BIOS, RAID, figure out where the server is racked, install an operating system, assign IP networking and names, synchronize clocks (NTP) and setup a chef client linked to our server.  That’s a lot of steps!

In order to do these steps, we need to boot the server through a series of controlled images (stages) and track the progress through each state.  That means that each state corresponds to a PXE boot image.  The images have a simple script that uses WGET to update the Crowbar server (which stores it’s data in Chef) when the script completes.  When a state is finished, Crowbar will change the PXE server to provide the next image in the sequence.

During the Crowbar managed part of the install, the servers will reboot several times.  Once all of the hardware configuration is complete, Crowbar will use an operating system install image to create the base configuration.  For the first release, we are only planning to have a single Operating System (Ubuntu 10.10); however, we expect to be adding more operating system options.

The current architecture of Crowbar (and the Chef Server that it extends) is to use a dedicated server in the system for administration.  Our default install adds PXE, DHCP, NTP, DNS, Nagios, & Ganglia to the admin server.  For small systems, you can use Chef to add other infrastructure capabilities to the admin server; unfortunately, adding components makes it harder to redeploy the components.  For dynamic configurations where you may want to rehearse deployments while building Chef recipes, we recommend installing other infrastructure services on the admin server.

Of course, the hardware configuration steps are vendor specific.  We had to make the state machine (stored in Chef data bags) configurable so that you can add or omit steps.  Since hardware config is slow, error prone and painful, we see this as a big value add.  Making it work for open source will depend on community participation.

Once Chef has control of the servers, you can use Chef (on the local Chef Server) to complete the OpenStack installation.  From there, you can continue to use Chef to deploy VMs into the environment.  Because Chef encourages a DevOps automation mindset, I believe there is a significant ROI to your investment in learning how this tool operates if you want to manage hyperscale clouds.

Crowbar effectively extends the reach of Chef earlier into the cloud management life cycle.

3/21 Note: Updated graphic to show WGET.

30 thoughts on “How OpenStack installer (crowbar + chefops) works (video from 3/14 demo)

  1. Pingback: OpenStack Installer Demo at SXSW « Barton's Blog

  2. Pingback: Today’s Dell Digest March 17, 2011 » Server King

  3. Pingback: OpenStack is ready, but are you? Get some operational cloud mojo and get started! #OpenStack #CloudOps « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  4. Hi ,

    I have been Exploring OpenStack for a couple of weeks now, and Crowbar seems to be very existing and interesting . Can you please provide where I can get more info for trying it.



    • Kanthi – contact if you want early access to Crowbar via our starter solution (as per the white paper). We’re working on the internal legal process to open source our code (Apache2) and then anyone will be able to get the code. Until it’s open, I’m trying to get an contributor/beta agreement in place.

      We’ll be bringing the latest code and equipment to the Cactus conference.


  5. Pingback: My week in California |

  6. Pingback: My week in California « Colin's Site

  7. Pingback: Modularizing #Crowbar via Barclamps – #Dell prepares to open source our #OpenStack installer « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  8. Pingback: #OpenStack Blueprint for Cloud Installer (#crowbar, #apache2) « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  9. Pingback: Cooking up #OpenStack #Chef recipes with Opscode (#Opschef #Crowbar @mattray) « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  10. Pingback: Hungry for Nova Cuisine? Adding Chef recipes for OpenStack Nova « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  11. Pingback: Open Stack Appliance - ready for test : Technical Viewpoints

  12. Pingback: Opscode gets Chef cooking for the enterprise — Cloud Computing News

  13. Pingback: Windows Azure and Cloud Computing Posts for 7/18/2011+ - Windows Azure Blog

  14. Pingback: Dell announces availability of OpenStack solution; Open sources “Crowbar” software framework « Barton's Blog

  15. Pingback: Today’s Dell Digest July 27, 2011 » ServerKing

  16. what is the installation and configuration and component in crowbar dese the admin server install PXE, DHCP, NTP, DNS, Nagios, & Ganglia to nodes?What do we need on admin server to support the installation on nodes?


    • All of these actions are part of the install script that’s included in the Crowbar source. Most of those feature are orchestrated by Chef and you can inspected them in the Cookbooks of the Chef Server that Crowbar deploys. Please review the install script.


  17. Pingback: Dustin Kirkland: A Formal Introduction to The Ubuntu Orchestra Project | Ubuntu Forms

  18. Pingback: » A Formal Introduction to The Ubuntu Orchestra Project

  19. Pingback: Video: Setting up Crowbar in a development environment | ResponsiPaul

  20. Pingback: Openstack Summit Fall 2011 – Wrap-up and overview | Rhonabwy

  21. Pingback: ide@s I: “:::An Formal Introduction to The Ubuntu 11.10 Server Edition Orchestra Project:::” «

  22. Pingback: online scripts

  23. Pingback: The Cloud : Miguel's strøtanker

  24. Pingback: Open Stack Appliance – Ready for Test | rPath Blog

  25. Hi!! I’ve setup Crowbar 1.4 with OpenStack Essex (Ubuntu 12.04). I would like to know if it’s possible to install in other node, CentOS. Could you give me any suggestions or link where I could see how to do it, please? Thanks!


    • Please direct questions like this to the listserv (sign up at http//

      Btw: we have not ported Essex to Crowbar’s CentOS. If SUSE would work, you may want to checkout their Crowbar bits.


  26. Pingback: OpenCrowbar.Anvil released – hammering out a gold standard in open bare metal provisioning | Rob Hirschfeld

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s