System Provisioning in Cloud Computing: From Theory to Tooling (part 1)

Cloud computing is an evolutionary technology because it doesn’t change the computing stack at all. It simply distributes the stacks between the service providers and the users. In some sense, it is not as impactful as virtualization technology which introduced a new hypervisor layer in the computing stack and fundamentally changed people’s perception about computing with virtual machines.

But if you look closely at the latest IaaS clouds, they do leverage virtualization as a way to effectively and efficiently deploy systems. Inside one virtual machine, the computing stacks remain the same as before: from OS to middleware to application.

Keep in mind that the application is the end while the OS and middleware are the means. Customers care about applications more than the underlying infrastructure. As long as the infrastructure can support the applications, whatever the infrastructure might be is fine technically. Then the question would shift to the economic side: whatever is the most cost effective wins in infrastructure. That’s why Linux gains more shares in the cloud than in traditional IT shops.

To get to the end, you have to take a mean. In the IaaS cloud, you have to install the underlying OS and middleware before you can run your application. For the PaaS cloud, you can get away from that by focusing on application provisioning.

OS Provisioning

Remember, the software stack inside a virtual machine doesn’t change. It needs OS, middleware and application installed and configured before the application can work.

Because the software stack has one layer stacked on another, the installation has to come in the order of bottom layer being installed earlier than the layers above. You have to install the OS first, then middleware, and lastly the applications.

Although it happens in a cloud, it’s not a new problem. There are already some tools available for you to solve the problem in traditional computing environments:

  1. Kickstart
  2. This tool allows you to automate most of the Red Hat Linux installation including language selection, network configuration, keyboard selection, boot loader installation, disk partitioning, mouse selection, X Window System configuration, etc. A system administrator needs to create a single file containing the answers to all the questions that would normally be asked during a typical Red Hat installation.

  3. Jumpstart.
    It’s used to automate the installation of Solaris OS.
  4. Cobbler.
  5. Cobbler is a Linux installation server that allows for rapid setup of network installation environments. It glues together and automates many associated Linux tasks so you do not have to hop between lots of various commands and applications when rolling out new systems, and, in some cases, changing existing ones.
    With a simple series of commands, network installs can be configured for PXE, reinstallations, media-based net-installs, and virtualized installs (supporting Xen, qemu, KVM, and some variants of VMware). Cobbler uses a helper program called ‘koan’ (which interacts with Cobbler) for reinstallation and virtualization support

  6. OpenQRM
  7. openQRM is a very comprehensive and flexible Open Source Infrastracture Management Solution. Its fully pluggable architecture focuses on automatic, rapid- and appliance-based deployment, monitoring, high-availability, cloud computing and especially on supporting and conforming multiple virtualization technologies.
    openQRM is a single-management console for the complete IT-Infrastructure and provides a well defined API which can be used to integrate third-party tools as additional plugins. This provides companies with a highly scalable system that supports small companies as well as global businesses who have large server base, multi-os & high-availability requirements.

  8. xCAT
  9. xCAT is DataCenter Control. It allows you to:

    • Provision Operating Systems on physical or virtual machines: Centos5.X, SLES[10-11], RHEL5.X, Fedora[9-11], AIX, Windows Server 2008, Cloning or scripted installation methods
    • Remotely Manage Sytems: Integrated Lights-out management, remote console, and distributed shell support
    • Quickly set up and control Management node services: DNS, HTTP, DHCP, TFTP

    xCAT offers complete and ideal management for HPC clusters, RenderFarms, Grids, WebFarms, Online Gaming Infrastructure, Clouds, Datacenters, and whatever tomorrow’s buzzwords may be. It is agile, extendable, and based on years of system administration best practices and experience.

Middleware Provisioning

After getting the OS ready, you can go ahead with middleware installation.

The available tools allow you to describe the target configuration of the software and then they take care of the rest. It’s much like a policy-driven process.

  1. Puppet
  2. Puppet’s declarative language describes your system configuration, allowing you to easily reproduce any configuration on any number of additional systems. Additionally, Puppet can help establish and enforce approved system configurations automatically correcting systems that drift from their baseline. Puppet provides an audit trail of all your systems, which can easily be kept in version control for compliance purposes.

    Organizations are increasingly taking advantage of Puppet’s support of a variety of operating systems. Whether you are supporting Linux (Red Hat, CentOS, Fedora, Debian, Ubuntu, SuSE), or Unix OS’es (Solaris, BSD, OS X), Puppet can fulfill your requirements. Although Puppet evolved primarily to support Unix-like OS’es, Windows support is planned in the near future.

  3. Chef
  4. Chef is a systems integration framework, built to bring the benefits of configuration management to your entire infrastructure. With Chef, you can:

    • Manage your servers by writing code, not by running commands. (via Cookbooks)
    • Integrate tightly with your applications, databases, LDAP directories, and more. (via Libraries)
    • Easily configure applications that require knowledge about your entire infrastructure (“What systems are running my application?” “What is the current master database server?”)
  5. SmartFrog
  6. SmartFrog is a powerful and flexible Java-based software framework for configuring, deploying and managing distributed software systems.

    SmartFrog helps you to encapsulate and manage systems so they are easy to configure and reconfigure, and so that that they can be automatically installed, started and shut down. It provides orchestration capabilities so that subsystems can be started (and stopped) in the right order. It also helps you to detect and recover from failures.

  7. CFEngine
  8. Cfengine ensures that you have the proper packages installed, that configuration files are correct and consistent, that file protections are correct, and that processes are running (or not) in accordance with policy. Cfengine closes security holes, hardens your systems, and makes sure that critical daemons stay running. It monitors performance and reacts to what it monitors. You tell Cfengine what promises you want it to keep, and the agent does the work.

    Cfengine runs natively on all common platforms, including Linux, Unix, Macintosh and Windows. It also has support for virtualization platforms. Cfengine is supported by a community of expert and novice users, and a commercial enterprise of qualified Mission Specialists. Cfengine can play a major role in solving almost any system administration issue, with hands-free automation (see our Solutions guide and standard library resources Policy Starter Kit, and we are constantly working to made automation simpler, without over-simplifying.

  9. BFFG2
  10. Bcfg2 helps system administrators produce a consistent, reproducible, and verifiable description of their environment, and offers visualization and reporting tools to aid in day-to-day administrative tasks. It is the fifth generation of configuration management tools developed in the Mathematics and Computer Science Division of Argonne National Laboratory.

    It is based on an operational model in which the specification can be used to validate and optionally change the state of clients, but in a feature unique to bcfg2 the client’s response to the specification can also be used to assess the completeness of the specification. Using this feature, bcfg2 provides an objective measure of how good a job an administrator has done in specifying the configuration of client systems. Bcfg2 is therefore built to help administrators construct an accurate, comprehensive specification.

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