Rishidot Research Briefing Notes on RackN

Rishidot Research recently published a profile of the new RackN Beta program, Briefing Notes: RackN Launches in Beta. This document contains a Market Overview, RackN Offering, SWOT Analysis, and Conclusions.

Rishidot provided several key messages in their briefing notes that are worth highlighting:

  • Bare Metal as a Service – offers a better fit for running containers in the enterprise without the overhead of virtualization.
  • Simplification and Choice – by decoupling provisioning, management, and orchestration into distinct layers, RackN allows customers flexibility in choosing orchestration tools already in use
  • Data Center vs Cloud – RackN automation to underlying infrastructure makes datacenter provisioning competitive in a cloud world

Read the Complete Briefing Notes

Disclosure: RackN has hired Rishidot in the past.

About Rishidot Research

In ancient Indian mythology, the Rishis were the embodiment of all-encompassing knowledge with the ability to foresee the future and help handle change. Named after the mythical Rishis, Rishidot Research LLC is an analyst firm dedicated to deep understanding of technology and the ability to foresee trends.

Unlike ever before, technological evolution is happening at an exponential rate. In order to maintain their competitive edge, organizations need to both keep up with emerging technologies and align the IT goals with their business objectives. Rishidot Research helps organizations transform to Modern Enterprise by offering strategic advise to leadership on their modernization strategy and help teams understand and navigate the technology landscape. Our focus is on helping enterprises decipher and adapt to the fast changing technological landscape dominated by cloud computing, Big Data, IoT and AI.

Contact: Krishnan Subramanian at @rishidot or +1-617-657-4744

Podcast: Mark Thiele Talks Cloud, IT, and Jevons Paradox

Rob Hirschfeld, CEO/Co-Founder of RackN speaks with Mark Thiele, Chief Strategy and CIO of Apcera on a variety of cloud and DevOps related topics including Mark’s recent blog post, Why Adoption of Public Cloud Likely Won’t Exceed 17 Percent of Total IT Demand by 2022.

TOPIC                                                                    TIME
Intro to Mark / Latest on Culture                     0:00 – 3:50
Winners/Losers Mentality in IT                       3:50 – 8:35
Bottleneck in IT for Future                                8:35 – 11:00
Pay Down Debt in Interconnected Systems   11:00 – 13:15
IT More Consumable                                          13:15 – 15:10
Resiliency                                                              15:10 – 16:15
Jevons Paradox & Internal/External Cust      16:15 – 22:44
Public Cloud & Edge Computing                      22:44 – 26:55
Problem is People Not Tech                              26:55 – END

Don’t miss Mark talking about the Winchester Mystery House of IT at 12:07

Podcast Guest – Mark Thiele @mthiele10
Chief Strategy and Chief Information Officer – Apcera

Mark Thiele’s successful career in IT spans 25 years and has focused on both operating roles and on driving cloud adoption across enterprises of all sizes. Mark has deep industry experience and extensive knowledge of the requirements of policy-driven cloud computing and drives cross-functional strategic initiatives as Chief Strategy & Chief Information Officer for Apcera. Prior to joining Apcera, Mark was the executive vice president of ecosystem development at Switch SUPERNAP, builders of the world’s highest-rated data centers. He is also the president and founder of Data Center Pulse, an organization created to promote best practices in the data center industry. Mark has held executive roles at HP, Gilead, VMware and Brocade and is a member of nonprofit groups including The Green Grid and Infrastructure 2.0, where he advocates for data center and cloud industry evolution. A globally recognized speaker at leading industry events on a wide range of topics including cloud, IoT, data center, DevOps, and IT leadership. Mark is a regular content contributor to InformationWeek, GigaOm, Data Center Knowledge and other publications. Mark also serves on the technical advisory board of several startups.

Fast, Simple, Open Provisioning – Rethinking Infrastructure with Cloud-Centric Automation

Operating hardware is too hard today. And too expensive.  Let’s fix that.

The problem with physical ops is not that it’s hard, complex or fragile. Okay, it is and those ARE problems, but they are compounded by the lack of shared management software and practices missing from this layer.  When the RackN team set out to solve these physical challenges, we knew the software had to be very focused to replace the current Cobbler and Foreman environments. It also had to be flexible and composable for heterogeneous environments or we’d be right back into snowflake custom DevOps.

We’re talking about a platform that finally addresses full lifecycle control at the hardware layer with open software.  That’s complex stuff automated in a reusable way.

Even worse, being both simple and flexible for ops is a design nightmare.

Yet, we think we’ve found the right balance by combining v3.1 Digital Rebar Provision with an online library of extension packages from RackN.  Keeping Digital Rebar Provision lightweight with minimal bootstrapping and configuration makes it simple to operate.  The RackN user interface (UI) makes the service even easier to use allowing users to pick from a catalog of next steps.

We’re asking for your help to redefine data center economics from these basic starting building blocks and then join our journey from simple automation to full autonomy.

We are pleased to announce the RackN Beta Program today for your opportunity to evaluate our current solution and work together to solve your provisioning challenges. To participate in the beta please email us at beta@rackn.com, add your email on the RackN Beta Program website, or contact us twitter at @rackngo.

For more information on the RackN Beta Program, please listen to this podcast:

Digital Rebar v3.1 Release Annoucement

We’ve made open network provisioning radically simpler.  So simple, you can install in 5 minutes and be provisioning in under 30.  That’s a bold claim, but it’s also an essential deliverable for us to bridge the Ops execution gap in a way that does not disrupt your existing tool chains.

We’ve got a remarkable list of feature additions between Digital Rebar Provision (DRP) v3.0 and v3.1 that take it from basic provision into a powerful distributed infrastructure automation tool.

But first, we need to put v3.1 into a broader perspective: the new features are built from hard learned DevOps lessons.  The v2 combination of integrated provisioning and orchestration meant we needed a lot of overhead like Docker, Compose, PostgreSQL, Consul and RAILS.  That was needed for complex “one-click” cluster builds; however it’s overkill for users of Ansible, Terraform and immutable infrastructure flows.  

The v3 mantra is about starting simple and allowing users to grow automation incrementally.  RackN has been building advanced automation packages and powerful UX management to support that mission.

So what’s in the release?  The v3.0 release focused on getting core Provision infrastructure APIs, process and patterns working as a stand alone service. The v3.1 release targeted major architectural needs to streamline content management, event notification and add out-of-band actions.  

Key v3.1 Features

  • New Mascot and Logo!  We have a cloud native bare metal bear.  DRP fans should ask about stickers and t-shirts. Name coming soon! 
  • Layered Storage System. DRP storage model allows for layered storage tiers to support the content model and a read only base layer. These features allow operators to distribute content in a number of different ways and make field upgrades and multi-site synchronization possible.
  • Content packaging system.  DRP contents API allows operators to manage packages of other models via a single API call.  Content bundles are read-only and versioned so that field upgrades and patches can be distributed.
  • Plug-in system.  DRP allows API extensions and event listeners that are in the same process space as the DRP server.  This enables IPMI extensions and slack notifiers.
  • Stages, Tasks & Jobs.  DRP has a simple work queue system in which tasks are stored and tracked on machines during stages in their boot sequences.  This feature combines server and DRP client actions to create fast, simple and flexible workflows that don’t require agents or SSH access.
  • Websocket API for event subscription.  DRP clients can subscribe to system events using a long term websocket interface.  Subscriptions include filters so that operators can select very narrow notification scopes.
  • Removal of the minimal embedded UI (moving to community hosted UX).   DRP decoupled the user interface from the service API.  This allows features to be added to the UX without having to replace the Service.  This also allows community members to create their own UX.  RackN has agreed to support community users at no cost on a limited version of our commercial UX.

All of these features enable DRP to perform 100% of the hardware provision workflows that our customers need to run a fully autonomous, CI/CD enabled data center.  RackN has been showing examples of Ansible, Kubernetes, and Terraform to Metal integration as a reference implementations.

Getting the physical layer right is critical to closing your infrastructure execution gaps.  DRP v3.1 goes beyond getting it right – it makes it fast, simple and open.  Take a test drive of the open source code or give RackN a call to see our advanced automation demos.

Data Center Bacon: Terraform to Metal with Digital Rebar

TL;DR: We’ve built a buttery smooth Terraform provider for Bare Metal that runs equally on, of course, servers, Packet.net servers or VirtualBox VMs.  If you like Hashicorp Terraform and want it to own your data center too, then read on.

Deep into the Digital Rebar Provision (DRP) release plan, a customer asked the RackN team to build a Terraform provider for DRP.  They had some very specific requirements that would stress all the new workflows and out-of-band management features in the release: in many ways, this integration is the ultimate proof point for DRP v3.1 because it drives DRP autonomously.

The primary goal was simple: run a data center as a resource pool for Terraform.

Here our CTO, Greg Althaus, giving a short demo of the integration.

Of course, it is not that simple.  Operators need to be able to provide plans to pick correct nodes from resources pools.  Also, the customer request was to deploy both Linux and Windows images based on Packet.  That meant that the system needed both direct-to-disk image writing and cloud-init style post-configuration.  The result is deployments that are blazingly fast (sub 5 minutes) and highly portable.

An additional challenge in building the Terraform Provider is that no one wants to practice building plans against actual servers.  They are way too slow.  We need to be able to build and test the Terraform provider and plans quickly on a laptop or cloud infrastructure like Packet.net.  Our solution was to build parallel out-of-band IPMI type plugins for all three platforms so that the Terraform provider could interact with Digital Rebar Provision consistently regardless of the backing infrastructure.

We were able to build a full fidelity CI/CD pipeline for plans without committing dedicated infrastructure at the dev or test phases.  That is a significant breakthrough.

Terraform is kicking aaS for cluster deployments on cloud and we’re getting some very enthusiastic responses when we describe both the depth and simplicity of integration with Digital Rebar Provision.  We’re actively collecting feedback and testing both new DRP features and Terraform integration so it’s not available for open consumption; however, we very much want to find operators interested in field trials.

Please contact us if Terraform on Metal is interesting.  We’d be happy to show you how it works and discuss our next steps.

Further Listening?  Our Latest Shiny (L8stSh9y) podcast with Greg Althaus and Stephen Spector covers the work.

Cybercrime for Profit!? Five reasons why we need to start driving much more dynamic IT Operations

Author’s call to action: if you think you already know this is a problem, then why do we keep reliving it?  We’re doing our part open with Digital Rebar and we need more help to secure infrastructure using foundational automation.

There’s a frustrating cyberattack driven security awareness cycle in IT Operations.  Exploits and vulnerabilities are neither new nor unexpected; however, there is a new element taking shape that should raise additional alarm.pexels-photo-169617.jpeg

Cyberattacks are increasingly profit generating and automated.

The fundamental fact of the latest attacks is that patches were available.  The extensive impact we are seeing is caused by IT Operations that relies on end-of-life components and cannot absorb incremental changes.  These practices are based on dangerous obsolete assumptions about perimeter defense and long delivery cycles.

It’s not just new products using CI/CD pipelines and dynamic delivery: we must retrofit all IT infrastructure to be constantly refreshed.

We simply cannot wait because the cybersecurity challenges are accelerating.  What’s changed in the industry?  There is a combination of factors driving these trends:

  1. Profit motive – attacks are not simply about getting information, they are profit centers made simpler with hard to trace cryptocurrency.
  2. Shortening windows – we’re doing better at finding, publishing and fixing issues than ever in the open.  That cycle assumes that downstream users are also applying the fixes quickly.  Without downstream adoption, the process fails to realize key benefit.
  3. Automation and machine learning – the attackers are using more and more sophisticated automation to find and exploit vulnerabilities.  Expect them to use machine learning to make it even more effective.
  4. No perimeter – our highly interconnected and mobile IT environments eliminate the illusion of a perimeter defense.  This not just a networking statement: our code bases and service catalogs are built from many outside sources that often have deep access.
  5. Expanding surface area – finally, we’re embedding and connected more devices every second into our infrastructure.  Costs are decreasing while capability increases.  There’s no turning back from that, we we should expect an ongoing list of vulnerabilities.

No company has all the answers for cybersecurity; however, it’s clear that we cannot solve this cybersecurity at the perimeter and allowing the interior to remain static.

The only workable IT posture starts with a continuously deployed and updated foundation.

Companies typically skip this work because it’s very difficult to automate in a cross-infrastructure and reliable way.  I’ve been working in this space for nearly two decades and we’re just delivering deep automation that can be applied in generalized ways as part of larger processes.  The good news is that means that we can finally start discussing real shared industry best practices.

Thankfully, with shared practices and tooling, we can get ahead of the attackers.

RackN focuses exclusively on addressing infrastructure automation in an open way.  We are solving this problem from the data center foundations upward.  That allows us to establish security practice that is both completely trusted and constantly refreshed.  It’s definitely not the only thing companies need to do, but that foundation and posture helps drive a better defense.

I don’t pretend to have complete answers to the cyberattacks we are seeing, but I hope they inspire us to more security discipline.  We are on the cusp of a new wave of automated and fast exploits.

Let us know if you are interested in working with RackN to build a more dynamic infrastructure.

If Private Cloud is dead. Where did it go? How did it get there? [JOINT POST]

TL;DR: Hybrid killed IT.

I’m a regular participant on BWG Roundtable calls and often extend those discussions 1×1.  This post collects questions from one of those follow-up meetings where we explored how data center markets are changing based on new capacity and also the impact of cloud.  

We both believe in the simple answer, “it’s going to be hybrid.” We both feel that this answer does not capture the real challenges that customers are facing.

pexels-photo-325229So who are we?  Haynes Strader, Jr. comes at this from a real estate perspective via CBRE Data Center Solutions.  Rob Hirschfeld comes at this from an ops and automation perspective via RackN.  We are in very different aspects of the data center market.    

Rob: I know that we’re building a lot of data center capacity.  So far, it’s been really hard to move operations to new infrastructure and mobility is a challenge.  Do you see this too?

Haynes: Yes.  Creating a data center network that is both efficient and affordable is challenging. A couple of key data center interconnection providers offer this model, but few companies are in a position to truly leverage the node-cloud-node model, where a company leverages many small data center locations (colo) that all connect to a cloud option for the bulk of their computing requirements. This works well for smaller companies with a spread-out workforce, or brand new companies with no legacy infrastructure, but the Fortune 2000 still have the majority of their compute sitting in-house in owned facilities that weren’t originally designed to serve as data centers. Moving these legacy systems is nearly impossible.

Rob: I see many companies feeling trapped by these facilities and looking to the cloud as an alternative.  You are describing a lot of inertia in that migration.  Is there something that can help improve mobility?

Haynes: Data centers are physical presences to hold virtual environments. The physical aspect can only be optimized when a company truly understands its virtual footprint. IT capacity planning is key to this. System monitoring and usage analytics are critical to make growth and consolidation decisions. Why isn’t this being adopted more quickly? Is it cost? Is it difficulty to implement in complex IT environments? Is it the fear of the unknown?

Rob: I think that it’s technical debt that makes it hard (and scary) to change.  These systems were built manually or assuming that IT could maintain complete control.  That’s really not how cloud-focused operations work.  Is there a middle step between full cloud and legacy?

Haynes: Creating an environment where a company maximizes the use for its owned assets (leveraging sale leasebacks and forward-thinking financing) vs. waiting until end of life and attempting to dispose leads to opportunities to get capital injections early on and move to an OPEX model. This makes the transition to colo much easier, and avoids a large write-down that comes along with most IT transformations. Colocation is an excellent tool if it is properly negotiated because it can provide a flexible environment that can grow or shrink based on your utilization of other services. Sophisticated colo users know when it makes sense to pay top dollar for an environment that requires hyperconnectivity and when to save money for storage and day-to-day compute. They know when to leverage providers for services and when to manage IT tasks in-house. It is a daunting process, but the initial approach is key to getting to that place in the long term.

Rob:  So I’m back to thinking that the challenge for accessing all these colo opportunities is that it’s still way too hard to move operations between facilities and also between facilities and the cloud.  Until we improve mobility, choosing a provider can be a high stakes decision.  What factors do you recommend reviewing?

Haynes: There is an overwhelming number of factors in picking new colos:

  1. Location
  2. Connectivity/Latency
  3. Cloud Connectivity Options
  4. Pricing
  5. Quality of Services
  6. Security
  7. Hazard Risk Mitigation
  8. Comfort with services/provider
  9. Growth potential
  10. Flexibility of spend/portability (this is becoming ever-more important)

Rob: Yikes!  Are there minor operational differences between colos that are causing breaking changes in operations?

Haynes:  We run into this with our clients occasionally, but it is usually because they created two very different environments with different providers. This is a big reason to use a broker. Creating identical terms, pricing models, SLAs and work flows allow for clients to have a lot of leverage when they go to market. A select few of the top cloud providers do a really good job of this. They dominate the markets that they enter because they have a consistent, reliable process that is replicated globally. They also achieve some of the most attractive pricing and terms in the marketplace on a regular basis.

pexels-photo-119661.jpegRob: That makes sense.  Process matters for the operators and consistent practices make it easier to work with a partner.  Even so, moving can save a lot of money.  Is that savings justified against the risk and interruption?

Haynes: This is the biggest hurdle that our enterprise clients face. The risk of moving is risking an IT leader’s job. How do we do this with minimal risk and maximum upside? Long-term strategic planning is one answer, but in today’s world, IT leadership changes often and strategies go along with that. We don’t have a silver bullet for this one – but are always looking to partner with IT leaders that want to give it a shot and hopefully save a lot of money.

Rob: So is migration practical?

Haynes: Migration makes our clients cringe, but the ones that really try to take it on and make it happen strategically (not once it is too late) regularly reap the benefits of saving their company money and making them heroes to the organization.

Rob: I guess that brings us back to mixing infrastructures.  I know that public clouds have interconnect with colos that make it possible to avoid picking a single vendor.  Are you seeing this too?

Haynes: Hybrid, hybrid, hybrid. No one is the best one-stop shop. We all love 7-11 and it provides a lot of great solutions on the run, but I’m not grocery shopping there. Same reason I don’t run into a Kroger every time I need a bottle of water. Pick the right solution for the right application and workload.

Rob: That makes sense to me, but I see something different in practice.  Teams are too busy keeping the lights on to take advantage of longer-term thinking.  They seem so busy fighting fires that it’s hard to improve.

Haynes:  I TOTALLY agree. I don’t know how to change this. I get it, though. The CEO says, “We need to be in the cloud, yesterday,” and the CIO jumps. Suddenly everyone’s strategic planning is out the window and it is off to the races to find a quick-fix. Like most things, time and planning often reap more productive results.

Thanks for sharing our discussion!  

We’d love to hear your opinions about it.  We both agree that creating multi-site management abstractions could make life easier on IT and relatable to real estate and finance. With all of these organizations working in sync the world would be a better place. The challenge is figuring out how to get there!