It's about the time of year when we all look back and try to determine exactly how we spent the past twelve months. Whether we do it because we have to as part of year-end job reviews or because we like to take stock in what we've done and figure out where to improve next year, it's a time for reflection and recall. For me, this exercise made me take a look at various things we have done to deliver WebSphere CloudBurst technical collateral (articles, demos, blogs, etc.) in 2009.
For all practical purposes, our mission and efforts for such technical collateral for WebSphere CloudBurst started when it was announced at Impact in May of this year. Though there was certainly some preparatory work being done on this front, there was nothing we could really push to the public until after the announcement, and in some cases even after the appliance's release in June. Given that most of the content was produced over a six month stretch, I really think we put forth a strong effort, and I hope that this technical material has helped to both raise awareness of and educate users on the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance.
Seeing as I already went back and rounded up this content, I thought I'd provide you a centralized look at the information. To start, I accounted for the articles that we published to the IBM developerWorks site over the six month stretch. All together I counted 8 articles and a special column entry:
As you can see the articles cover quite a bit of content and range from general level overview articles to technical in-depth "how-to" style articles. In general they seem to have been received well with over 26,000 views to this point. Our goal is to keep the pace up for 2010, and we already have a few articles on our plate for early in the new year (including an overview of what's new in WebSphere CloudBurst 1.1).
Another main medium we utilized to spread the word about WebSphere CloudBurst was YouTube. On our YouTube channel at http://youtube.com/websphereclouds, we currently have 17 different videos that demonstrate how to use certain features of the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance. Though I think each demo provides value depending on exactly what a viewer is looking for, 3 of them really stick out for me.
Check out our videos if you get a chance. We've made an effort to keep them as short as possible while still providing value to viewers.
We have some WebSphere CloudBurst content spread around other places as well including this blog and my personal blog. Over the next few weeks we'll be taking a look at what worked and didn't work with respect to getting information out to the public. Of course at any time we very much appreciate your feedback on how you like to see content delivered because you are our target audience! If you have a comment, idea, or suggestion, leave a comment on the blog or send me a tweet to @WebSphereClouds.
Users of cloud computing solutions today expect to be charged for exactly the amount of compute resource they use. No more, no less. This expectation is often at the forefront of our customers' minds when contemplating the creation of internal or private clouds. They want to be sure that any solution they use audits the activity and usage of their cloud and enables them to consume this information to implement their specific chargeback scheme.
Thought it's not a feature we always seem to talk about, WebSphere CloudBurst provides the necessary capabilities to properly allocate costs to users, teams, and organizations. To start with there are some handy usage reports that you can view directly from the WebSphere CloudBurst console. For instance, as seen below, a WebSphere CloudBurst administrator can see a break down of cloud resource usage for each user of the appliance.
While the capability illustrated above is nice, it is likely that if you are implementing an enterprise-scale chargeback scheme you want to automate the processing of the usage data, thus implying the need to programatically consume such data. WebSphere CloudBurst enables you to do just this by way of its audit log. The WebSphere CloudBurst audit log is a record of each and every action taken in the appliance, along with information about who took the action, when the action was taken, what object the action was taken on, and much more. You can instruct the appliance to generate this file for a specified date range, and the output is a comma separated value file that can then be consumed in a manner of your choosing.
As an example of some of the things you can do with this data, I recently wrote a Java program that parsed the audit file and for each virtual system determined who created it, who deleted it (if it had been removed), and the duration of its existence. This program was simple (more of a string parsing exercise than anything else), but nonetheless provided necessary function and output for billing schemes based on hours of usage. If you are interested in how this was done please let me know and I'd be happy to discuss details. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts you can reach me on Twitter via @WebSphereClouds.
A recent announcement signaled the coming release of WebSphere CloudBurst 1.1. This new release of the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance delivers enhancements to all phases of the lifecycle of virtualized WebSphere Application Server environments. Let's take a closer look at a few of these updates.
First and foremost, WebSphere CloudBurst 1.1 delivers support for the PowerVM platform. You can now deploy patterns to create virtualized WebSphere Application Server environments running in a PowerVM environment on pSeries servers. Among other things, this is enabled by a new version of the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition. This new version of the virtual image contains an AIX operating system and has been specifically bundled to allow it to be activated on the PowerVM hypervisor. From a user standpoint, building, deploying, and maintaining WebSphere Application Server environments is done from the same console with the same look and feel regardless of the target platform. Check out this demo to see WebSphere CloudBurst and PowerVM in action.
In addition to support for PowerVM environments, WebSphere CloudBurst 1.1 will also provide a trial edition of a DB2 virtual image. You can import this image into your WebSphere CloudBurst catalog and then use it to build and deploy DB2 environments. This allows you to, from the same centralized interface, deploy and integrate both your application and data environments in your private cloud. Check out this demo for more information on the new DB2 trial virtual image for WebSphere CloudBurst.
One other cool feature I want to point out delivers an enhancement to the use of script packages in WebSphere CloudBurst. In this new version of the appliance, you have more control around when script packages you include in a pattern are executed. Previously, these were executed toward the end of pattern deployment once all the necessary WebSphere Application Server components had been started. While that is still the default behavior, you can also elect to have the script package invoked when the virtual system is deleted, or you can choose the invocation to be user-initiated meaning that you decide when and how many times your script runs. To check out a pretty handy use case for this feature, watch the demo here.
These aren't the only new features and enhancements delivered in WebSphere CloudBurst 1.1. Stay tuned for more demonstrations and more words about these new features and when and why you would want to use them. In the meantime, if you have any questions be sure to stop by our forums.
One of the most powerful features of WebSphere CloudBurst is the ability to take one of the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition virtual images that are shipped with the appliance and extend it to a produce a custom virtual image. This allows users to begin creating customized environments from the bottom up, starting with the operating system. To put it in better context, let's take a look at a couple of scenarios where this feature comes in quite handy.
First off, a very common need for our customers is the ability to continually monitor their application environments. For instance, you may install Tivoli monitoring agents on all of your machines hosting WebSphere Application Server processes and configure those agents to report back to a management server. This is a great case for image extension in WebSphere CloudBurst.
In this scenario, you would start by extending an existing WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition image. WebSphere CloudBurst creates a running virtual machine based off of the selected image, and you log into that virtual machine and install the Tivoli monitoring agents. Once the installation is done, you capture the virtual image back into the WebSphere CloudBurst catalog and use the new image to build a custom pattern. The last step is to include a script package on this custom pattern that, upon deployment, will configure the installed monitoring agents to report back to your desired management server.
Another use case is likely to be of interest to you if you are using WebSphere Virtual Enterprise (or something similar), and you could benefit from the same ease of provisioning for those environments that WebSphere CloudBurst brings to WebSphere Application Server environments. You can use the same customization combination above (image extension and custom scripts) to enable WebSphere CloudBurst to essentially dispense WebSphere Virtual Enterprise cells.
Again, this scenario starts off by extending a WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition virtual image. Once the virtual machine for the extension is created by WebSphere CloudBurst, you log in and install the WebSphere Virtual Enterprise product. After the installation is done, you capture the image and store it in the catalog. Next, you build a custom pattern based off of this image and include script packages that, upon deployment, augment the various parts in the pattern from WebSphere Application Server profiles to WebSphere Virtual Enterprise profiles. (You may wonder why you wouldn't just create the WebSphere Virtual Enterprise profiles during the image extension process. This is because during image extension, you cannot make changes to the virtual disk that contains the WebSphere Application Server profiles. Any changes made to the profiles will be wiped out during the capture process.)
There are countless more scenarios for creating custom virtual images in WebSphere CloudBurst. To name a few, you may want to install JDBC drivers that are common to almost all of your application environments, install required anti-virus software, or just make operating system configuration changes. All of these things can be accomplished through the image extension and capture process. Look for an article coming out soon that will discuss and explain, in much greater detail than I provided here, the process of installing and configuring Tivoli monitoring agents in environments dispensed by WebSphere CloudBurst. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, drop us a line here or check out our forum.
One of the things I haven't written about much here is how the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance integrates with other IBM software solutions. One of those interesting integration scenarios, and one I think is particularly useful for developers, involves Rational Build Forge.
Very simply put, Rational Build Forge is an adaptive execution framework that allows users to define completely automated workflows for just about any purpose. These workflows are represented as projects that contain a discrete number of steps. When looking at Rational Build Forge through the software assembly prism, the offering allows users to fully automate and govern the process of building, assembling, and delivering software into an application environment.
Now, on to the integration of WebSphere CloudBurst and Rational Build Forge. Users can build custom patterns in WebSphere CloudBurst that include a special script package (which I'll eventually provide a link to from here). This script package provides the glue between the deployment process in WebSphere CloudBurst and Rational Build Forge. When deploying a WebSphere CloudBurst pattern that contains this script package, users provide the name of a Rational Build Forge project as well as information about the Rational Build Forge server on which the project is defined.
Once the necessary information is supplied, the deployment process gets underway. Toward the end of the deployment, like all other scripts included in patterns, the special Rational Build Forge script is invoked. This results in the project specified during deployment being executed on the virtual machine created by WebSphere CloudBurst.
Because the Rational Build Forge project executes on a virtual machine setup by WebSphere CloudBurst, the individual steps of the project can very easily access the WebSphere Application Server environment. Thus, the Rational Build Forge project could very easily contain steps to build, package, and deploy an application into the WebSphere Application Server cell. The result is a fully automated process that includes everything from standing up the application environment to delivering applications into that environment.
I put together a short demonstration of this integration, and you can take a look at it here. As always, please let us know if you have any questions or comments. Your feedback is much appreciated!
If you've attended one of our WebSphere CloudBurst sessions then you've undoubtedly heard us talk about the "special sauce" or "WebSphere intelligence" delivered by the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance. If you haven't attended one of our sessions, trust me, we talk about it a lot, but there's good reason. This "special sauce" truly sets WebSphere CloudBurst apart from other virtualization management tools.
Essential to the uniqueness of the WebSphere CloudBurst solution is the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition virtual image that it dispenses. In one sense, the intelligence comes in the format of pre-installed, tuned, and configured software. The operating system and WebSphere components are all pre-installed, and the WebSphere Application Server configuration is tuned based on best performance practices. In addition, the image comes with a pre-configured instance of each WebSphere Application Server profile type that is available in the version that is bundled. This saves time during deployment since the unneeded profiles are simply removed.
The pre-installed, tuned, configured software only sets the foundation for what truly sets apart the WebSphere CloudBurst solution. The activation framework built inside of the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition allows WebSphere CloudBurst to deliver unique value. This activation framework allows the single virtual image to turn into many different flavors of WebSphere Application Server (Dmgrs, Standalone nodes, Custom nodes, Job Managers, etc), and it provides the facilities to change WebSphere cell and node names, IP addresses, host names, and more while a running virtual machine instance is being created.
On a mostly unrelated topic, the changing of WebSphere cell names, node names, host names, is done with documented, publicly available commands in either wsadmin or other WebSphere Application Server binaries. I know many customers want to do this exact same thing in their existing environments, so if you are wondering how it is done, drop me a line below.
Anyway, I won't get into anymore detail here because you can get a much better assessment of this special sauce elsewhere. Ruth Willenborg, one of the lead architects for the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance, did a developerWorks Comment lines piece about this special sauce. Ruth provides a deeper look at the topics I hit on above, and it's a really good read. You can check it out for yourself here.
When we talk about the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition, we often get a lot of questions about whether or not SUSE Linux is the only flavor of the Linux operating system that we support. The short answer to that question is no.
While it is true that we only deliver the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition with a SUSE Linux operating system, we will support the use of the virtual image packaging with Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the base operating system. The basic process consists of creating a virtual machine disk based off of a suitable Red Hat install, altering the OVF file in WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition to reference this virtual disk instead of the SUSE virtual disk, and then packaging a new OVA file that contains all the same WebSphere virtual disks (profiles, binaries, IBM HTTP Server) but swaps out the Red Hat virtual disk for the SUSE virtual disk. We have done this many times in both the lab and field, and we offer services to users who need help in creating the image.
Customers often ask if there is any difference in using Red Hat versus SUSE Linux. The answer is, of course, yes and no. The answer is yes in that users must bring their own licenses of Red Hat (SUSE Linux licenses are included in the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition), and users must support and maintain the Red Hat operating system on their own. However, once the image is built, there is absolutely no difference in the use of that image within WebSphere CloudBurst.
Once built, users upload the image into their WebSphere CloudBurst catalog and it is available for use in pattern building just like any other image. I mentioned that users are responsible for updating and maintaining the image, well users can use WebSphere CloudBurst to create these updated images. When patches or updates are ready for the Red Hat operating system, the Extend/Capture facility available for images in WebSphere CloudBurst can be used to create a new custom Red Hat operating system with your desired fixes. This is all done without ever having to worry about actually recreating and repackaging the image again.
I know seeing is believing, so with respect to the "sameness" of using a Red Hat version of the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition within WebSphere CloudBurst, I've created a short demo you can watch here. As always, let us know what you think and send any questions our way.
I’m going to take a different approach this week in the blog. Instead of me telling you about some of the features or uses of WebSphere CloudBurst, I thought I would catch up with someone using the product everyday, WebSphere Test Architect Robbie Minshall. Robbie is responsible for a team of testers that harness a lab of over 2,000 physical machines to put our WebSphere Application Server product through some pretty rigorous testing. Toward the beginning of this year Robbie’s team started to leverage the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance in order to create the WebSphere Application Server environments needed for their testing.
Robbie, can you tell us a little bit about what the WebSphere Application Server test efforts entail?
In WebSphere Application Server development and test we have two primary scenarios. The first is making sure that developers have rapid access to code, test cases and server topologies so that they can write code, test cases and then execute test scenarios on meaningful topologies. The second scenario is an automated daily regression where in response to a build, we provision a massive amount of WebSphere Application Server topologies and execute our automated regression tests.
Previously we have supported these scenarios through the deployment of the Tivoli Provisioning Manager for operating system provisioning, some applications for checking out environments, and then a lot of automation scripts for the silent install and configuration of WebSphere Application Server cells.
Given those scenarios and the existing solution, what are your motivations for setting up a private cloud using WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance?
We are supporting these scenarios through a pretty complicated combination of technologies. These include silent WAS install scripts, wsadmin configuration scripts, a custom hardware leasing application and the utilization of Tivoli Provisioning Manager for OS Provisioning. This solution is working very well for us though as always we are looking for areas to improve, opportunities to simplify and to reduce our dependency on investment in our custom automation scripts. Mainly, there were 3 areas where we wanted to improve our framework: Availability, Utilization and Management. This is why we started looking to the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance.
Can you expand a bit on what you are looking for in those three areas?
The first focus area we have is availability of environments. We really wanted to lower the entry requirement for the skills and education necessary to get a development or test environment. Setting up these environments has just been too hard, too time consuming, and too error prone. Using WebSphere CloudBurst we can provide an easy push button solution for developers to get on-demand access to the topologies they need.
The second area we are looking for significant improvements on is hardware utilization. Our budgets are tight and in our native automation pools we are only using between 6-12% of the available physical resources. In order to improve this we were looking at leveraging virtualization. WebSphere CloudBurst offers the classic benefit of virtualization with the nice additions of optimized WebSphere Application Server placement and really good topology and pattern management. In our initial experiments we were able to push the hardware utilization up to 90% of physical capacity and consistently were leveraging around 70% of our physical capacity.
Finally we are looking to improve and simplify our management of physical resources and automation. We work in a lot of small agile teams and organizational priorities change from iteration to iteration. Not only does WebSphere CloudBurst allow us to maintain a catalog of topologies or patterns for releases but it also allows us to adjust physical resource allocation to teams through the use of sub clouds or cloud groups.
Basically we felt that WebSphere CloudBurst would improve the availability of application environments, enhance automation, and improve hardware utilization all with very low physical and administrative costs.
What were some of the challenges involved with getting a cloud up and running in your test department?
One of our challenges seems like it would be common to many scenarios, especially in today’s world. Our budget for new hardware to build out our cloud infrastructure was initially very limited. Most cloud infrastructure designs depict very ideal hardware scenarios including SANs, large multicore machines, and private and public networks within a dedicated lab. Quite frankly we did not have the budget to create this from scratch. It was important for us to demonstrate value and data to warrant future investment in dedicated infrastructure. After some performance comparisons we were very happily surprised to see that we could leverage our existing mixed hardware within a distributed cloud. The performance of application environments dispensed by WebSphere CloudBurst on many small existing boxes in comparison to large multicore machines with a SAN was very comparable. This allows us to leverage existing hardware, with minimal investment all the while demonstrating the value and efficiencies of cloud computing. That data in turn has allowed us to obtain new dedicated hardware to iteratively build up a larger lab specifically for use with WebSphere CloudBurst.
Specifically with WebSphere CloudBurst, are there any tips/hints you would offer users getting started with the appliance?
Sure. First, we quickly realized as we added hypervisors to our WebSphere CloudBurst setup it was critical to have someone with network knowledge on hand. This is because the hypervisors came from various sections of our lab, and we really needed people with knowledge of how the network operated in those different sections. Once we had the right people we were able to setup WebSphere CloudBurst and deploy patterns within an hour and a half.
Moving forward we continued to have challenges as we dynamically moved systems between our native hardware pool and our cloud. Occasionally the WebSphere CloudBurst administrator would move a system into the cloud but incorrectly configure the network or storage information. This lead to some misconfigured hypervisors polluting our cloud. We overcame this, quite simply and satisfactorily I may add, by creating some simple WebSphere CloudBurst CLI scripts which add the hypervisors, test them individually, by carrying out a small deployment to that hypervisor, and then move the correctly configured hypervisors into the cloud after verifying success. Misconfigured hypervisors go into a pool for problem determination. This has allowed us to maintain a clean cloud, and we are able to dynamically move our hardware in and out of the cloud to meet our business objectives.
We also use the WebSphere CloudBurst CLI to prime the cloud so to speak. Before using a given hypervisor in our cloud, we execute scripts that ensure each unique virtual image in our catalog has been deployed to each of our hypervisors at least once. When the image is first deployed to a hypervisor, a cache is created on the hypervisor side of the connection, thus meaning subsequent deployments do not require the entire image to be transferred over the wire. This gives us consistent and fast deployment times once we are using a hypervisor in our cloud.
I would assume that like many applications deployed on WebSphere Application Server, your team’s applications have several external dependencies. Some of these dependencies won’t necessarily be in the cloud, so how did you handle this?
You’re right about the external dependencies. Our applications and test cases run on the WebSphere Application Server but are dependent upon many external resources such as databases, LDAP servers, external web services etc. WebSphere CloudBurst allows us to deploy WAS topologies in a very dynamic and configurable way but the 1.0.1 version does not allow us to deploy these external resources in the same manner. This was overcome by using script packages in our patterns. These script packages allow us to associate our test applications with various patterns we have defined. The script package definition also allows us to pass in parameters to the execution of our scripts. We supply these parameter values during deploy time, and these values are used to convey the name or location of various external resources. The scripts that install our applications can access these values and ensure the application is properly integrated with the set of resources not managed by the appliance.
What is your team looking to do next with WebSphere CloudBurst and their private cloud?
The next challenge on our plate is to keep up with the demand of our expanding cloud and to develop a more dynamic relationship between our native pools and our cloud using the Tivoli Provisioning Manager. These are fun challenges to have and we look forward to sharing our progress.
I'm glad I got to spend some time with Robbie to glean some insight into their work and progress with WebSphere CloudBurst. I hope this information was useful to you. It's always nice to hear about a product from practitioners who can give you hints, tips, gotchas, and other useful information. Be sure to let me know if you have any questions about what Robbie and his team are doing with WebSphere CloudBurst.
Over the last three posts I've been discussing a few of the most frequently asked questions regarding the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance. I'd like to wrap up today with a fourth and final installment.
If you have read some of my entries before, or if you have read any of our WebSphere CloudBurst articles on IBM's developerWorks, then you know that the appliance brings extreme simplification and safety to applying fixes and service level upgrades to running WebSphere Application Server virtual systems. Users select a virtual system, choose a fix or service level upgrade, and then WebSphere CloudBurst drives the application of the fix or upgrade to the system. Before applying the fix or upgrade, the appliance takes a snapshot of the virtual system, and users can simply click a button to roll back to the previous state if the process produces undesired results.
This is a pretty strong value add to WebSphere Application Server management and one that our users typically immediately understand. Almost always though, after users see this they are curious about another aspect of rolling out fixes and upgrades in WebSphere CloudBurst. In particular, they want to know how they ensure that all subsequent deployments (after applying the fix to a specific virtual system) can be ensured of having the correct fixes and service levels.
The answer to this inquiry is that there are a couple of different ways to achieve this, and it depends on what you are try to accomplish and your preferences. For instance, if you want to make sure all of your subsequent deployments have a particular interim fix, you will likely go the route of image extension. First, you pick the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition image in your catalog to which the fix applies. Next, you extend that image, and once a virtual machine based off the image is accessible, you use existing WebSphere Application Server tools (Update Installer) to apply the fix. After the fix has been applied, you can capture the updated image and then use it as the basis for patterns created from that particular version of the WebSphere Application Server.
On the other hand, if you are looking to ensure subsequent deployments are based on a new level of the WebSphere Application Server, your process will be a bit different. First you would load a new WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition image (based on the new level of WebSphere Application Server) into your WebSphere CloudBurst catalog. Then you would select any of your customized patterns you wanted to upgrade to the new level, clone that pattern, and simply select the new image as the basis for the pattern. All of your other customizations are preserved. Really, it's that simple!
I hope that over the last month I have answered some of the more common questions about WebSphere CloudBurst. At any point if you have any questions feel free to email me or leave a comment right here on the blog.
I want to stay in the realm of the deployment process for our next frequently asked question regarding the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance.
The ability to quickly deploy entire WebSphere Application Server cells (anything from single node cells, to multi-node clustered cells) is a hugely compelling feature of the appliance. Instead of spending days or hours deploying a WebSphere Application Server cell, users can deploy these in a matter of minutes (less than twenty minutes for clustered environments)!
For the most part, WebSphere CloudBurst patterns represent entire cells. This includes management parts (AdminAgent, DeploymentManager), managed parts (custom nodes), and proxy parts (IHS). When you deploy a pattern, the result is a complete and fully functional WebSphere Application Server cell running in your private cloud.
So, now that you have a complete cell out in your cloud, what happens if you need to add more nodes? If the the user-demand for the applications on your cell has exceeded the initial topology, can you use WebSphere CloudBurst to add more cells? Sure you can!
In short, this involves creating a pattern that contains only a custom node part, and then at deploy time, providing information about the existing cell. WebSphere CloudBurst then takes over the deployment of that custom node and federates the node into the existing cell based on the information supplied about that cell. I won't go into an entire explanation here, because I think the demo I put on our YouTube channel explains it pretty well.
In my experience with the WebSphere Application Server, this represents a much more seamless and automated process for deploying new nodes into an existing cell than what exists outside of WebSphere CloudBurst today. Of course, we value your comments and feedback above all else. So let us know what you think!