I played with hardware!

It has been over a year since I had to play with hardware properly to achieve something practical, but that is part of the joy of being in the world of cloud computing. That world where you don’t own anything, you pay by the hour and occasionally things go horribly wrong but you delete it an start again; the throw away society of cloud computing.

Every now and then I get frustrated with AWS, normally because there is a something wrong, lets say a box that is meant to have unrivalled resources starts going slow, you end up doing some investigation but the answer is simply that the underlying hypervisor is busy, probably due to other people hammering the server for some reason… Either way in a cloudy world your choices are thus:

  1. Wait it out
  2. throw it away

You could hope the problem gets better or you could delete the server and build it somewhere else and hope that one is better, rinse and repeat the above two until a stable service is resumed.

Being throw away is really useful, it enables you to re-build quickly and not suffer to much if something major happens so I think people (you…) should make sure that no matter where your server is you can rebuild it from scratch in less than 10 mins. If you had the ability to still be throw away and request servers as and when you wanted via a WebUI or a CLi or some API calls but in addition to all of that you had the control of the physical hardware you could optimise what was running on the hypervisor to offer the best performance, this is all very good but is not with out its draw backs; someone has to physical rack / cable in all of the servers that are running the infrastructure, someone has to firmware patch them and replace dead hard drives and do all of that Boring stuff that cloud folk have forgotten about.

So what about Openstack

So for those that don’t know OpenStack is a private cloud, this means you can run services in your data centre that mimic AWS, You get the Block storage (EBS) in the form of Cinder, you get Object storage (S3) Instance storage (EC2) and a host of other things that I won’t go into. So the API may not be 100% the same as AWS and the features that you have in AWS may not be available in Openstack yet, but it’s catching up and it’s doing so rapidly. I would predict that over the next 2-3 years we see openstack compete with AWS for features and even start seeing AWS taking features that openstack has and porting them to AWS. So definitely one to watch.

Over the last 3-6 months it had come up a few times about openstack and I put it on my todo list to have a play but quite frankly I had other things to be doing. Well last week I was asked to help set up the SAN and network for a openstack PoC for the internal IT, falling back on my not as legacy as I’d like Cisco skills and having used the same SAN tech before it wasn’t long to get that set up and I thought it would take ages to get the various components of openstack up and working. Well it could have if it wasn’t for one saving grace, the PoC on a disk that Rackspace provide Here it may not be the latest or the most perfect but it saved a lot of time in getting something up and working and if you aren’t sure what it is I would suggest getting a few bits of legacy kit and having a play like we did, just set aside two or three days to play with the technology and to set up the various elements of it, it’s worth a play.

There’s already a few advantages of openstack vs aws, a silly one for me is a console. Openstack gives you VNC access to your servers, you can now survive any minor iptables glitch or networking mishap by your self, yes I know it should all be throw away, but sometimes the box has some data on it that is important or you want to know what went wrong and having a console is good. Lets not overlook the fact that you’re calling the shots so if it doesn’t do what you want it too you could if you wanted commit code back to make it better, change the hardware spec, distribution of VM’s or any other element in a thousand that you may need to control, with this you can.

But it’s not all good, it still comes back to managing your own data centre and there’s very few companies or services that get to a size where they have to move off of AWS for performance reasons, typically you’d move off of AWS to save a few dollars, but by the time you fator in additional head count for maintaining the physical boxes, power, cooling, rack locations, geographically diverse locations and the infrastructure services, the platform and it’s skill set you may not be saving as much money as you want, but you’ll probably break even with the advantage of controlling the whole underlying infrastructure on top of still having the throwaway nature a cloud services.

I’m not saying you should and could make it so you support everything all the time even high bursts of traffic, but at least you could use public cloud for what it’s good for, bursting onto when times get hard and more processing power is needed. Granted to be able to do that all systems would need to be automated and be able to migrate at the push of a button. By the time you’ve gone through that whole process with all of your applications either in a private cloud or in public cloud it wouldn’t matte rif you had to u-turn tomorrow you could do that. As long as you’re smart enough to oly use services that are available in multiple places i.e. in openstack and AWS.

Interesting times ahead I think.

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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Openstack is certainly something that I’d like to have a mess around with. Do you think that the RHEV Suite, Citrix and VMWare products compete in the same space (internal/private clouds)? Or do you think these are separate products? Not knowing enough about OpenStack, can they integrate with them?

    • I’m not sure as i’ve not used either of them, We have had some lengthy talks about vmware as a couple of the people from work have used that but the short answer is that it still isn’t in the same league. Openstack has the advantage of being both a public and private cloud because that’s what Rackspace use for their cloud service. I think because of that and the fact that Rackspace and the wider openstack community keep it in sync with AWS that it just doesn’t make sense to use anything else, unless you enjoy re-doing it all when one of the others fails anyway :) I think with RHEV and Openstack the underlying hypervisor is KVM so as a result at least that element is the same, but it’s all the other tools that make it useful and I’m not sure RHEV comes with an API to use.

      I imagine (guessing broadly) that there will be providers out there that have a killer feature that helps a specific business in one way or another but almost certainly all of them will cost a lot to manage with training and additional staff. I belive, that with the Rackspace version of Openstack you can even get them to support it for you if you so wish, which makes it more of an opex cost and there fore more attainable, especially on credit cards which is how most clouds are funded.


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