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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: Virtual Fabric

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.

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A Closer look at Green IT and Microsoft’s new Container Data Centre in Chicago

 

Link here – good visualisation about 10mins in of how their new Chicago data centre is laid out internally.

With virtualisation breaking the traditional hardware/OS ties; this is becoming an increasingly appealing way of managing commodity compute grid resources for large organisations. Mike makes some good points about the de-comissioning of servers on a large scale where you are adding 10’s of thousands on a regular basis – you need to take them out at some point too, and that’s time consuming. at this scale of operation It’s more efficient to make the the container and/or datacentre the field replaceable unit (as I discussed a while back) in this scenario.

Also interesting point that water consumption may be the next environmental touch paper for legislation and disclosure for IT shops.

Solid Sate SAN, Storage vMotion and VMWare – HSM for your VMs

 

You’ve been able to buy solid state SAN technology like the Tera-RAMSAN from TMS which gives you up to 1Tb of storage, presented over 4Gb/s fibre channel or Infiniband @10Gb/s… with the cost of flash storage dropping its going to soon fall in to the realms of affordability (from memory a year ago 1Tb SSD SAN was about £250k, so would assume that’s maybe £150k now – would be happy to see current pricing if anyone has it though).

If you were able to combine this with a set of ESX hosts dual-connected to the RAMSAN and traditional equipment (like an HP EVA or EMC Clariion) over a FC or iSCSI fabric then you could possibly leverage the new Storage vMotion features that are included in ESX 3.5 to achieve a 2nd level of performance and load levelling for a VM farm.

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It’s pretty common knowledge that you can use vMotion and the DRS features to effectively load level or average VM CPU and memory load across a number of VMWare nodes within a cluster.

Using the infrastructure discussed above could add a second tier of load balancing without downtime to a DRS cluster. If a VM needs more disk throughput or is suffering from latency then you could move them to/from the more expensive solid-state storage tiers to FC-SCSI or even FATA disks, this ensures you are making the best use of fast, expensive storage vs. cheap, slow commodity storage.

Even if Virtual Center doesn’t have a native API for exposing this type of functionality or criteria for the DRS configuration you could leverage the plug-in or scripting architecture to use a manager of managers (or here) to map this across an enterprise and across multiple hypervisors (Sun, Xen, Hyper V)

I also see EMC integrating flash storage into the array itself, would be even better if you could transparently migrate LUNS to/from different arrays and disk storage without having to touch ESX at all.

Note: This is just a theory I’ve not actually tried this – but am hoping to get some eval kit and do a proof on concept…

New Microsoft Data Centre is Container Based

 

Article here, it’s coming people!

Some interesting discussions on how you can measure the productivity of a container and come up with some common metrics to compare and contrast and handle charge-back.

Cisco ASR is Virtual to the Core, all 40 of them!

 

Interesting article here on how Cisco have made heavy use of virtualization within their new ASR series router platform, Linux underneath and 40 core CPUs!

This type of approach does make me wonder if we will get to the stage of running traditional “network” and “storage” services as VM’s under a shared hypervisor with traditional “servers”.. totally removing the dependency on dedicated or expensive single-vendor hardware.

Commodity server blade platforms like the HP or Sun blade systems are so powerful these days, with flexible interconnect/expansion options this type of approach makes a lot of sense to me and is totally flexible.

Maybe one day it will go the other way and all your Windows boxen will run inside a Cisco NX7000 lol!

On reflection maybe all those companies have too much of a vested interest in vendor lock-in and hardware sales to make this a reality!

Mmmm, Big, Really Big Cisco Switches

 

Over here and here like the idea of combining FC and Ethernet in one chassis;

They’re not cheap though, more info and viewpoint here and spec here looks to be the next step up from 6500 series catalyst.

Cool

Hot-Swap Datacentres

 

There’s an interesting post over on Forrester research blog by James Staten. he’s talking some more about data centres in a container; making the data centre the FRU rather than a server or server components (Disk, PSU etc.).

This isn’t a new idea but it I’m sure the economics of scale currently mean this is currently suitable for the computing super-powers (Google, Microsoft – MS are buying them now!) – variances in local power/comms cost could soon force companies to adopt this approach rather than be tied to a local/national utility company and their power/comms pricing.

But just think if you are a large out-sourcing type company you typically reserve, build and populate data centres based on customer load, now this load can be variable; customers come and go (as much as you would like to keep them long-term this is becoming a commodity market and customer’s demand you are able to react quickly to changes in THEIR business model – which is typically why they outsource – they make it YOUR problem to service their needs).

It would make sense if you could dynamically grow and shrink your compute/hosting facility based on customer demand in this space – thats not so easy to do with a physical location as you are tied to it in terms of power availability/cost and lease period.

New suite build out at a typical co-lo company can take 1-2 months to establish networking, racks, power distribution, cabling, operational procedures etc. (and that’s not including physical construction if it’s a new building) – adopting the blackbox approach could significantly reduce the start-up time and increase your operational flexibility

Rather than invest in in-suite structured cabling, rack and reusable (or dedicated) server/blade infrastructures why not just have terminated power, comms and cooling connections and plug them in as required within a secured warehouse like space.

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Photos from Sun Project Blackbox

You could even lease datacentre containers from a service provider/supplier to ensure there is no cap-ex investment required to host customers.

If your shiny new data centre is runs out of power then you could relocate it a lot easier (and cheaply) as it’s already transportable rather than tied to the physical building infrastructure; you are able to follow the cheapest power and comms – nationally or even globally.

As I’ve said before the more you virtualize the contents of your datacentre the less you care about what physical kit it runs on… you essentially reserve power from a flexible compute/storage/network “grid” – and that could be anything/anywhere.

Interesting Article on how DreamWorks are Speeding up Access for Animators

 

I have a geeky secret; I used to be really into ray-tracing and 3D graphics not so much from an “art” point of view – although I do have an interest in that and computer modelling/visualisation checks a lot of boxes for me as I always wanted to be a civil engineer or architect (well, I kind of am… but with computers..!)

it was one of the only applications I found in the early/mid 90’s that could really tax a machine and I spent a lot of time playing with large render jobs using PovRay and progressed to 3D studio for DOS and then a bit of a dabble with building render farms using 3DS Max before I had to go and get a “proper” job with less spare time.

I would love the time to get back into it, with the power available today you could produce some awesome images, although maybe I am somewhat hampered through lack of talent… maybe that will be downloadable now?

….So anyway, here’s an interesting article on how DreamWorks Animation have sped up access to their render farm using Ibrix Parallel file server software… they shift a lot of data!

I’ve worked on a project where we’ve tried to implement similar high-performance grid-based storage systems for large media files; but they were somewhat less successful/undeveloped; this one looks promising.

I wonder if these kind of vendors will start moving into the virtualization space; it’s essentially the same principal.

Deliver large flat files (.VMDK), over cheap/scalable commodity media (GigE) as quick a possible

This would reduce the depende.ncy on expensive back-end fibre channel SANs, and you could invest more in flexible Ethernet – or maybe Infiniband to deliver networking and storage within a “virtual fabric”

If it’s “virtual” and “grid” based the quality/features of individual hardware devices (DL380, NAS device etc.) that make it up the overall grid are less important and a 100% software approach gives you the flexibility to pick & choose building blocks from the most appropriate/affordable manufacturer rather than be locked into a costly single vendor solution (HP EVA, EMC Clariion, DMX etc.)

Thanks to Martin at Bladewatch for the link.