Smaller Nodes? Just the Right Size for Docker!

Container workloads have the potential to redefine how we think about scale and hosted infrastructure.

Last Fall, Ubiquity Hosting and RackN announced a 200 node Docker Swarm cluster as a phase one of our collaboration. Unlike cloud-based container workloads demonstrations, we chose to run this cluster directly on the bare metal.  

Why bare metal instead of virtualized? We believe that metal offers additional performance, availability and control.  

With the cluster automation ready, we’re looking for customers to help us prove those assumptions. While we could simply build on many VMs, our analysis is the a lot of smaller nodes will distribute work more efficiently. Since there is no virtualization overhead, lower RAM systems can still give great performance.

The collaboration with RackN allows us to offer customers a rapid, repeatable cluster capability. Their Digital Rebar automation works on a broad spectrum of infrastructure allow our users to rehearse deployments on cloud, quickly change components and iteratively tune the cluster.

We’re finding that these dedicated metal nodes have much better performance than similar VMs in AWS?  Don’t believe us – you can use Digital Rebar to spin up both and compare.   Since Digital Rebar is an open source platform, you can explore and expand on it.

The Docker Swarm deployment is just a starting point for us. We want to hear your provisioning ideas and work to turn them into reality.

Are VMs becoming El Caminos? Containers & Metal provide new choices for DevOps

I released “VMS ARE DEAD” this post two weeks ago on DevOps.com.  My point here is that Ops Automation (aka DevOps) is FINALLY growing beyond Cloud APIs and VMs.  This creates a much richer ecosystem of deployment targets instead of having to shoehorn every workload into the same platform.

In 2010, it looked as if visualization had won. We expected all servers to virtualize workloads and the primary question was which cloud infrastructure manager would dominate. Now in 2015, the picture is not as clear. I’m seeing a trend that threatens the “virtualize all things” battle cry.

IMG_20150301_170558985Really, it’s two intersecting trends: metal is getting cheaper and easier while container orchestration is advancing on rockets. If metal can truck around the heavy stable workloads while containers zip around like sports cars, that leaves VMs as a strange hybrid in the middle.

What’s the middle? It’s the El Camino, that notorious discontinued half car, half pick-up truck.

The explosion of interest in containerized workloads (I know, they’ve been around for a long time but Docker made them sexy somehow) has been creating secondary wave of container orchestration. Five years ago, I called that Platform as a Service (PaaS) but this new generation looks more like a CI/CD pipeline plus DevOps platform than our original PaaS concepts. These emerging pipelines obfuscate the operational environment differently than virtualized infrastructure (let’s call it IaaS). The platforms do not care about servers or application tiers, their semantic is about connecting services together. It’s a different deployment paradigm that’s more about SOA than resource reservation.

On the other side, we’ve been working hard to make physical ops more automated using the same DevOps tool chains. To complicate matters, the physics of silicon has meant that we’ve gone from scale up to scale out. Modern applications are so massive that they are going to exceed any single system so economics drives us to lots and lots of small, inexpensive servers. If you factor in the operational complexity and cost of hypervisors/clouds, an small actual dedicated server is a cost-effective substitute for a comparable virtual machine.

I’ll repeat that: a small dedicated server is a cost-effective substitute for a comparable virtual machine.

I am not speaking against virtualize servers or clouds. They have a critical role in data center operations; however, I hear from operators who are rethinking the idea that all servers will be virtualized and moving towards a more heterogeneous view of their data center. Once where they have a fleet of trucks, sports cars and El Caminos.

Of course, I’d be disingenuous if I neglected to point out that trucks are used to transport cars too. At some point, everything is metal.

Want more metal friendly reading?  See Packet CEO Zac Smith’s thinking on this topic.

Who’s the grown-up here?  It’s the VM not the Iron!

This ANALOGY exploring Virtual vs Physical Ops is Joint posting by Rob Hirschfeld, RackN, and Russel Doty, Redhat.RUSSEL DOTY

babyCompared to provisioning physical servers, getting applications running in a virtual machine is like coaching an adult soccer team – the players are ready, you just have to get them to the field and set the game in motion.  The physical servers can be compared to a grade school team – tremendous potential, but they can require a lot of coaching and intervention. And they don’t always play nice.

Russell Doty and I were geeking on the challenges of configuring physical servers when we realized that our friends in cloud just don’t have these problems.  When they ask for a server, it’s delivered to them on a platter with an SLA.  It’s a known configuration – calm, rational and well-behaved.  By comparison, hardware is cranky, irregular and sporadic.  To us, it sometimes feels like we are more in the babysitting business. Yes, we’ve had hardware with the colic!

Continuing the analogy, physical operations requires a degree of child-proofing and protection that is (thankfully) hidden behind cloud abstractions of hardware.  More importantly, it requires a level of work that adults take for granted like diaper changes (bios/raid setup), food preparation (network configs), and self-entertainment (O/S updates).

And here’s where the analogy breaks down…

The irony here is that the adults (vms) are the smaller, weaker part of the tribe.  Not only that, these kids have to create the environment that the “adults” run on.

If you’re used to dealing with adults to get work done, you’re going to be in for a shock when you ask the kids to do the same job.

That’s why the cloud is such a productive platform for software.  It’s an adults-only environment – the systems follow the rules and listen to your commands.  Even further, cloud systems know how to dress themselves (get an O/S), rent an apartment (get an IP and connect) and even get credentials (get a driver’s license).

These “little things” are taken for granted in the cloud are not automatic behaviors for physical infrastructure.

Of course, there are trade-offs – most notably performance and “scale up” scalability. The closer you need to get to hardware performance, on cpu, storage, or networks, the closer you need to get to the hardware.

It’s the classic case of standardizing vs. customization. And a question of how much time you are prepared to put into care and feeding!