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Virtualization, Cloud, Infrastructure and all that stuff in-between

My ramblings on the stuff that holds it all together

Category Archives: google

Domestic Schedule Bliss? There’s an iPad app for that in the Cloud

 

Anyone reading this that has a partner and family will probably understand my pain… My wife & I have a pretty busy schedule; work commitments and travel that are part of any modern IT consultant job, 2 young children and their highly complex schedule of social and school, nursery, classes add to that a widely distributed network of family and friends and their social events/weekend visiting and it gets pretty complex to keep track of.

As I’ve written about before my Outlook/BES Blackberry calendar is de-facto to me; I just don’t have the mental bandwidth to track everything and the bit of my brain that deals with remembering dates over a week away is either missing or faulty and multiple personal/work calendars just mess with my head.

My wife has performed a heroic task of maintaining a paper family calendar for years, but that forced me to also maintain it manually and often things were forgotten which has led to much confusion and mis-scheduling, especially when I have been away and there have been changes to my schedule.

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We work in IT right? there has to be a technical solution to this pain? well yes, there is; however my wife found using a laptop or small screened mobile phone to manage a shared calendar too difficult whilst juggling 2 small children and always fell back to the paper calendar and lived with it’s limitations.

So, when an iPad was introduced and quickly adopted by everyone in the household as “good-enough” for everything from quick browsing of the web to TV guides, iPlayer, recipes, games I spotted an opportunity.

I was a bit skeptical about the iPad at first and didn’t think it would be much more than a nice toy, however it was used so much by all of the family because;

  • It switched on instantly (unlike a laptop)
  • the battery lasts literally forever so you don’t have to be tethered to power (unlike a laptop or iPhone)
  • Has a usable sized screen that you could read things without having to scroll/pan about (unlike a smartphone); and having 2 young kids it’s wipe-clean and reasonably robust (parents will understand Smile).

So with some fiddling we ended up at this solution

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  • Google calendar acting as the central “hub” reference – accessible via a web browser from anywhere and with a good API that is used by sync applications across multiple platforms.
  • My Exchange-hosted calendar is automatically synced to my fat-Outlook client and to my Blackberry via the BES.
  • the Google calendar sync application runs in the background on my Blackberry and syncs with the shared Google Calendar.
  • The iPad application CalenGoo syncs with the Google Calendar so the calendar can always be viewed and edited from the iPad in a convenient home-use form-factor.
  • My wife’s new smartphone (which will either be a BIS Blackberry or iPhone will be able to sync with the Google calendar “hub” giving her a mobile and up to date editable copy of the calendar.

For us it works pretty well, if you have a similar problem I’d suggest you investigate it, one word of warning the BB/Gmail sync app won’t sync historical appointments from your calendar so be careful if you try to get around this with a manual import; you may end up with duplicate calendar entries (at least I did, and had to de-dupe them).

There are also Google calendar sync plug-ins for Outlook and other mail clients, but I was happy enough with doing it via my BB as that nearly always has a network connection and is kept constantly in-sync with my work calendar.

With all that sync’ing there is a latency of about an hour for changes to get replicated end-end which is more than enough for our family needs.

In terms of security my family or work schedule isn’t particularly sensitive but it’s tied down to usernames/passwords where relevant and transmission is over SSL, entries from our shared calendar get synced into my corporate calendar marked as ‘private’ – but there could be better support for a more granular model both ways here, Google calendar seems to have this concept but it doesn’t federate into into the Exchange/BB world {yet}.

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Google opens up its DC so you can look inside.

Google are hosting a conference at the moment with a focus on energy efficient DC design, because of their scale they have a vested interest in this sort of thing, up until now they have been very protective of their “Secret sauce” but are now sharing their experiences with the wider community.

Key interesting points for me are; Google have been using container based DC’s with 4000 servers per container since 2005 – pics and info here and they are still building their own custom servers but with built in UPS batteries rather than relying on building based UPS. This is interesting as it distributes the battery storage and de-centralises the impact/risk of UPS maintenance or problems. Google also say this scale is actually more energy efficient.

There are some good close up pictures of an older Google server here, posts have referred to the more recent revisions as using laptop style PSUs; details of which I don’t believe they are making public, this design is a part of their competitive advantage I guess.

Dave Ohara has a comprehensive list of links to bloggers covering the conference here, along with his own interesting posts about the information that has been shared here and here.

I believe the videos will be available on YouTube on Monday so it will be interesting viewing, particularly seeing how Google have taken an entirely custom approach to their hardware & DC infrastructure rather than relying on off the shelf major vendor servers  (Dell, HP, etc.)

On the subject of Google, I have heard rumours that the fabled GoogleOS is actually RHEL with heavy customisations for job management and distributed, autonomous control – at their scale the hardware needs to be just a utility; the “clever” bit is what their software does in managing horizontal scalability rather than high levels of raw compute power.

Whatever they can share with the community whilst maintaining their competitive edge can only benefit everyone – I’m sure Microsoft, Amazon and all the other cloud providers are watching closely 🙂

Cloud Wars: VMWare vs Microsoft vs Google vs Amazon Clouds

 

A short time ago in a data centre, far far away…..

All the big players are setting out their cloud pitches, Microsoft are set to make some big announcements at their Professional Developer Conference at the end of October and VMWare made their VDC-OS announcements at VMWorld a couple of weeks ago, Google have had their App Engine in beta for a while and Amazon AWS is pretty well established.

With this post I hope to give a quick overview of each, I’ll freely admit I’m more knowledgeable on the VMWare/Microsoft offerings… and I stand to be corrected on any assumptions I’ve made on Google/AWS based on my web reading.

So, What’s the difference between them…?

VMWare vCloud – infrastructure led play

VMWare come from the infrastructure space, to-date they have dominated the x86 virtualization market, they have some key strategic partnerships with storage and network vendors to deliver integrated solutions.

The VMWare VDC-OS pitch is about providing a flexible underlying architecture through servers, network and storage virtualisation. why? because making everything ‘virtual’ makes for quick reconfiguration – reallocating resource from one service to another is a configuration/allocation change rather than requiring an engineer visit (see my other post on this for more info)

because VMWare’s pitch is infrastructure led it has a significant practical advantage in that it’s essentially technology agnostic (as long as it’s x86 based) you, or a service provider have the ability to build and maintain an automated birth–>death bare ‘virtual metal’ provisioning and lifecycle system for application servers/services as there is no longer a tight dependency for everything on physical hardware, cabling etc

There is no one size fits all product in this space so a bespoke solution based around a standard framework tool like Tivoli, SMS, etc. is typically required depending on organisational/service requirements.

No re-development is necessarily required to move your applications into a vCloud (hosted or internal) you just move your VMWare virtual machines to a different underlying VDC-OS infrastructure, or you use P2V, X2V tools like Platespin to migrate to a VDC-OS infrastructure.

In terms of limitations – apps can’t necessarily scale horizontally (yet) as they are constrained by their traditional server based roots. The ability to add a 2nd node doesn’t necessarily make your app scale – there are all kinds of issues around state, concurrency etc. that the application framework needs to manage.

VMWare are building frameworks to build scale-out provisioning tools – but this would only work for certain types of applications and is currently reactive unless you build some intelligence into the provisioning system.

Scott Lowe has a good round-up of VDC-OS information here & VMWare’s official page is online here

Google AppEngine– pure app framework play

An application framework for you to develop your apps within – it provides a vastly parallel application and storage framework – excellent for developing large applications (i.e Google’s bread & butter)

Disadvantage is it’s a complete redevelopment of you applications into Google compatible code, services & frameworks. You are tied into Google services – you can’t (as I understand it) take your developed applications elsewhere without significant re-development/porting.

The Google AppEngine blog is here

Microsoft Cloud Services Hosted Application stack & Infrastructure play

An interesting offering, they will technically have the ability to host .net applications from a shared hosting service, as well as integrating future versions of their traditional and well established office/productivity applications into their cloud platform; almost offering the subscription based/Software+Services model they’ve been mooting for a long time.

Given Microsoft’s market current dominance, they are very well positioned to make this successful as large shops will be able to modify existing internal .net services and applications to leverage portions of their cloud offering.

With the future developments of Hyper-V Microsoft will be well positioned to offer an infrastructure driven equivalent of VMWare’s VDC-OS proposition to service and support migration from existing dedicated Windows and Linux servers to an internal or externally hosted cloud type platform.

David Chou at Microsoft has a good post on Microsoft and clouds here

Amazon Web Services – established app framework with canned virtualization

the AWS platform provides a range of the same sort of functionality as Google AppEngine with SimpleDB,  SQS and S3 but with the recently announced ability to run Windows within their EC2 cloud makes for an interesting offering with the existing ability to pick & choose from Linux based virtual machine instances.

I believe EC2 makes heavy use of Xen under the hood; which I assume is how they are going to be delivering the Windows based services, EC2 also allows you to choose from a number of standard Linux virtual machine offerings (Amazon Machine Image, AMI).

This is an interesting offering, allowing you to develop your applications into their framework and possibly port or build your Linux/Windows application services into their managed EC2 service.

Same caveat applies though, your apps and virtual machines could be tied to the AWS framework – so you loose your portability without significant re-engineering. on the flip-side they do seem to have the best defined commercial and support models and have been well established for a while with the S3 service.

Amazon’s AWS blog is available here

Conclusion

Microsoft & VMWare are best positioned to pick up businesses from the corporate’s who will likely have a large existing investment in code and infrastructure but are looking to take advantage of reduced cost and complexity by hosting portions of their app/infrastructure with a service-provider.

Microsoft & VMWare offerings easily lend themselves to this internal/external cloud architecture as you can build your own internal cloud using their off-the-shelf technology, something that isn’t possible with AWS or Google. This is likely to be the preferred model for most large businesses who need to retain ownership of data and certain systems for legal/compliance reasons.

leveraging virtualization and commercial X2V or X2X conversion tools will make transition between internal and external clouds simple and quick – which gives organisations a lot of flexibility to operate their systems in the most cost/load-effective manner as well as retain detailed control of the application/server infrastructure but freed up from the day-day hardware/capacity management roles.

AWS/Google are ideal for Web 2.0 ,start-ups and the SME sector where there is typically no existing or large code-base investment that would need to be leveraged. For a greenfield implementation these services offer low start-up cost and simple development tools to build applications that would be complicated & expensive to build if you had to worry about and develop supporting infrastructure without significant up-front capital backing.

AWS/Google are also great for people wanting to build applications that need to scale to lots of users, but without a deep understanding of the required underlying infrastructure, whilst this is appealing to corporate’s  I think the cost of porting and data ownership/risk issues will be a blocker for a significant amount of time.

Google Apps are a good entry point for the SME/start-up sector and startups, and could well draw people into building AppEngine services as the business grows in size and complexity, so we may see a drift towards this over time. Microsoft have a competing model and could leverage their established brand to win over customers if they can make the entry point free/cheap and cross-platform compatible, lots of those SME/start-ups are using Mac’s or Netbooks for example.

Virtualization – the key to delivering "cloud based architecture" NOW.

 

There is a lot of talk about delivering cloud or elastic computing platforms, a lot of CxO’s are taking this all in and nodding enthusiastically, they can see the benefits.. so make it happen!….yesterday.

Moving your services to the cloud, isn’t always about giving your apps and data to Google, Amazon or Microsoft.

You can build your own cloud, and be choosy about what you give to others. building your own cloud makes a lot of sense, it’s not always cheap but its the kind of thing you can scale up (or down..) with a bit of up-front investment, in this article I’ll look at some of the practical; and more infrastructure focused ways in which you can do so.

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Your “cloud platform” is essentially an internal shared services system where you can actually and practically implement a “platform” team that operates and capacity plans for the cloud platform; they manage it’s availability and maintenance day-day and expansion/contraction.

You then have a number of “service/application” teams that subscribe to services provided by your cloud platform team… they are essentially developers/support teams that manage individual applications or services (for example payroll or SAP, web sites etc.), business units and stakeholders etc.

Using the technology we discuss here you can delegate control to them over most aspects of the service they maintian – full access to app servers etc. and an interface (human or automated) to raise issues with the platform team or log change requests.

I’ve seen many attempts to implement this in the physical/old world and it just ends in tears as it builds a high level of expectation that the server/infrastructure team must be able to respond very quickly to the end-“customer” the customer/supplier relationship is very different… regardless of what OLA/SLA you put in place.

However the reality of traditional infrastructure is that the platform team can’t usually react as quick as the service/application teams need/want/expect because they need to have an engineer on-site, wait for an order and a delivery, a network provisioning order etc. etc (although banks do seems to have this down quite well, it’s still a delay.. and time is money, etc.)

Virtualization and some of the technology we discuss here enable the platform team to keep one step ahead of the service/application teams by allowing them to do proper capacity planning and maintain a pragmatic headroom of capacity and make their lives easier by consolidating the physical estate they manage. This extra headroom capacity can be quickly back-filled when it’s taken up by adopting a modular hardware architecture to keep ahead of the next requirement.

Traditional infrastructure = OS/App Installations

  • 1 server per ‘workload’
  • Silo’d servers for support
  • Individually underused on average = overall wastage
  • No easy way to move workload about
  • Change = slow, person in DC, unplug, uninstall, move reinstall etc.
  • HP/Dell/Sun Rack Mount Servers
  • Cat 6 Cables, Racks and structured cabling

The ideal is to have an OS/app stack that can have workloads moved from host A to host B; this is a nice idea but there are a whole heap of dependencies with the typlical applications of today (IIS/apache + scripts, RoR, SQL DB, custom .net applications). Most big/important line of business apps are monolithic and today make this hard. Ever tried to move a SQL installation from OLD-SERVER-A to SHINY-NEW-SERVER-B? exactly. *NIX better at this, but not that much better.. downtime required or complicated fail over.

This can all be done today, virtualization is the key to doing it – makes it easy to move a workload from a to b we don’t care about the OS/hardware integration – we standardise/abstract/virtualize it and that allows us to quickly move it – it’s just a file and a bunch of configuration information in a text file… no obscure array controller firmware to extract data from or outdated NIC/video drivers to worry about.

Combine this with server (blade) hardware, modern VLAN/L3 switches with trunked connections, and virtualised firewalls then you have a very compelling solution that is not only quick to change, but makes more efficient use of the hardware you’ve purchased… so each KW/hr you consume brings more return, not less as you expand.

Now, move this forward and change the hardware for something much more commodity/standardised

Requirement: Fast, Scalable shared storage, filexible allocation of disk space and ability to de-duplicate data, reduce overhead etc, thin provisioning.

Solution: SAN Storage, EMC Clariion, HP-EVA, Sun StorageTek, iSCSI for lower requirements, or storage over single Ethernet fabric – NetApp/Equalogic

Requirement: Requirement Common chassis and server modules for quick, easy rip and replace and efficient power/cooling.

Solution: HP/Sun/Dell Blades

Requirement: quick change of network configurations, cross connects, increase & decrease bandwidth

Solution: Cisco switching, trunked interconnects, 10Gb/bonded 1GbE, VLAN isolation, quick change enabled as beyond initial installation there are fewer requirements to send an engineer to plug something in or move it, Checkpoint VSX firewalls to allow delegated firewall configurations or to allow multiple autonomous business units (or customers) to operate from a shared, high bandwidth platform.

Requirement: Ability to load balance and consolidate individual server workloads

Solution: VMWare Infrastructure 3 + management toolset (SCOM, Virtual Centre, Custom you-specific integrations using API/SDK etc.)

Requirement: Delegated control of systems to allow autonomy to teams, but within a controlled/auditable framework

Solution: Normal OS/app security delegation, Active Directory, NIS etc. Virtual Center, Checkpoint VSX, custom change request workflow and automation systems which are plugged into platform API/SDK’s etc.

the following diagram is my reference architecture for how I see these cloud platforms hanging together

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As ever more services move into the “cloud” or the “mesh” then integrating them becomes simpler, you have less of a focus on the platform that runs it – and just build what you need to operate your business etc.

In future maybe you’ll be able to use the public cloud services like Amazon AWS to integrate with your own internal cloud, allowing you to retain the important internal company data but take advantage of external, utility computing as required, on demand etc.

I don’t think we’ll ever get to.. (or want) to be 100% in a public cloud, but this private/internal cloud allows an organisation to retain it’s own internal agility and data ownership.

I hope this post has demonstrated that whilst, architecturally “cloud” computing sounds a bit out-there, you can practically implement it now by adopting this approach for the underlying infrastructure for your current application landscape.

Google Apps Goes After Hosted Sharepoint

 

Interesting new Google beta here called sites.

looks to be a Sharepoint type setup for sharing documents and information and doing all that collaborative stuff thats so expensive and complicated on a Microsoft platform..

Check it out..part of the Google Apps “family” stuff like this is really going to start eating into Microsoft’s margins for the SME space and it’s easy to see why they’ve got their own competing products getting off the ground.

Wonder how much of this platform is virtual/web services etc.