The Upstream Imperative: paving the way for content creators is required for platform success

Since content is king, platform companies (like Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon) win by attracting developers to build on their services.  Open source tooling and frameworks are the critical interfaces for these adopters; consequently, they must invest in building communities around those platforms even if it means open sourcing previously internal only tools.

This post expands on one of my OSCON observations: companies who write lots of code have discovered an imperative to upstream their internal projects.   For background, review my thoughts about open source and supply chain management.

Huh?  What is an “upstream imperative?”  It sounds like what salmon do during spawning then read the post-script!

Historically, companies with a lot of internal development tools had no inventive to open those projects.  In fact, the “collaboration tax” of open source discouraged companies from sharing code for essential operations.   Historically, open source was considered less featured and slower than commercial or internal projects; however, this perception has been totally shattered.  So companies are faced with a balance between the overhead of supporting external needs (aka collaboration) and the innovation those users bring into the effort.

Until recently, this balance usually tipped towards opening a project but under-investing in the community to keep the collaboration costs low.  The change I saw at OSCON is that companies understand that making open projects successful bring communities closer to their products and services.

That’s a huge boon to the overall technology community.

Being able to leverage and extend tools that have been proven by these internal teams strengthens and accelerates everyone. These communities act as free laboratories that breed new platforms and build deep relationships with critical influencers.  The upstream savvy companies see returns from both innovation around their tools and more content that’s well matched to their platforms.

Oh, and companies that fail to upstream will find it increasingly hard to attract critical mind share.  Thinking the alternatives gives us a Windows into how open source impacts past incumbents.

That leads to a future post about how XaaS dog fooding and “pure-play” aaS projects like OpenStack and CloudFoundry.

Post Script about Upstreaming:

Continue reading

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 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!

CloudOps white paper explains “cloud is always ready, never finished”

I don’t usually call out my credentials, but knowing the I have a Masters in Industrial Engineering helps (partially) explain my passion for process as being essential to successful software delivery. One of my favorite authors, Mary Poppendiek, explains undeployed code as perishable inventory that you need to get to market before it loses value. The big lessons (low inventory, high quality, system perspective) from Lean manufacturing translate directly into software and, lately, into operation as DevOps.

What we have observed from delivering our own cloud products, and working with customers on thier’s, is that the operations process for deployment is as important as the software and hardware. It is simply not acceptable for us to market clouds without a compelling model for maintaining the solution into the future. Clouds are simply moving too fast to be delivered without a continuous delivery story.

This white paper [link here!] has been available since the OpenStack conference, but not linked to the rest of our OpenStack or Crowbar content.

Austin OpenStack Meetup (January Minutes) + OpenStack Foundation Web Cast!

Sorry for the brevity… At the last Austin OpenStack meetup, we had >60 stackers!  Some from as far away as Portland and Boston (as in Oregon and Massachusetts).

Notes:

  • Suse introduced their OpenStack beta and talked about their Suse Studio that can deploy images against the OpenStack APIs
  • I showed off DevStack.org code that can setup the truck of OpenStack (now Essex) in about 10 minutes on a single node.  Great for developers!
  • I showed an OpenStack Diablo Final deployment from Crowbar.  I focused mainly on Dashboard and used our reference architecture (see below) as illustration of the many parts.
  • Matt Ray suggested everyone watch the webcasts about the OpenStack Foundation (Thurs 6pm central  & Friday 9am central)
  • We planned the next few meetups.
    • For February, we’ll talk about Swift and Dashboard.
    • For March, we’ll talk about Essex and DevStack to prep for the next design summit (in SF).
    • For April, we’ll debrief the conference

Thank you Suse and Dell (my employer) for sponsoring!   The next meetup is sponsored by Canonical.

2012: A year of Cloud Coalescence (whatever that means)

This post is a collaboration between three Dell Cloud activists: Rob Hirschfeld (@zehicle), Joseph B George (@jbgeorge) and Stephen Spector (@SpectoratDell).

We’re not making predictions for the “whole” Cloud market, this is a relatively narrow perspective based on technologies that on our daily radar. These views are strictly our own and based on publicly available data. They do not reflect plans, commitments, or internal data from our employer (Dell).

The major 2012 theme is cloud coalescence.  However, Rob worries that we’ll see slower adoption due to lack of engineers and confusing names/concepts.

Here are our twelve items for 2012:

  1. Open source continues to be a disruptive technology delivery model. It’s not “free” software – there’s an emerging IT culture that is doing business differently, including a number of large enterprises. The stable of sleeping giant vendors are waking up to this in 2012 but full engagement will take time.
  2. Linux. It is the cloud operating system and had a great 2012. It seems silly pointing this out since it seems obvious, but it’s the foundation for open source acceleration.
  3. Tight market for engineering and product development talent will get tighter. The catch-22 of this is that potential mentors are busy breaking new ground and writing code, making it hard for new experts to be developed.
  4. On track, OpenStack moves into its awkward adolescence. It is still gangly and rebelling against authority, but coming into its own. Expect to see a groundswell of installations and an expected wave of issues and challenges that will drive the community. By the “F” release, expect to see OpenStack cement itself as a serious, stable contender with notable public deployments and a significant international private deployment foot print.
  5. We’ll start seeing OpenStack Quantum (networking) in near-production pilots by year end. OpenStack Quantum is the glue that holds the big players in OpenStack Nova together. The potential for next generation cloud networking based on open standards is huge, but it will emerge without a killer app (OpenStack Nova in this case) pushing it forward. The OpenStack community will pull together to keep Quantum on track.
  6. Hadoop will cross into mainstream awareness as the need for big data analysis grows exponentially along with the data. Hadoop is on fire in select circles and completely obscure in others. The challenge for Hadoop is there are not enough engineers who know how to operate it. We suspect that lack of expertise will throttle demand until we get more proprietary tools to simplify analysis. We also predict a lot of very rich entrepreneurs and VCs emerging from this market segment.
  7. DevOps will enter mainstream IT discussions. Marketers from major IT brands will struggle and fail to find a better name for the movement. Our prediction is that by 2015, it will just be the way that “IT” is done and the name won’t matter.
  8. KVM continues to gain believers as the open source hypervisor. In 2011, I would not have believed this prediction but KVM making great strides and getting a lot of love from the OpenStack community, though Xen is also a key open source technology as well. I believe that Libvirt compatibility between LXE & KVM will further accelerate both virtualization approaches. 
      
  9. Big Data and NoSQL will continue to converge. While NoSQL enthusiasm as a universal replacement for structured databases appears to be deflating, real applications will win.
  10. Java will continue to encounter turbulence as a software platform under Oracle’s overly heady handed management.
  11. PaaS continues to be a confusing term. Cloud players will struggle with a definition but I don’t think a common definition will surface in 2012. I think the big news will be convergence between DevOps and PaaS; however, that will be under the radar since most of the market is still getting educated on both of those concepts.
  12. Hybrid cloud will continue to make strides but will not truly emerge in 2012 – we’ll try to develop this technology, and expose gaps that will get us there ultimately (see PaaS and Quantum above)

Thoughts?  We’d love to hear your comments.

Rob, JBG, and Stephen

You can follow Rob at www.RobHirschfeld.com or @zehicle on Twitter.
You can follow Joseph at www.JBGeorge.net or @jbgeorge on Twitter.

You can follow Stephen at http://en.community.dell.com/members/dell_2d00_stephen-sp/blogs/default.aspx or @SpectoratDell on Twitter.

Big Questions? Big Answers with Dell BigData solution (plus Crowbar gets RHEL)

In my enthusiasm for all things Dell + OpenStack, I have neglected to talk about my team’s interesting Big Data work with Apache Hadoop.  Hadoop is a suite of open source projects for analyzing large data sets of unstructured data.  Initially, Hadoop centered around use of the map-reduce algorithm; however, it’s grown way beyond that as the community has worked to solve problems related to data storage, discovery, and scheduling.

Big Data clouds are well suited to my team because the model (non-redundant/cloud) and scale (hyper) of their deployments.  It should be no surprise that builders of analysis clouds have the same goals (maximizing operational ROI per compute unit) as builders of other types of clouds.

Our Hadoop solution relies on the same core principles (CloudOps) and technologies (Crowbar) as our OpenStack solution.  Like our other cloud solutions, we are working closely with a proven leader: Cloudera.  Now that we’ve formally announced our solution and partnership, I can talk a about what we’re doing on the Big Data front.

One extra thing that I’m proud to announce, we’ll be adding Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) support to Crowbar to support our Hadoop solution.  This support is not just at the node level: we are making Crowbar admin run on either platform too!  This is significant for two reasons:

  1. It expands the number of platforms and support options for Crowbar users
  2. It provides the framework to support more varieties of node operating environment (e.g.: XenServer, BSD, DRDOS, etc)

For more information, check out: