Which side of the desk are the drawers on? (Dunkelisms)

Back in 2001, I had the pleasure to have some long conversations with Phil Dunkelberger.  The impact of those meetings still resonates with me today in a collection of “Dunkelisms” that are an invaluable part of my kick-ass-and-take-names tool box.  I can’t find any Internet source, so I’ll take it on myself to archive these jewels!

Which side of the desk are the drawers on?

I was sitting with Phil and complaining that our web site was not updated and the information was inaccurate.  He looked at me and asked me “which side of the desk are the drawers on?” and completely threw me for a loop.  He explained “when you’re the boss, you sit on the side of the desk with the drawers on it.  You have the power to make changes.”

I whined back that it was Marketing’s job to update the content.  I squirmed under his glare until he asked “as a programmer, do you have ability to update the web site?”  When I said, “yes, but…” his glare wilted my desk plant and the rest of my excuse died with it.

His reply was very crisp, “you have the power to fix it because you have access to the web servers.  If it’s a real problem then the drawers are on your side of the desk.  If it’s not a real problem then help Marketing solve it or move on.”

I’m not saying it would be the right move politically, but it was amazingly powerful to acknowledge that I had the power to fix the problem if I needed.

There are many situations where we voluntarily give up power even when the drawers are on our side of the desk.  For example, when my team is planning we expect Marketing to set priorities that drive development.  Engineering goes along with this for a lot of good reasons; however, the Engineering has the drawers on what really goes into the product.

This Dunkelism helps me align priorities and eliminate roadblocks.  As I dig deeper and deeper into community driven open source projects, I find that the idea behind this expression is a mantra that drives projects forward.

I find this expression very powerful in many situations.  I hope you find it helpful too!

The real workloads begin: Crowbar’s Sophomore Year

Given Crowbar‘s frenetic Freshman year, it’s impossible to predict everything that Crowbar could become. I certainly aspire to see the project gain a stronger developer community and the seeds of this transformation are sprouting. I also see that community driven work is positioning Crowbar to break beyond being platforms for OpenStack and Apache Hadoop solutions that pay the bills for my team at Dell to invest in Crowbar development.

I don’t have to look beyond the summer to see important development for Crowbar because of the substantial goals of the Crowbar 2.0 refactor.

Crowbar 2.0 is really just around the corner so I’d like to set some longer range goals for our next year.

  • Growing acceptance of Crowbar as an in data center extension for DevOps tools (what I call CloudOps)
  • Deeper integration into more operating environments beyond the core Linux flavors (like virtualization hosts, closed and special purpose operating systems.
  • Improvements in dynamic networking configuration
  • Enabling more online network connected operating modes
  • Taking on production ops challenges of scale, high availability and migration
  • Formalization of our community engagement with summits, user groups, and broader developer contributions.

For example, Crowbar 2.0 will be able to handle downloading packages and applications from the internet. Online content is not a major benefit without being able to stage and control how those new packages are deployed; consequently, our goals remains tightly focused improvements in orchestration.

These changes create a foundation that enables a more dynamic operating environment. Ultimately, I see Crowbar driving towards a vision of fully integrated continuous operations; however, Greg & Rob’s Crowbar vision is the topic for tomorrow’s post.

Our Vision for Crowbar – taking steps towards closed loop operations

When Greg Althaus and I first proposed the project that would become Dell’s Crowbar, we had already learned first-hand that there was a significant gap in both the technologies and the processes for scale operations. Our team at Dell saw that the successful cloud data centers were treating their deployments as integrated systems (now called DevOps) in which configuration of many components where coordinated and orchestrated; however, these approaches feel short of the mark in our opinion. We wanted to create a truly integrated operational environment from the bare metal through the networking up to the applications and out to the operations tooling.

Our ultimate technical nirvana is to achieve closed-loop continuous deployments. We want to see applications that constantly optimize new code, deployment changes, quality, revenue and cost of operations. We could find parts but not a complete adequate foundation for this vision.

The business driver for Crowbar is system thinking around improved time to value and flexibility. While our technical vision is a long-term objective, we see very real short-term ROI. It does not matter if you are writing your own software or deploying applications; the faster you can move that code into production the sooner you get value from innovation. It is clear to us that the most successful technology companies have reorganized around speed to market and adapting to pace of change.

System flexibility & acceleration were key values when lean manufacturing revolution gave Dell a competitive advantage and it has proven even more critical in today’s dynamic technology innovation climate.

We hope that this post helps define a vision for Crowbar beyond the upcoming refactoring. We started the project with the idea that new tools meant we could take operations to a new level.

While that’s a great objective, we’re too pragmatic in delivery to rest on a broad objective. Let’s take a look at Crowbar’s concrete strengths and growth areas.

Key strength areas for Crowbar

  1. Late binding – hardware and network configuration is held until software configuration is known.  This is a huge system concept.
  2. Dynamic and Integrated Networking – means that we treat networking as a 1st class citizen for ops (sort of like software defined networking but integrated into the application)
  3. System Perspective – no Application is an island.  You can’t optimize just the deployment, you need to consider hardware, software, networking and operations all together.
  4. Bootstrapping (bare metal) – while not “rocket science” it takes a lot of careful effort to get this right in a way that is meaningful in a continuous operations environment.
  5. Open Source / Open Development / Modular Design – this problem is simply too complex to solve alone.  We need to get a much broader net of environments and thinking involved.

Continuing Areas of Leadership

  1. Open / Lean / Incremental Architecture – these are core aspects of our approach.  While we have a vision, we also are very open to ways that solve problems faster and more elegantly than we’d expected.
  2. Continuous deployment – we think the release cycles are getting faster and the only way to survive is the build change into the foundation of operations.
  3. Integrated networking – software defined networking is cool, but not enough.  We need to have semantics that link applications, networks and infrastructure together.
  4. Equilivent physical / virtual – we’re not saying that you won’t care if it’s physical or virtual (you should), we think that it should not impact your operations.
  5. Scale / Hybrid – the key element to hybrid is scale and to hybrid is scale.  The missing connection is being able to close the loop.
  6. Closed loop deployment – seeking load management, code quality, profit, and cost of operations as factor in managed operations.

Crowbar 2.0 Objectives: Scalable, Heterogeneous, Flexible and Connected

The seeds for Crowbar 2.0 have been in the 1.x code base for a while and were recently accelerated by SuSE.  With the Dell | Cloudera 4 Hadoop and Essex OpenStack-powered releases behind us, we will now be totally focused bringing these seeds to fruition in the next two months.

Getting the core Crowbar 2.0 changes working is not a major refactoring effort in calendar time; however, it will impact current Crowbar developers by changing improving the programming APIs. The Dell Crowbar team decided to treat this as a focused refactoring effort because several important changes are tightly coupled. We cannot solve them independently without causing a larger disruption.

All of the Crowbar 2.0 changes address issues and concerns raised in the community and are needed to support expanding of our OpenStack and Hadoop application deployments.

Our technical objective for Crowbar 2.0 is to simplify and streamline development efforts as the development and user community grows. We are seeking to:

  1. simplify our use of Chef and eliminate Crowbar requirements in our Opscode Chef recipes.
    1. reduce the initial effort required to leverage Crowbar
    2. opens Crowbar to a broader audience (see Upstreaming)
  2. provide heterogeneous / multiple operating system deployments. This enables:
    1. multiple versions of the same OS running for upgrades
    2. different operating systems operating simultaneously (and deal with heterogeneous packaging issues)
    3. accommodation of no-agent systems like locked systems (e.g.: virtualization hosts) and switches (aka external entities)
    4. UEFI booting in Sledgehammer
  3. strengthen networking abstractions
    1. allow networking configurations to be created dynamically (so that users are not locked into choices made before Crowbar deployment)
    2. better manage connected operations
    3. enable pull-from-source deployments that are ahead of (or forked from) available packages.
  4. improvements in Crowbar’s core database and state machine to enable
    1. larger scale concerns
    2. controlled production migrations and upgrades
  5. other important items
    1. make documentation more coupled to current features and easier to maintain
    2. upgrade to Rails 3 to simplify code base, security and performance
    3. deepen automated test coverage and capabilities

Beyond these great technical targets, we want Crowbar 2.0 is to address barriers to adoption that have been raised by our community, customers and partners. We have been tracking concerns about the learning curve for adding barclamps, complexity of networking configuration and packaging into a single ISO.

We will kick off to community part of this effort with an online review on 7/16 (details).

PS: why a refactoring?

My team at Dell does not take on any refactoring changes lightly because they are disruptive to our community; however, a convergence of requirements has made it necessary to update several core components simultaneously. Specifically, we found that desired changes in networking, operating systems, packaging, configuration management, scale and hardware support all required interlocked changes. We have been bringing many of these changes into the code base in preparation and have reached a point where the next steps require changing Crowbar 1.0 semantics.

We are first and foremost an incremental architecture & lean development team – Crowbar 2.0 will have the smallest footprint needed to begin the transformations that are currently blocking us. There is significant room during and after the refactor for the community to shape Crowbar.

Crowbar Celebrates 1st Anniversary

Nearly a year ago at OSCON 2011, my team at Dell opened sourced “Crowbar, an OpenStack installer.” That first Github commit was a much more limited project than Crowbar today: there was no separation into barclamps, no distinct network configuration, one operating system option and the default passwords were all “openstack.” We simply did not know if our effort would create any interest.

The response to Crowbar has been exciting and humbling. I most appreciate those who looked at Crowbar and saw more than a bare metal installer. They are the ones who recognized that we are trying to solve a bigger problem: it has been too difficult to cope with change in IT operations.

During this year, we have made many changes. Many have been driven by customer, user and partner feedback while others support Dell product delivery needs. Happily, these inputs are well aligned in intent if not always in timing.

  • Introduction of barclamps as modular components
  • Expansion into multiple applications (most notably OpenStack and Apache Hadoop)
  • Multi-Operating System
  • Working in the open (with public commits)
  • Collaborative License Agreements

Dell‘s understanding of open source and open development has made a similar transformation. Crowbar was originally Apache 2 open sourced because we imagined it becoming part of the OpenStack project. While that ambition has faded, the practical benefits of open collaboration have proven to be substantial.

The results from this first year are compelling:

  • For OpenStack Diablo, coordination with the Rackspace Cloud Builder team enabled Crowbar to include the Keystone and Dashboard projects into Dell’s solution
  • For OpenStack Essex, the community focused work we did for the March Essex Hackday are directly linked to our ability to deliver Dell’s OpenStack-Powered Essex solution over two months earlier than originally planned.
  • For Apache Hadoop distributions for 3.x and 4.x with implementation of Cloudera Manager and eco system components.
  • We’ve amassed hundreds of mail subscribers and Github followers
  • Support for multiple releases of RHEL, Centos & Ubuntu including Ubuntu 12.04 while it was still in beta.
  • SuSE does their own port of Crowbar to SuSE with important advances in Crowbar’s install model (from ISO to package).

We stand on the edge of many exciting transformations for Crowbar’s second year. Based on the amount of change from this year, I’m hesitant to make long term predictions. Yet, just within next few months there are significant plans based on Crowbar 2.0 refactor. We have line of site to changes that expand our tool choices, improve networking, add operating systems and become more even production ops capable.

That’s quite a busy year!

Quick turn OpenStack Essex on Crowbar (BOOM, now we’re at v1.4!)

Don’t blink if you’ve been watching the Crowbar release roadmap!

My team at Dell is about to turn another release of Crowbar. Version 1.3 released 5/14 (focused on Cloudera Apache Hadoop) and our original schedule showed several sprints of work on OpenStack Essex. Upon evaluation, we believe that the current community developed Essex barclamps are ready now.

The healthy state of the OpenStack Essex deployment is a reflection of 1) the quality of Essex and 2) our early community activity in creating deployments based Essex RC1 and Ubuntu Beta1.

We are planning many improvements to our OpenStack Essex and Crowbar Framework; however, most deployments can proceed without these enhancements.  This also enables participants in the 5/31 OpenStack Essex Deploy Day.

By releasing a core stable Essex reference deployment, we are accelerating field deployments and enabling the OpenStack ecosystem. In terms of previous posts, we are eliminating release interlocks to enable more downstream development. Ultimately, we hope that we are also creating a baseline OpenStack deployment.

We are also reducing the pressure to rush more disruptive Crowbar changes (like enabling high availability, adding multiple operating systems, moving to Rails 3, fewer crowbarisms in cookbooks and streamlining networking). With this foundational Essex release behind us (we call it an MVP), we can work on more depth and breadth of capability in OpenStack.

One small challenge, some of the changes that we’d expected to drop have been postponed slightly. Specifically, markdown based documentation (/docs) and some new UI pages (/network/nodes, /nodes/families). All are already in the product under but not wired into the default UI (basically, a split test).

On the bright side, we did manage to expose 10g networking awareness for barclamps; however, we have not yet refactored to barclamps to leverage the change.

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)