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.

Just for fun, putting themes to OpenStack Conferences

I’ve been to every OpenStack summit and, in retrospect, each one has a different theme.  I see these as community themes beyond the releases train that cover how the OpenStack ecosystem has changed.

The themes are, of course, highly subjective and intented to spark reflection and discussion.

City Release Theme My Commentary
ATL Ice House Its my sandbox! The new marketplace is great and there are also a lot of vendors who want to differentiate their offering and are not sure where to play.
HK Havana Project land grab It felt like a PTL gold rush as lots of new projects where tossed into the ecosystem mix.  I’m wary of perceived “anointed” projects that define “the way” to do things.
PDX Grizzly Shiny new things We went from having a defined core set of projects to a much richer and varied platforms, environments and solutions.
SD Folsom Breaking up is hard to do Nova began to fragment (cinder & quantum neutron)
SF Essex New kids are here Move over Rackspace.  Lots of new operating systems, providers, consulting and hosting companies participating.  Stackalytics makes it into a real commit race.
BOS Diablo Race to be the first Everyone was trying to show that OpenStack could be used for real work.  Lots of startups launched.
SJC Cactus Oh, you like us! We need some process This is real so everyone was exporing OpenStack.  We clearly needed to figure out how to work together.  This is where we migrated to git.
SA Bexar We’re going to take over the world We handed out rose-colored classes that mostly turned out pretty accurate; however. many some top names from that time are not in the community now (Citrix, NASA, Accenture, and others).
ATX Austin We choose “none of the above” There was a building sense of potential energy while companies figured out that 1) there was a gap and 2) they wanted to fill it together.

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?

OpenStack Summit: Let’s talk DevOps, Fog, Upgrades, Crowbar & Dell

If you are coming to the OpenStack summit in San Diego next week then please find me at the show! I want to hear from you about the Foundation, community, OpenStack deployments, Crowbar and anything else.  Oh, and I just ordered a handful of Crowbar stickers if you wanted some CB bling.

Matt Ray (Opscode), Jason Cannavale (Rackspace) and I were Ops track co-chairs. If you have suggestions, we want to hear. We managed to get great speakers and also some interesting sessions like DevOps panel and up streaming deploy working sessions. It’s only on Monday and Tuesday, so don’t snooze or you’ll miss it.

My team from Dell has a lot going on, so there are lots of chances to connect with us:

At the Dell booth, Randy Perryman will be sharing field experience about hardware choices. We’ve got a lot of OpenStack battle experience and we want to compare notes with you.

I’m on the board meeting on Monday so likely occupied until the Mirantis party.

See you in San Diego!

PS: My team is hiring for Dev, QA and Marketing. Let me know if you want details.

Stop the Presses! Austin OpenStack Meetup 7/12 features docs, bugs & cinder

Don’t miss the 7/12 OpenStack Austin meetup!  We’ve got a great agenda lined up.

This meetup is sponsored by HP (Mark Padovani will give the intro).

Topics will include

  1. 6:30 pre-meeting OpenStack intro & overview for N00bs.
  2. Anne Gentle, OpenStack Technical Writer at Rackspace Hosting, talking about How to contribute to docs & the areas needed. *
  3. Report on the Folsom.3 bug squash day (http://wiki.openstack.org/BugDays/20120712BugSquashing)
  4. (tentative) Greg Althaus, Dell, talking about the “Cinder” Block Storage project
  5. White Board – Next Meeting Topics

* if you contribute to docs then you’ll get an invite to the next design summit!   It’s a great way to support OpenStack even if you don’t write code.

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!

Four OpenStack Trends from Summit: Practical, Friendly, Effective and Deployable

With the next OpenStack Austin meetup on Thursday (sponsored by Puppet), I felt like it was past time for me to post my thoughts and observations about the Spring 2012 OpenStack design conference.  This was my fifth OpenStack conference (my notes about Bexar, Cactus, Diablo & Essex).  Every conference has been unique, exciting, and bigger than the previous.

My interest lies in the trend lines of OpenStack.  For details about sessions, I recommend Stefano Maffulli‘s  excellent link aggregation post for the Summit.

1. Technology Trend: Practical with Potential.

OpenStack started with a BIG vision to become the common platform for cloud API and operations.  That vision is very much alive and on-track; however, our enthusiasm for what could be is tempered by the need to build a rock solid foundation.  The drive to stability over feature expansion has had a very positive impact.  I give a lot of credit for this effort to the leadership of the project technical leads (PTLs), Canonical‘s drive to include OpenStack in the 12.04 LTS and the Rackspace Cloud drive to deploy Essex.  My team at Dell has also been part of this trend by focusing so much effort on making OpenStack production deployable (via Crowbar).

Overall, I am seeing a broad-based drive to minimize disruption.

2. Culture Trend: Friendly but some tension.

Companies at both large and small ends of the spectrum are clearly jockeying for position.  I think the market is big enough for everyone; however, we are also bumping into each other.  Overall, we are putting aside these real and imagined differences to focus on enlarging the opportunity of having a true community cloud platform.  For example, the OpenStack Foundation investment formation has moneyed competitors jostling for position to partner together.

However, it’s not just about paying into the club; OpenStack’s history is clearly about execution.  Looking back to the original Austin Summit sponsors, we’ve clearly seen that intent and commitment are different.

3. Discussion Trend: Small Groups Effective

The depth & quality of discussions inside sessions was highly variable.  Generally, I saw that large group discussions stayed at a very high level.  The smaller sessions required deep knowledge of the code to participate and seemed more productive.  We continue to have a juggle between discussions that are conceptual or require detailed knowledge of the code.  If conceptual, it’s too far removed.  If code, it becomes inaccessible to many people.

This has happened at each Summit and I now accept that it is natural.  We are using vision sessions to ensure consensus and working sessions to coordinate deliverables for the release.

I cannot over emphasize importance of small groups and delivery driven execution interactions: I spent most of my time in small group discussions with partners aligning efforts.

4. Deployment Trend: Testing and Upstreams matter

Operations for deploying OpenStack is a substantial topic at the Summit.  I find that to be a significant benefit to the community because there are a large block of us who were vocal advocates for deployability at the very formation of the project.

From my perspective at Dell, we are proud to see that wide spread acknowledgement of our open source contribution, Crowbar, as the most prominent OpenStack deployer.   Our efforts at making OpenStack installable are recognized as a contribution; however, we’re also getting feedback that we need to streamline and simplify Crowbar.  We also surprised to hear that Crowbar is “opinionated.”   On reflection, I agree (and am proud) of this assessment because it matches best practice coding styles.  Since our opinions also drive our test matrix there is a significant value for our OpenStack deployment is that we spend a lot of time testing (automated and manual) our preferred install process.

There’s a push to reconcile the various Chef OpenStack cookbooks into a single upstream.  This seems like a very good idea because it will allow various parties to collaborate on open operations.  The community needs leadership from Opscode to make this happen.  It appears that Puppet Labs is interested in playing a similar role for Puppet modules but these are still emerging and have not had a chance to fragment.

No matter which path we take, the deployment scripts are only as good as their level of testing.   Unreliable deployment scripts have are less than worthless.