Redefining PXE Boot Provisioning for the Modern Data Center

Over the past 20 years, Linux admins have defined provisioning with a limited scope; PXE boot with Cobbler. This approach continues to be popular today even though it only installs an operating system limiting the operators’ ability to move beyond this outdated paradigm

Digital Rebar is the answer operators have been looking for as provisioning has taken on a new role within the data center to include workflow management, infrastructure automation, bare metal, virtual machines inside and outside the firewall as well as the coming need for edge IoT management. The active open source community is expanding the capabilities of provisioning ensuring operators a new foundational technology to rethink how data centers can be managed to meet today’s rapid delivery requirements.

Digital Rebar was architected with the global Cobbler user-base in mind to not only simplify the transition but also offer a set of common packages that are shareable across the community to simplify and automate repetitive tasks; freeing up operators to spend more time focusing on key issues instead of finding new OS packages for example.

I encourage you to take 15 minutes and visit the Digital Rebar community to learn more about this technology and how you can up-level your organization’s capability to automate infrastructure at scale,

Migration Best Practices from Cobbler to Digital Rebar Provision

In this video, Rob Hirschfeld and Greg Althaus provide operators real-world examples of how best to migrate your provisioning platform to Digital Rebar Provision. This blog highlights one of these migration ideas.

Scenario

  • 10 Servers running in multiple subnets
  • DHCP Server
  • Cobbler Provisioning Tool

Migration Process

  • Setup Digital Rebar Provision (DRP) in the Network
    • Create a new subnet with DHCP server installed
    • Operate the DHCP in reservation mode
  • Run DRP to discover the entire network across subnets without DHCP access
    • Create a mapping of infrastructure including MAC address to IP address
  • Migrate DRP control server by server
    • Turn off old DHCP server control for a specific MAC address and turn it on for new DHCP server
    • Reboot the specific MAC address node and DRP will manage the provisioning for that specific server
    • Confirm reset server and continue to manage the changeover server by server
  • Other Options
    • Continue to manage Cobbler for existing infrastructure and use DRP for all new nodes
    • Split provisioning services based on application being deployed

Watch the full video below to hear other scenarios presented for migration options.

Video Participants:

Rob Hirschfeld, Co-Founder/ CEO, RackN   Twitter: @zehicle
Greg Althaus, Co-Founder / CTO, RackN      Twitter: @galthaus

Get started with Digital Rebar today:

It’s past time to give Cobbler the boot! Don’t PXE like it’s 1999

An interesting paradox in technology is our desire to obsess over the latest shiny (Note our L8istSh9y Podcast) object promising the moon; however, we tend to hold on to our reliable, dependable solutions that become outdated.  A great example of this reliance on outdated technology is the well-known Linux provisioning tool Cobbler.

Cobbler was built specially for Linux in the pre-cloud days with version 2.2.3-1 released in June 2012. The product continues on a schedule of 2 releases a year with the last update in September 2017. There is no commercial support, minimal development and hardly anyone keeping the lights on.  In today’s security landscape, that’s not a safe place for a critical infrastructure service.

The Digital Rebar community has taken the learnings from the Cobbler community.

We’ve built a modern PXE provisioning tool to handle today’s heterogeneous data centers and clouds as well architecting future provisioning needs for the upcoming edge computing rollouts. We believe that our new provisioning utility offers Cobbler users an easy path forward from their existing provisioning to modernize with an active, growing community focused on security, scalability, bare metal, heterogeneous infrastructure, etc.

Here are some key concepts around Digital Rebar that substantially enhance your Cobbler solution:

    • A small stand-alone Golang binary with no external dependencies – this provides operators the flexibility to place the provisioning tool anywhere including a network switch, Raspberry Pi or server as well as processor independence such as ARM or Intel.
    • API first approach based on 12-Factor App methodology – making the API a first-class citizen allows the CLI to be dynamically generated from the API ensuring 100% coverage of API implementations within the CLI
    • Composable content – Digital Rebar is architected with the concept of small, simple modules being assembled quickly to customize a unique and complex solution. This approach permeates of all the “Content” components that create the foundational building blocks for composable provisioning activities.
    • Flexible and Integrated DHCP – automating provisioning requires managing next boot instructions in a way to coordinates with install workflow.  It’s time to stop maintaining MAC tables and spreadsheets.
    • Secure and Auditable – The Digital Rebar API was built with security in mind with key features like limited use and duration tokens.  We’ve also built a comprehensive logging and event system so you can finally bring your provisioning into your operational processes.
    • Easy Migration / Complete Coverage – Built with Cobbler users in mind, the template system for Digital Rebar is intuitive with fixes where Cobbler needed them.  Check out our Cobbler vs Digital Rebar Feature Comparison Table.

We encourage Cobbler users to visit the Digital Rebar community home page and learn more about our technology. You can immediately get started with our technology or visit our YouTube page to see recent demonstrations of Digital Rebar including our Kubernetes deployment demonstration.

More Community Links:

Cloud Native PHYSICAL PROVISIONING? Come on! Really?!

We believe Cloud Native development disciplines are essential regardless of the infrastructure.

imageToday, RackN announce very low entry level support for Digital Rebar Provisioning – the RESTful Cobbler PXE/DHCP replacement.  Having a company actually standing behind this core data center function with support is a big deal; however…

We’re making two BIG claims with Provision: breaking DevOps bottlenecks and cloud native physical provisioning.  We think both points are critical to SRE and Ops success because our current approaches are not keeping pace with developer productivity and hardware complexity.

I’m going to post more about Provision can help address the political struggles of SRE and DevOps that I’ve been watching in our industry.   A hint is in the release, but the Cloud Native comment needs to be addressed.

First, Cloud Native is an architecture, not an infrastructure statement.

There is no requirement that we use VMs or AWS in Cloud Native.  From that perspective, “Cloud” is a useful but deceptive adjective.  Cloud Native is born from applications that had to succeed in hands-off, lower SLA infrastructure with fast delivery cycles on untrusted systems.  These are very hostile environments compared to “legacy” IT.

What makes Digital Rebar Provision Cloud Native?  A lot!

The following is a list of key attributes I consider essential for Cloud Native design.

Micro-services Enabled: The larger Digital Rebar project is a micro-services design.  Provision reflects a stand-alone bundling of two services: DHCP and Provision.  The new Provision service is designed to both stand alone (with embedded UX) and be part of a larger system.

Swagger RESTful API: We designed the APIs first based on years of experience.  We spent a lot of time making sure that the API conformed to spec and that includes maintaining the Swagger spec so integration is easy.

Remote CLI: We build and test our CLI extensively.  In fact, we expect that to be the primary user interface.

Security Designed In: We are serious about security even in challenging environments like PXE where options are limited by 20 year old protocols.  HTTPS is required and user or bearer token authentication is required.  That means that even API calls from machines can be secured.

12 Factor & API Config: There is no file configuration for Provision.  The system starts with command line flags or environment variables.  Deeper configuration is done via API/CLI.  That ensures that the system can be fully managed by remote and configured securely becausee credentials are required for configuration.

Fast Start / Golang:  Provision is a totally self-contained golang app including the UX.  Even so, it’s very small.  You can run it on a laptop from nothing in about 2 minutes including download.

CI/CD Coverage: We committed to deep test coverage for Provision and have consistently increased coverage with every commit.  It ensures quality and prevents regressions.

Documentation In-project Auto-generated: On-boarding is important since we’re talking about small, API-driven units.  A lot of Provisioning documentation is generated directly from the code into the actual project documentation.  Also, the written documentation is in Restructured Text in the project with good indexes and cross-references.  We regenerate the documentation with every commit.

We believe these development disciplines are essential regardless of the infrastructure.  That’s why we made sure the v3 Provision (and ultimately every component of Digital Rebar as we iterate to v3) was built to these standards.

What do you think?  Is this Cloud Native?  What did we miss?

RackN Ends DevOps Gridlock in Data Center [Press Release]

Today we announced the availability of Digital Rebar Provision, the industry’s first cloud-native physical provisioning utility.  We’ve had this in the Digital Rebar community for a few weeks before offering support and response has been great!

DR ProvisionBy releasing their API-driven provisioning tool as a stand-alone component of the larger Digital Rebar suite, RackN helps DevOps teams break automation bottlenecks in their legacy data centers without disrupting current operations. The stand-alone open utility can be deployed in under 5 minutes and fits into any data center design. RackN also announced a $1,000 starter support and consulting package to further accelerate transition from tools like Cobbler, MaaS or Stacki to the new Golang utility.

“We were seeing SREs suffering from high job turnover,” said Rob Hirschfeld, RackN founder and CEO. “When their integration plans get gridlocked by legacy tooling they quickly either lose patience or political capital. Digital Rebar Provision replaces the legacy tools without process disruption so that everyone can find shared wins early in large SRE initiatives.”

The first cloud-native physical provisioning utility

Data center provisioning is surprisingly complex because it’s caught between cutting edge hardware and arcane protocols and firmware requirements that are difficult to disrupt.  The heart of the system is a fickle combination of specific DHCP options, a firmware bootstrap environment (known as PXE), a very lightweight file transfer protocol (TFTP) and operating system specific templating tools like preseed and kickstart.  Getting all these pieces to work together with updated APIs without breaking legacy support has been elusive.

By rethinking physical ops in cloud-native terms, RackN has managed to distill out a powerful provisioning tool for DevOps and SRE minded operators who need robust API/CLI, Day 2 Ops, security and control as primary design requirements. By bootstrapping foundational automation with Digital Rebar Provision, DevOps teams lay a foundation for data center operations that improves collaboration between operators and SRE teams: operators enjoy additional control and reuse and SREs get a doorway into building a fully automated process.

A pragmatic path without burning downing the data center

“I’m excited to see RackN providing a pragmatic path from physical boot to provisioning without having to start over and rebuild my data center to get there.” said Dave McCrory, an early cloud and data gravity innovator.  “It’s time for the industry to stop splitting physical and cloud IT processes because snowflaked, manual processes slow everyone down.  I can’t imagine an easier on-ramp than Digital Rebar Provision”

The RackN Digital Rebar is making it easy for Cobbler, Stacki, MaaS and Forman users to evaluate our RESTful, Golang, Template-based PXE Provisioning utility.  Interested users can evaluate the service in minutes on a laptop or engage with RackN for a more comprehensive trail with expert support.  The open Provision service works both independently and as part of Digital Rebar’s full life-cycle hybrid control.

Scontactee specific features at http://rackn.com/provision/drsa.

Want help starting on this journey?  Contact us and we can help.

Cloud-first Physical Provisioning? 10 ways that the DR is in to fix your PXE woes.

image

Why has it been so hard to untie from Cobbler? Why can’t we just REST-ify these 1990s Era Protocols? Dealing with the limits of PXE, DHCP and TFTP in wide-ranging data centers is tricky and Cobbler’s manual pre-defined approach was adequate in legacy data centers.

Now, we have to rethink Physical Ops in Cloud-first terms. DevOps and SRE minded operators services that have need real APIs, day-2 ops, security and control as primary design requirements.

The Digital Rebar team at RackN is hunting for Cobbler, Stacki, MaaS and Forman users to evaluate our RESTful, Golang, Template-based PXE Provisioning utility. Deep within the Digital Rebar full life-cycle hybrid control was a cutting-edge bare metal provisioning utility. As part of our v3 roadmap, we carved out the Provisioner to also work as a stand-alone service.

Here’s 10 reasons why DR Provisioning kicks aaS:

  1. Swagger REST API & CLI. Cloud-first means having a great, tested API. Years of provisioning experience went into this 3rd generation design and it shows. That includes a powerful API-driven DHCP.
  2. Security & Authenticated API. Not an afterthought, we both HTTPS and user authentication for using the API. Our mix of basic and bearer token authentication recognizes that both users and automation will use the API. This brings a new level of security and control to data center provisioning.
  3. Stand-alone multi-architecture Golang binary. There are no dependencies or prerequisites, plus upgrades are drop in replacements. That allows users to experiment isolated on their laptop and then easily register it as a SystemD service.
  4. Nested Template Expansion. In DR Provision, Boot Environments are composed of reusable template snippets. These templates can incorporate global, profile or machine specific properties that enable users to set services, users, security or scripting extensions for their environment.
  5. Configuration at Global, Group/Profile and Node level. Properties for templates can be managed in a wide range of ways that allows operators to manage large groups of servers in consistent ways.
  6. Multi-mode (but optional) DHCP. Network IP allocation is a key component of any provisioning infrastructure; however, DHCP needs are highly site dependant. DR Provision works as a multi-interface DHCP listener and can also resolve addresses from DHCP forwarders. It can even be disabled if your environment already has a DHCP service that can configure a the “next boot” provider.
  7. Dynamic Provisioner templates for TFTP and HTTP. For security and scale, DR Provision builds provisioning files dynamically based on the Boot Environment Template system. This means that critical system information is not written to disk and files do not have to be synchronized. Of course, when you need to just serve a file that works too.
  8. Node Discovery Bootstrapping. Digital Rebar’s long-standing discovery process is enabled in the Provisioner with the included discovery boot environment. That process includes an integrated secure token sequence so that new machines can self-register with the service via the API. This eliminates the need to pre-populate the DR Provision system.
  9. Multiple Seeding Operating Systems. DR Provision comes with a long list of Boot Environments and Templates including support for many Linux flavors, Windows, ESX and even LinuxKit. Our template design makes it easy to expand and update templates even on existing deployments.
  10. Two-stage TFTP/HTTP Boot. Our specialized Sledgehammer and Discovery images are designed for speed with optimized install cycles the improve boot speed by switching from PXE TFTP to IPXE HTTP in a two stage process. This ensures maximum hardware compatibility without creating excess network load.

Digital Rebar Provision is a new generation of data center automation designed for operators with a cloud-first approach. Data center provisioning is surprisingly complex because it’s caught between cutting edge hardware and arcane protocols embedded in firmware requirements that are still very much alive.

We invite you to try out Digital Rebar Provision yourself and let us know what you think. It only takes a few minutes. If you want more help, contact RackN for a $1000 Quick Start offer.

April 14 – Weekly Recap of All Things Site Reliability Engineering (SRE)

Welcome to the weekly post of the RackN blog recap of all things SRE. If you have any ideas for this recap or would like to include content please contact us at info@rackn.com or tweet Rob (@zehicle) or RackN (@rackngo). 

SRE Items of the Week

Continuous Discussions (#c9d9) Episode 66: Scaling Agile and DevOps in the Enterprise Watch Rob Hirschfeld in this Electric Cloud Podcast held on 4/11.

On the Continuous Discussions (#c9d9) podcast the discussion was on Scaling Agile and DevOps in the Enterprise.

  • What’s between scaling Agile and scaling DevOps?
  • What are some learnings and patterns for scaling Agile, that can be applied for starting and scaling a DevOps transformation in the enterprise?

Podcast Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uffUoX-O3g8
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Rob Hirschfeld on Containers, Private Clouds, GIFEE, and the Remaining “Underlay Problem”
Rob Hirschfeld Q&A with Gene Kim on ITRevolution

INTRO
Back in October of 2016, I was at OpenStack Conference in Barcelona and ran into a long-time friend, Rob Hirschfeld. He surprised me by talking about a problem domain that we have had discussions about for years, reframing it as “the data center underlay problem.”

His provocative statement was that while OpenStack solves many problems, it didn’t address the fundamental challenges of how to run things like OpenStack on actual physical infrastructure. This is a problem domain that is being radically redefined by the container ecosystem.

This is a problem that Rob has been tirelessly working on for nearly a decade, and it was interesting to get his perspective on the emerging ecosystem, including OpenStack, Kubernetes, Mesos, containers, private clouds in general (which include Azure Stack), etc.  I thought it would be useful to share this with everyone.
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Need PXE? Try out this Cobbler Replacement
Rob Hirschfeld Blog (https://robhirschfeld.com)

INTRO
We wanted to make open basic provisioning API-driven, secure, scalable and fast.  So we carved out the Provision & DHCP services as a stand alone unit from the larger open Digital Rebar project.  While this Golang service lacks orchestration, this complete service is part of Digital Rebar infrastructure and supports the discovery boot process, templating, security and extensive image library (Linux, ESX, Windows, … ) from the main project.

TL;DR: FIVE MINUTES TO REPLACE COBBLER?  YES.

The project APIs and CLIs are complete for all provisioning functions with good Swagger definitions and docs.  After all, it’s third generation capability from the Digital Rebar project.  The integrated UX is still evolving.
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Open Source Collaboration: The Power of No & Interoperability
Christopher Ferris, IBM OpenTech

INTRO
It’s a common misconception that open source collaboration means saying YES to all ideas; however, the reality of successful projects is the opposite.

Permissive open source licenses drive a delicate balance for projects. On one hand, projects that adopt permissive licenses should be accepting of contributions to build community and user base. On the other, maintainers need to adopt a narrow focus to ensure project utility and simplicity. If the project’s maintainers are too permissive, the project bloats and wanders without a clear purpose. If they are too restrictive then the project fails to build community.

It is human nature to say yes to all collaborators, but that can frustrate core developers and users.

For that reason, stronger open source projects have a clear, focused, shared vision.  Historically, that vision was enforced by a benevolent dictator for life (BDFL); however, recent large projects have used a consensus of project elders to make the task more sustainable.  These roles serve a critical need: they say “no” to work that does not align with the project’s mission and vision.  The challenge of defining that vision can be a big one, but without a clear vision, it’s impossible for the community to sustain growth because new contributors can dilute the utility of projects.  [author’s note: This is especially true of celebrity projects like OpenStack or Kubernetes that attract “shared glory” contributors]
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UPCOMING EVENTS
Rob Hirschfeld and Greg Althaus are preparing for a series of upcoming events where they are speaking or just attending. If you are interested in meeting with them at these events please email info@rackn.com.

DockerCon 2017 : April 17 – 20, 2017 in Austin, TX
DevOpsDays Austin : May 4-5, 2017 in Austin TX
OpenStack Summit : May 8 – 11, 2017 in Boston, MA  

  • OpenStack and Kubernetes. Combining the best of both worlds – Kubernetes Day  

Interop ITX : May 15 – 19, 2017 in Las Vegas, NV

Gluecon : May 24 – 25, 2017 in Denver, CO

  • Surviving Day 2 in Open Source Hybrid Automation – May 23, 2017 : Rob Hirschfeld and Greg Althaus

OTHER NEWSLETTERS

SRE Weekly (@SREWeekly)Issue #67