Art Fewell and I discuss DevOps, SDN, Containers & OpenStack [video + transcript]

A little while back, Art Fewell and I had two excellent discussions about general trends and challenges in the cloud and scale data center space.  Due to technical difficulties, the first (funnier one) was lost forever to NSA archives, but the second survived!

The video and transcript were just posted to Network World as part of Art’s on going interview series.  It was an action packed hour so I don’t want to re-post the transcript here.  I thought selected quotes (under the video) were worth calling out to whet your appetite for the whole tamale.

My highlights:

  1. .. partnering with a start-up was really hard, but partnering with an open source project actually gave us a lot more influence and control.
  2. Then we got into OpenStack, … we [Dell] wanted to invest our time and that we could be part of and would be sustained and transparent to the community.
  3. Incumbents are starting to be threatened by these new opened technologies … that I think levels of playing field is having an open platform.
  4. …I was pointing at you and laughing… [you’ll have to see the video]
  5. docker and containerization … potentially is disruptive to OpenStack and how OpenStack is operating
  6. You have to turn the crank faster and faster and faster to keep up.
  7. Small things I love about OpenStack … vendors are learning how to work in these open communities. When they don’t do it right they’re told very strongly that they don’t.
  8. It was literally a Power Point of everything that was wrong … [I said,] “Yes, that’s true. You want to help?”
  9. …people aiming missiles at your house right now…
  10. With containers you can sell that same piece of hardware 10 times or more and really pack in the workloads and so you get better performance and over subscription and so the utilization of the infrastructure goes way up.
  11. I’m not as much of a believer in that OpenStack eats the data center phenomena.
  12. First thing is automate. I’ve talked to people a lot about getting ready for OpenStack and what they should do. The bottom line is before you even invest in these technologies, automating your workloads and deployments is a huge component for being successful with that.
  13. Now, all of sudden the SDN layer is connecting these network function virtualization ..  It’s a big mess. It’s really hard, it’s really complex.
  14. The thing that I’m really excited about is the service architecture. We’re in the middle of doing on the RackN and Crowbar side, we’re in the middle of doing an architecture that’s basically turning data center operations into services.
  15. What platform as a service really is about, it’s about how you store the information. What services do you offer around the elastic part? Elastic is time based, it’s where you’re manipulating in the data.
  16. RE RackN: You can’t manufacture infrastructure but you can use it in a much “cloudier way”. It really redefines what you can do in a datacenter.
  17. That abstraction layer means that people can work together and actually share scripts
  18. I definitely think that OpenStack’s legacy will more likely be the community and the governance and what we’ve learned from that than probably the code.

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?

unBIOSed? Is Redfish an IPMI retread or can vendors find unification?

Server management interfaces stink.  They are inconsistent both between vendors and within their own product suites.  Ideally, Vendors would agree on a single API; however, it’s not clear if the diversity is a product of competition or actual platform variation.  Likely, it’s both.

From RedFish SiteWhat is Redfish?  It’s a REST API for server configuration that aims to replace both IPMI and vendor specific server interfaces (like WSMAN).  Here’s the official text from

Redfish is a modern intelligent [server] manageability interface and lightweight data model specification that is scalable, discoverable and extensible.  Redfish is suitable for a multitude of end-users, from the datacenter operator to an enterprise management console.

I think that it’s great to see vendors trying to get on the same page and I’m optimistic that we could get something better than IPMI (that’s a very low bar).  However, I don’t expect that vendors can converge to a single API; it’s just not practical due to release times and pressures to expose special features.  I think the divergence in APIs is due both to competitive pressures and to real variance between platforms.

Even if we manage to a grand server management unification; the problem of interface heterogeneity has a long legacy tail.

In the best case reality, we’re going from N versions to N+1 (and likely N*2) versions because the legacy gear is still around for a long time.  Adding Redfish means API sprawl is going to get worse until it gets back to being about the same as it is now.

Putting pessimism aside, the sprawl problem is severe enough that it’s worth supporting Redfish on the hope that it makes things better.

That’s easy to say, but expensive to do.  If I was making hardware (I left Dell in Oct 2014), I’d consider it an expensive investment for an uncertain return.  Even so, several major hardware players are stepping forward to help standardize.  I think Redfish would have good ROI for smaller vendors looking to displace a major player can ride on the standard.

Redfish is GREAT NEWS for me since RackN/Crowbar provides hardware abstraction and heterogeneous interface support.  More API variation makes my work more valuable.

One final note: if Redfish improves hardware security in a real way then it could be a game changer; however, embedded firmware web servers can be tricky to secure and patch compared to larger application focused software stacks.  This is one area what I’m hoping to see a lot of vendor collaboration!  [note: this should be it’s own subject – the security issue is more than API, it’s about system wide configuration.  stay tuned!]

Ironic + Crowbar: United in Vision, Complementary in Approach

This post is co-authored by Devanda van der Veen, OpenStack Ironic PTL, and Rob Hirschfeld, OpenCrowbar Founder.  We discuss how Ironic and Crowbar work together today and into the future.

Normalizing the APIs for hardware configuration is a noble and long-term goal.  While the end result, a configured server, is very easy to describe; the differences between vendors’ hardware configuration tools are substantial.  These differences make it impossible challenging to create repeatable operations automation (DevOps) on heterogeneous infrastructure.

Illustration to show potential changes in provisioning control flow over time.

Illustration to show potential changes in provisioning control flow over time.

The OpenStack Ironic project is a multi-vendor community solution to this problem at the server level.  By providing a common API for server provisioning, Ironic encourages vendors to write drivers for their individual tooling such as iDRAC for Dell or iLO for HP.

Ironic abstracts configuration and expects to be driven by an orchestration system that makes the decisions of how to configure each server. That type of orchestration is the heart of Crowbar physical ops magic [side node: 5 ways that physical ops is different from cloud]

The OpenCrowbar project created extensible orchestration to solve this problem at the system level.  By decomposing system configuration into isolated functional actions, Crowbar can coordinate disparate configuration actions for servers, switches and between systems.

Today, the Provisioner component of Crowbar performs similar functions as Ironic for operating system installation and image lay down.  Since configuration activity is tightly coupled with other Crowbar configuration, discovery and networking setup, it is difficult to isolate in the current code base.  As Ironic progresses, it should be possible to shift these activities from the Provisioner to Ironic and take advantage of the community-based configuration drivers.

The immediate synergy between Crowbar and Ironic comes from accepting two modes of operation for OpenStack: bootstrapping infrastructure and multi-tenant server allocation.

Crowbar was designed as an operational platform that seeds an OpenStack ready environment.  Once that environment is configured, OpenStack can take over ownership of the resources and allow Ironic to manage and deliver “hypervisor-free” servers for each tenant.  In that way, we can accelerate the adoption of OpenStack for self-service metal.

Physical operations is messy and challenging, but we’re committed to working together to make it suck less.  Operators of the world unite!

OpenStack Board Elections: What I’ll do in 2014: DefCore, Ops, & Community

Rob HirschfeldOpenStack Community,

The time has come for you to choose who will fill the eight community seats on the Board (ballot links went out Sunday evening CST).  I’ve had the privilege to serve you in that capacity for 16 months and would like to continue.  I have leadership role in Core Definition and want to continue that work.

Here are some of the reasons that I am a strong board member:

  • Proven & Active Leadership on Board – I have been very active and vocal representing the community on the Board.  In addition to my committed leadership in Core Definition, I have played important roles shaping the Gold Member grooming process and trying to adjust our election process.  I am an outspoken yet pragmatic voice for the community in board meetings.
  • Technical Leader but not on the TC – The Board needs members who are technical yet detached from the individual projects enough to represent outside and contrasting views.
  • Strong User Voice – As the senior OpenStack technologist at Dell, I have broad reach in Dell and RedHat partnership with exposure to a truly broad and deep part of the community.  This makes me highly accessible to a lot of people both in and entering the community.
  • Operations Leadership – Dell was an early leader in OpenStack Operations (via OpenCrowbar) and continues to advocate strongly for key readiness activities like upgrade and high availability.  In addition, I’ve led the effort to converge advanced cookbooks from the OpenCrowbar project into the OpenStack StackForge upstreams.  This is not a trivial effort but the right investment to make for our community.
  • And there’s more… you can read about my previous Board history in my 2012 and 2013 “why vote for me” posts or my general OpenStack comments.

And now a plea to vote for other candidates too!

I had hoped that we could change the election process to limit blind corporate affinity voting; however, the board was not able to make this change without a more complex set of bylaws changes.  Based on the diversity and size of OpenStack community, I hope that this issue may no longer be a concern.  Even so, I strongly believe that the best outcome for the OpenStack Board is to have voters look beyond corporate affiliation and consider a range of factors including business vs. technical balance, open source experience, community exposure, and ability to dedicate time to OpenStack.

Looking to Leverage OpenStack Havana? Crowbar delivers 3xL!

openstack_havanaThe Crowbar community has a tradition of “day zero ops” community support for the latest OpenStack release at the summit using our pull-from-source capability.  This release we’ve really gone the extra mile by doing it one THREE Linux distros (Ubuntu, RHEL & SLES) in parallel with a significant number of projects and new capabilities included.

I’m especially excited about Crowbar implementation of Havana Docker support which required advanced configuration with Nova and Glance.  The community also added Heat and Celiometer in the last release cycle plus High Availability (“Titanium”) deployment work is in active development.  Did I mention that Crowbar is rocking OpenStack deployments?  No, because it’s redundant to mention that.  We’ll upload ISOs of this work for easy access later in the week.

While my team at Dell remains a significant contributor to this work, I’m proud to point out to SUSE Cloud leadership and contributions also (including the new Ceph barclamp & integration).  Crowbar has become a true multi-party framework!


Want to learn more?  If you’re in Hong Kong, we are hosting a Crowbar Developer Community Meetup on Monday, November 4, 2013, 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM (HKT) in the SkyCity Marriott SkyZone Meeting Room.  Dell, dotCloud/Docker, SUSE and others will lead a lively technical session to review and discuss the latest updates, advantages and future plans for the Crowbar Operations Platform. You can expect to see some live code demos, and participate in a review of the results of a recent Crowbar 2 hackathon.  Confirm your seat here – space is limited!  (I expect that we’ll also stream this event using Google Hangout, watch Twitter #Crowbar for the feed)

My team at Dell has a significant presence at the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong (details about activities including sponsored parties).  Be sure to seek out my fellow OpenStack Board Member Joseph George, Dell OpenStack Product Manager Kamesh Pemmaraju and Enstratius/Dell Multi-Cloud Manager Founder George Reese.

Note: The work referenced in this post is about Crowbar v1.  We’ve also reached critical milestones with Crowbar v2 and will begin implementing Havana on that platform shortly.

Crowbar lays it all out: RAID & BIOS configs officially open sourced

MediaToday, Dell (my employer) announced a plethora of updates to our open source derived solutions (OpenStack and Hadoop). These solutions include the latest bits (Grizzly and Cloudera) for each project. And there’s another important notice for people tracking the Crowbar project: we’ve opened the remainder of its provisioning capability.

Yes, you can now build the open version of Crowbar and it has the code to configure a bare metal server.

Let me be very specific about this… my team at Dell tests Crowbar on a limited set of hardware configurations. Specifically, Dell server versions R720 + R720XD (using WSMAN and iIDRAC) and C6220 + C8000 (using open tools). Even on those servers, we have a limited RAID and NIC matrix; consequently, we are not positioned to duplicate other field configurations in our lab. So, while we’re excited to work with the community, caveat emptor open source.

Another thing about RAID and BIOS is that it’s REALLY HARD to get right. I know this because our team spends a lot of time testing and tweaking these, now open, parts of Crowbar. I’ve learned that doing hard things creates value; however, it’s also means that contributors to these barclamps need to be prepared to get some silicon under their fingernails.

I’m proud that we’ve reached this critical milestone and I hope that it encourages you to play along.

PS: It’s worth noting is that community activity on Crowbar has really increased. I’m excited to see all the excitement.

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).

OpenStack Board Voting Starts! Three thoughts about the board and election

1/18 Note: I was re-elected! Thanks everyone for your support.

OpenStack Foundation members, I have three requests for you:

  1. vote (ballots went out by email already and expire on Friday)
  2. vote for me (details below)
  3. pick the board you want, not just the candidates.

And, of course, vote according to our code of conduct: “Members should not attempt to manipulate election results. Open debate is welcome, but vote trading, ballot stuffing and other forms of abuse are not acceptable.”

To vote, you must have been a member for 6 months. Going Mad Panda? Join right now so you can vote next time!

Even if you’re not a voter, you may find my comments useful in understanding OpenStack. Remember, these positions are my own: they do not reflect those of my employer (Dell).

Vote because it’s the strongest voice the community has about OpenStack governance

I’d strongly encourage you to commit code, come to the summit and participate in the lists and chats; however, voting is more. It shows measurable impact. It shows the vitality of the community.

OpenStack is exciting to me because it’s community driven.

I have been a strong and early leader in the community:

Vote for me because of my OpenStack Operations focus

My team at Dell has been laser focused on making OpenStack operable for over 2 years. My team acts like a lean start-up inside of Dell to get products out to market early.

We’ve worked with early operators and ground-breaking ecosystem partners (plus). We’ve helped many people get OpenStack running for real workloads. Consequently, I am highly accessible and accountable to a large number of users, operators and ecosystem vendors. Few other people in the OpenStack community have my breadth of exposure to real OpenStack deployments. My team and I have been dedicated, active participants in OpenStack long before Dell’s grand OpenStack strategy coalesced.

More importantly, I am committed to open source and open operations. The Apache 2 open source Crowbar project established the baseline (and served as the foundation) for other OpenStack deployment efforts. We don’t just talk about open source, we do open source: our team works in the open (my git account).

Vote for a board because diversity of views is important

OpenStack voting allows you to throw up to 8 votes to a single candidate. While you can put all your eggs into a single basket, I recommend considering a broader slate in voting.

We have an impressive and dedicated list of candidates who will do work for the community. I ask that you consider the board as a team. If you want operators, users, diversity, change, less corporate influence or any flavor of the above then think not just about the individual.

Why should I be part of your slate? I am not a blind cheerleader. I have voiced and driven community-focused positions about the board (dev cycle, grizzly >;; folsom, consensus).

One of my core activities has been to work on addressing community concerns about affinity voting. Gold and Platinum members have little incentive to address this issue. While I’d like to see faster action, it requires changing the by-laws. Any by-law changes need to be made carefully and they also require a vote of the electorate. If you want positive change, you need board members, like me, who are persistent and knowledgeable in board dynamics.

What have I done on the Board? Quite a bit…

It would be easy to get lost in a board of 24 members, but I have not. Armed with my previous board experience, I have been a vocal advocate for the community in board meetings without creating disruption or pulling us off topic.

Why re-elect me? For community & continuity

I am a strong and active board member and I work hard to represent all OpenStack constituents: developers, operators, users and ecosystem vendors.

Working on a board is a long-term exercise. Positions and actions I’ve taken today may take months to come to fruition. I would like the opportunity continue that work and see it through.