2016 Infrastructure Revolt makes 2017 the “year of the IT Escape Clause”

Software development technology is so frothy that we’re developing collective immunity to constant churn and hype cycles. Lately, every time someone tells me that they have hot “picked technology Foo” they also explain how they are also planning contingencies for when Foo fails. Not if, when.

13633961301245401193crawfish20boil204-mdRequired contingency? That’s why I believe 2017 is the year of the IT Escape Clause, or, more colorfully, the IT Crawfish.

When I lived in New Orleans, I learned that crawfish are anxious creatures (basically tiny lobsters) with powerful (and delicious) tails that propel them backward at any hint of any danger. Their ability to instantly back out of any situation has turned their name into a common use verb: crawfish means to back out or quickly retreat.

In IT terms, it means that your go-forward plans always include a quick escape hatch if there’s some problem. I like Subbu Allamaraju’s description of this as Change Agility.  I’ve also seen this called lock-in prevention or contingency planning. Both are important; however, we’re reaching new levels for 2017 because we can’t predict which technology stacks are robust and complete.

The fact is the none of them are robust or complete compared to historical platforms. So we go forward with an eye on alternatives.

How did we get to this state? I blame the 2016 Infrastructure Revolt.

Way, way, way back in 2010 (that’s about bronze age in the Cloud era), we started talking about developers helping automate infrastructure as part of deploying their code. We created some great tools for this and co-opted the term DevOps to describe provisioning automation. Compared to the part, it was glorious with glittering self-service rebellions and API-driven enlightenment.

In reality, DevOps was really painful because most developers felt that time fixing infrastructure was a distraction from coding features.

In 2016, we finally reached a sufficient platform capability set in tools like CI/CD pipelines, Docker Containers, Kubernetes, Serverless/Lambda and others that Developers had real alternatives to dealing with infrastructure directly. Once we reached this tipping point, the idea of coding against infrastructure directly become unattractive. In fact, the world’s largest infrastructure company, Amazon, is actively repositioning as a platform services company. Their re:Invent message was very clear: if you want to get the most from AWS, use our services instead of the servers.

For most users, using platform services instead of infrastructure is excellent advice to save cost and time.

The dilemma is that platforms are still evolving rapidly. So rapidly that adopters cannot count of the services to exist in their current form for multiple generations. However, the real benefits drive aggressive adoption. They also drive the rise of Crawfish IT.

As they say in N’Awlins, laissez les bon temps rouler!

Related Reading on the Doppler: Your Cloud Strategy Must Include No-Cloud Options

 

my 8 steps that would improve OpenStack Interop w/ AWS

I’ve been talking with a lot of OpenStack people about frustrating my attempted hybrid work on seven OpenStack clouds [OpenStack Session Wed 2:40].  This post documents the behavior Digital Rebar expects from the multiple clouds that we have integrated with so far.  At RackN, we use this pattern for both cloud and physical automation.

Sunday, I found myself back in front of the the Board talking about the challenge that implementation variation creates for users.  Ultimately, the question “does this harm users?” is answered by “no, they just leave for Amazon.”

I can’t stress this enough: it’s not about APIs!  The challenge is twofold: implementation variance between OpenStack clouds and variance between OpenStack and AWS.

The obvious and simplest answer is that OpenStack implementers need to conform more closely to AWS patterns (once again, NOT the APIs).

Here are the eight Digital Rebar node allocation steps [and my notes about general availability on OpenStack clouds]:

  1. Add node specific SSH key [YES]
  2. Get Metadata on Networks, Flavors and Images [YES]
  3. Pick correct network, flavors and images [NO, each site is distinct]
  4. Request node [YES]
  5. Get node PUBLIC address for node [NO, most OpenStack clouds do not have external access by default]
  6. Login into system using node SSH key [PARTIAL, the account name varies]
  7. Add root account with Rebar SSH key(s) and remove password login [PARTIAL, does not work on some systems]
  8. Remove node specific SSH key [YES]

These steps work on every other cloud infrastructure that we’ve used.  And they are achievable on OpenStack – DreamHost delivered this experience on their new DreamCompute infrastructure.

I think that this is very achievable for OpenStack, but we’re doing to have to drive conformance and figure out an alternative to the Floating IP (FIP) pattern (IPv6, port forwarding, or adding FIPs by default) would all work as part of the solution.

For Digital Rebar, the quick answer is to simply allocate a FIP for every node.  We can easily make this a configuration option; however, it feels like a pattern fail to me.  It’s certainly not a requirement from other clouds.

I hope this post provides specifics about delivering a more portable hybrid experience.  What critical items do you want as part of your cloud ops process?

OpenStack is caught in a snowstorm – it’s status quo for ops implementations to be snowflakes

OpenStack got into exactly the place we expected: operations started with fragmented and divergent data centers (aka snowflaked) and OpenStack did nothing to change that. Can we fix that? Yes, but the answer involves relying on Amazon as our benchmark.

In advance of my OpenStack Summit Demo/Presentation (video!) [slides], I’ve spent the last few weeks mapping seven (and counting) OpenStack implementations into the cloud provider subsystem of the Digital Rebar provisioning platform. Before I started working on adding OpenStack integration, RackN already created a hybrid DevOps baseline. We are able to run the same Kubernetes and Docker Swarm provisioning extensions on multiple targets including Amazon, Google, Packet and directly on physical systems (aka metal).

Before we talk about OpenStack challenges, it’s important to understand that data centers and clouds are messy, heterogeneous environments.

These variations are so significant and operationally challenging that they are the fundamental design driver for Digital Rebar. The platform uses a composable operational approach to isolate and then chain automation tasks together. That allows configurations, like networking, from infrastructure specific functions to be passed into common building blocks without user intervention.

Composability is critical because it allows operators to isolate variations into modular pieces and the expose common configuration elements. Since the pattern works successfully for crossing other clouds and metal, I anticipated success with OpenStack.

The challenge is that there is not “one standard OpenStack” implementation.  This issue is well documented under OpenStack as Project Shade.

If you only plan to operate a mono-cloud then these are not concerns; however, everyone I’ve met is using at least AWS and one other cloud. This operational fact means that AWS provides the common service behavior baseline. This is not an API statement – it’s about being able to operate on the systems delivered by the API.

While the OpenStack API worked consistently on each tested cloud (win for DefCore!), it frequently delivered systems that could not be deployed or were unusable for later steps.

While these are not directly OpenStack API concerns, I do believe that additional metadata in the API could help expose material configuration choices. The challenge becomes defining those choices in a reference architecture way. The OpenStack principle of leaving implementation choices open makes it challenging to drive these options to a narrow set of choices. Unfortunately, it means it is difficult to create an intra-OpenStack hybrid automation without hard-coded vendor identities or exploding configuration flags.

As series of individually reasonable options dominoes together to make to these challenges.  These are real issues that I made the integration difficult.

  • No default of externally accessible systems. I have to assign floating IPs (an anti-pattern for individual VMs) or be on the internal networks. No consistent naming pattern for networks, types (flavors) or starting images.  In several cases, the “private” network is the publicly accessible one and the “external” network is visible but unusable.
  • No consistent naming for access user accounts.  If I want to ssh to a system, I have to fail my first login before I learn the right user name.
  • No data to determine which networks provide which functions.  And there’s no metadata about which networks are public or private.  
  • Incomplete post-provisioning processes because they are left open to user customization.

There is a defensible and logical reason for each example above; sadly, those reasons do nothing to make OpenStack more operationally accessible.  While intra-OpenStack interoperability is helpful, I believe that ecosystems and users benefit from Amazon-like behavior.

What should you do?  Help broaden the OpenStack discussions to seek interoperability with the whole cloud ecosystem.

 

At RackN, we will continue to refine and adapt to these variations.  Creating a consistent experience that copes with variability is the raison d’etre for our efforts with Digital Rebar. That means that we ultimately use AWS as the yardstick for configuration of any infrastructure from physical, OpenStack and even Amazon!

 

AWS Ops patterns set the standard: embrace that and accelerate

RackN creates infrastructure agnostic automation so you can run physical and cloud infrastructure with the same elastic operational patterns.  If you want to make infrastructure unimportant then your hybrid DevOps objective is simple:

Create multi-infrastructure Amazon equivalence for ops automation.

Ecosystem View of AWSEven if you are not an AWS fan, they are the universal yardstick (15 minute & 40 minute presos) That goes for other clouds (public and private) and for physical infrastructure too. Their footprint is simply so pervasive that you cannot ignore “works on AWS” as a need even if you don’t need to work on AWS.  Like PCs in the late-80s, we can use vendor competition to create user choice of infrastructure. That requires a baseline for equivalence between the choices. In the 90s, the Windows’ monopoly provided those APIs.

Why should you care about hybrid DevOps? As we increase operational portability, we empower users to make economic choices that foster innovation.  That’s valuable even for AWS locked users.

We’re not talking about “give me a VM” here! The real operational need is to build accessible, interconnected systems – what is sometimes called “the underlay.” It’s more about networking, configuration and credentials than simple compute resources. We need consistent ways to automate systems that can talk to each other and static services, have access to dependency repositories (code, mirrors and container hubs) and can establish trust with other systems and administrators.

These “post” provisioning tasks are sophisticated and complex. They cannot be statically predetermined. They must be handled dynamically based on the actual resource being allocated. Without automation, this process becomes manual, glacial and impossible to maintain. Does that sound like traditional IT?

Side Note on Containers: For many developers, we are adding platforms like Docker, Kubernetes and CloudFoundry, that do these integrations automatically for their part of the application stack. This is a tremendous benefit for their use-cases. Sadly, hiding the problem from one set of users does not eliminate it! The teams implementing and maintaining those platforms still have to deal with underlay complexity.

I am emphatically not looking for AWS API compatibility: we are talking about emulating their service implementation choices.  We have plenty of ways to abstract APIs. Ops is a post-API issue.

In fact, I believe that red herring leads us to a bad place where innovation is locked behind legacy APIs.  Steal APIs where it makes sense, but don’t blindly require them because it’s the layer under them where the real compatibility challenge lurk.  

Side Note on OpenStack APIs (why they diverge): Trying to implement AWS APIs without duplicating all their behaviors is more frustrating than a fresh API without the implied AWS contracts.  This is exactly the problem with OpenStack variation.  The APIs work but there is not a behavior contract behind them.

For example, transitioning to IPv6 is difficult to deliver because Amazon still relies on IPv4. That lack makes it impossible to create hybrid automation that leverages IPv6 because they won’t work on AWS. In my world, we had to disable default use of IPv6 in Digital Rebar when we added AWS. Another example? Amazon’s regional AMI pattern, thankfully, is not replicated by Google; however, their lack means there’s no consistent image naming pattern.  In my experience, a bad pattern is generally better than inconsistent implementations.

As market dominance drives us to benchmark on Amazon, we are stuck with the good, bad and ugly aspects of their service.

For very pragmatic reasons, even AWS automation is highly fragmented. There are a large and shifting number of distinct system identifiers (AMIs, regions, flavors) plus a range of user-configured choices (security groups, keys, networks). Even within a single provider, these options make impossible to maintain a generic automation process.  Since other providers logically model from AWS, we will continue to expect AWS like behaviors from them.  Variation from those norms adds effort.

Failure to follow AWS without clear reason and alternative path is frustrating to users.

Do you agree?  Join us with Digital Rebar creating real a hybrid operations platform.

Fast Talk: Creating Operating Environments that Span Clouds and Physical Infrastructures

This short 15-minute talk pulls together a few themes around composability that you’ll see in future blogs where I lay out the challenges and solutions for hybrid DevOps practices.  Like any DevOps concept – it’s a mix of technology, attitude (culture) and process.

Our hybrid DevOps objective is simple: We need multi-infrastructure Amazon equivalence for ops automation.

IT perspective of AWSHere’s the summary:

  • Hybrid Infrastructure is new normal
  • Amazon is the Ops benchmark
  • Embrace operations automation
  • Invest in making IT composable

 

Want to listen to it?  Here’s the voice over:

 

Post-OpenStack DefCore, I’m Chasing “open infrastructure” via cross-platform Interop

Like my previous DefCore interop windmill tilting, this is not something that can be done alone. Open infrastructure is a collaborative effort and I’m looking for your help and support. I believe solving this problem benefits us as an industry and individually as IT professionals.

2013-09-13_18-56-39_197So, what is open infrastructure?   It’s not about running on open source software. It’s about creating platform choice and control. In my experience, that’s what defines open for users (and developers are not users).

I’ve spent several years helping lead OpenStack interoperability (aka DefCore) efforts to ensure that OpenStack cloud APIs are consistent between vendors. I strongly believe that effort is essential to build an ecosystem around the project; however, in talking to enterprise users, I’ve learned that that their  real  interoperability gap is between that many platforms, AWS, Google, VMware, OpenStack and Metal, that they use everyday.

Instead of focusing inward to one platform, I believe the bigger enterprise need is to address automation across platforms. It is something I’m starting to call hybrid DevOps because it allows users to mix platforms, service APIs and tools.

Open infrastructure in that context is being able to work across platforms without being tied into one platform choice even when that platform is based on open source software. API duplication is not sufficient: the operational characteristics of each platform are different enough that we need a different abstraction approach.

We have to be able to compose automation in a way that tolerates substitution based on infrastructure characteristics. This is required for metal because of variation between hardware vendors and data center networking and services. It is equally essential for cloud because of variation between IaaS capabilities and service delivery models. Basically, those  minor  differences between clouds create significant challenges in interoperability at the operational level.

Rationalizing APIs does little to address these more structural differences.

The problem is compounded because the differences are not nicely segmented behind abstraction layers. If you work to build and sustain a fully integrated application, you must account for site specific needs throughout your application stack including networking, storage, access and security. I’ve described this as all deployments have 80% of the work common but the remaining 20% is mixed in with the 80% instead of being nicely layers. So, ops is cookie dough not vinaigrette.

Getting past this problem for initial provisioning on a single platform is a false victory. The real need is portable and upgrade-ready automation that can be reused and shared. Critically, we also need to build upon the existing foundations instead of requiring a blank slate. There is openness value in heterogeneous infrastructure so we need to embrace variation and design accordingly.

This is the vision the RackN team has been working towards with open source Digital Rebar project. We now able to showcase workload deployments (Docker, Kubernetes, Ceph, etc) on multiple cloud platforms that also translate to full bare metal deployments. Unlike previous generations of this tooling (some will remember Crowbar), we’ve been careful to avoid injecting external dependencies into the DevOps scripts.

While we’re able to demonstrate a high degree of portability (or fidelity) across multiple platforms, this is just the beginning. We are looking for users and collaborators who want to want to build open infrastructure from an operational perspective.

You are invited to join us in making open cross-platform operations a reality.

12 Predictions for ’16: mono-cloud ambitions die as containers drive more hybrid IT

I expect 2016 to be a confusing year for everyone in IT.  For 2015, I predicted that new uses for containers are going to upset cloud’s apple cart; however, the replacement paradigm is not clear yet.  Consequently, I’m doing a prognostication mix and match: five predictions and seven items on a “container technology watch list.”

TL;DR: In 2016, Hybrid IT arrives on Containers’ wings.

Considering my expectations below, I think it’s time to accept that all IT is heterogeneous and stop trying to box everything into a mono-cloud.  Accepting hybrid as current state unblocks many IT decisions that are waiting for things to settle down.

Here’s the memo: “Stop waiting.  It’s not going to converge.”

2016 Predictions

  1. Container Adoption Seen As Two Stages:  We will finally accept that Containers have strength for both infrastructure (first stage adoption) and application life-cycle (second stage adoption) transformation.  Stage one offers value so we will start talking about legacy migration into containers without shaming teams that are not also rewriting apps as immutable microservice unicorns.
  2. OpenStack continues to bump and grow.  Adoption is up and open alternatives are disappearing.  For dedicated/private IaaS, OpenStack will continue to gain in 2016 for basic VM management.  Both competitive and internal pressures continue to threaten the project but I believe they will not emerge in 2016.  Here’s my complete OpenStack 2016 post?
  3. Amazon, GCE and Azure make everything else questionable.  These services are so deep and rich that I’d question anyone who is not using them.  At least one of them simply have to be part of everyone’s IT strategy for financial, talent and technical reasons.
  4. Cloud API becomes irrelevant. Cloud API is so 2011!  There are now so many reasonable clients to abstract various Infrastructures that Cloud APIs are less relevant.  Capability, interoperability and consistency remain critical factors, but the APIs themselves are not interesting.
  5. Metal aaS gets interesting.  I’m a big believer in the power of operating metal via an API and the RackN team delivers it for private infrastructure using Digital Rebar.  Now there are several companies (Packet.net, Ubiquity Hosting and others) that offer hosted metal.

2016 Container Tech Watch List

I’m planning posts about all these key container ecosystems for 2016.  I think they are all significant contributors to the emerging application life-cycle paradigm.

  1. Service Containers (& VMs): There’s an emerging pattern of infrastructure managed containers that provide critical host services like networking, logging, and monitoring.  I believe this pattern will provide significant value and generate it’s own ecosystem.
  2. Networking & Storage Services: Gaps in networking and storage for containers need to get solved in a consistent way.  Expect a lot of thrash and innovation here.
  3. Container Orchestration Services: This is the current battleground for container mind share.  Kubernetes, Mesos and Docker Swarm get headlines but there are other interesting alternatives.
  4. Containers on Metal: Removing the virtualization layer reduces complexity, overhead and cost.  Container workloads are good choices to re-purpose older servers that have too little CPU or RAM to serve as VM hosts.  Who can say no to free infrastructure?!  While an obvious win to many, we’ll need to make progress on standardized scale and upgrade operations first.
  5. Immutable Infrastructure: Even as this term wins the “most confusing” concept in cloud award, it is an important one for container designers to understand.  The unfortunate naming paradox is that immutable infrastructure drives disciplines that allow fast turnover, better security and more dynamic management.
  6. Microservices: The latest generation of service oriented architecture (SOA) benefits from a new class of distribute service registration platforms (etcd and consul) that bring new life into SOA.
  7. Paywall Registries: The important of container registries is easy to overlook because they seem to be version 2.0 of package caches; however, container layering makes these services much more dynamic and central than many realize.  (more?  Bernard Golden and I already posted about this)

What two items did not make the 2016 cut?  1) Special purpose container-focused operating systems like CoreOS or RancherOS.  While interesting, I don’t think these deployment technologies have architectural level influence.  2) Container Security via VMs. I’m seeing patterns where containers may actually be more secure than VMs.  This is FUD created by people with a vested interest in virtualization.

Did I miss something? I’d love to know what you think I got right or wrong!