As a final preview of this week's building block sessions in the Enabling cloud computing with WebSphere campaign, I caught up with WebSphere DataPower architect Tim Smith. Tim is delivering a podcast that introduces and explains the new Application Optimization capabilities in the WebSphere DataPower line of products. Here is what Tim had to say:
Me: I speak with quite a few customers about the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance, and for once I'm happy to be the one asking this question. Why do we deliver WebSphere DataPower in the appliance form factor?
Tim: DataPower has become a dominant player in the DMZ and in the ESB. Much of the reason is that this is a purpose built hardware appliance. There are many things that our customers like about this appliance package. First, it has security as part of its DNA. The basis for securing connections, applies throughout the network whether it is in a DMZ or in an ESB. The physical box provides tamper resistant protection. Another reason is availability -- there are no spinning media, dual power supplies, and a focus on fail over support.
In both the DMZ and the ESB, there has been a proliferation of products. The main reason for the proliferation is that customers want to remove as many decisions from the general purpose server as possible, and let servers do what they do best, process application requests. The devices that have been proliferating make more decisions on the request. They do deep packet processing and routing. They also may transform the request into an entirely different request. So, there are an abundance of "pre-processing" decisions and operations made. With DataPower, many functions are integrated into the single hardware platform, giving you a smaller box count. No need to purchase and maintain several platforms, their OS and software versions, compatibility lists, etc. With a single hardware box that does so many things, we can greatly reduce the total cost of ownership for our users.
The DataPower appliance is a blend of Hardware and firmware that is well provisioned with hardware assists that help compile, parse, and assist in many of the intensive packet processing capabilities. To summarize, you get an extremely flexible and adaptable product that reduces total cost while increasing performance.
Me: A theme that comes up in cloud computing over and over is consolidation. Can you speak to the consolidation offered by WebSphere DataPower appliances with respect to the self-balancing capabilities?
Tim: Yes. My answer to the prior question was a long-winded way of describing DataPower's ability to consolidate many features into a single platform. Self-balancing is an example. As DataPower became more popular, larger installations required multiple DataPower appliances in a tier of platforms. A common architecture was to place a load balancer or IP sprayer in front of the tier to distribute the traffic evenly among the tier of DataPower appliances. An IP sprayer is an example of another platform that needs to be added to the environment. It is another box that must be purchased, managed, and maintained. Self-balancing is a feature that was added to DataPower to eliminate the need for an IP sprayer. The way it works is that one of the DataPower appliances in the tier owns the Virtual IP (VIP) Address. It receives all of the traffic, and then distributes it to each of the other DataPower appliances in the tier. If the DataPower appliance that owns the VIP address goes down, one of the others is elected and it takes over. The result is one less product required to support the same level of functionality.
Me: For much of the past, cloud computing mostly focused on virtualization and management of resources at the raw compute level (servers, storage, networking, etc.). While there is definitely ongoing focus here, we start to see it moving up the stack towards applications, and part of that effort includes more evolved application load distribution. With that in mind, how can WebSphere DataPower help users more effectively distribute requests to their applications?
Tim: If a front end appliance or gateway device can dynamically learn information about its environment, specifically the back end, it will be able to make better decisions on how and where to route the request. This is one of the tasks that the Application Optimization feature addresses. Information from the back end can of course be manually configured, but the real value in cloud computing is dynamically adapting when new server resources are brought on line or are taken off line. In the 3.8.0 release, we implemented something called Intelligent Load Distribution (ILD). Intelligent load distribution focuses on continually learning the topology of a back end, updating DataPower's load balancers with that information, and distributing the load based on the updates. In addition to the topology, ILD learns the weights associated with each server. These weights can continually and automatically change as traffic patterns change. The result is load balancing to the back end that sends the optimal amount of load to each server.
Another traffic distribution aspect incorporated into ILD is session affinity. When a server application needs to receive every request from a given client, session affinity is used to route the requests to the same server. In some sense, session affinity overrides the load balancing algorithm. The session affinity support works with any type of back end server, but with a WebSphere back end, all session affinity information is automatically configured.
Me: Continuing on the theme of application intelligence, what is this new Application Routing option in WebSphere DataPower?
Tim: ILD focused on learning the topology of the network and making better decisions based on an ever changing cloud topology. Application Routing does something similar by learning which applications are running on each server. Once a request is handed to DataPower's load balancer, the request is classified as to the application that it is targeted for. Then the request is load balanced amongst the servers that are running that application. The information to perform application routing is dynamically learned and changes as applications are added or removed.
WebSphere has invested substantially in managing the life cycle of an application. Changing from one edition of an application to the next sounds like an easy task, but it can be very difficult to perform this type of maintenance on a production environment. The DataPower appliance supports life cycle management by working with the WebSphere back end to provide group and atomic edition rollout. The rollout feature allows traffic to be gracefully diverted from servers that are being taken offline and reloaded with the new application edition. This rollout can be done while leaving the other applications on the server unaffected. This support makes edition rollout a very simple task for the system administrator.
Next up on our sneak preview of the building block sessions for the Enabling cloud computing with WebSphere campaign is the Dynamic Infrastructure Services block. One portion of that block is a discussion about some of the technical capabilities of WebSphere Virtual Enterprise given by Nitin Gaur. Nitin is a Consulting IT Specialist within WebSphere, and an all-around WebSphere guru. I caught up with him to ask a few questions about his upcoming podcast.
Me: When people think cloud computing, one of the core concepts is 'on demand'. They want just enough resource at just the right time. In that sense, can you tell me a little about the On-Demand Router (ODR) in WebSphere Virtual Enterprise (WVE)? What is it and what core functions does it provide?
Nitin: So, first allow me to take a step back. In my view, cloud computing is a new consumption and delivery model nudged by consumer demand and continual growth in internet services. I classify any Cloud computing platform exhibits the following 6 key characteristics:
Standards based delivery
Usage based equitable chargeback
I thus, deliberately use the term platform in the context of a cloud computing environment that facilitates flexibility, robustness and agility, as a systemic approach in providing a stage to hosting applications without the concern for availability or provisioning of underlying resources. Since hardware and software virtualization do offer significant cost and resource management advantages, it is not rare to see virtualized platforms as core building blocks of any cloud platform. Such virtualization technologies provide an elastic infrastructure service. In this respect, WVE provides application server virtualization, which enables an elastic business-policy-driven application infrastructure.
Now back to the On-Demand Router. The ODR is the autonomic engine that drives the activity enabling the elastic infrastructure discussed above. The ODR operates in a highly dynamic WVE environment, so it is imperative for the ODR to be aware of any changes in the environment such as newly deployed applications, the addition of new application servers, and any planned or unplanned server outages. It achieves this awareness by continuously interacting with WVE's fluid and dynamic feedback mechanism.
Me: Autonomic capabilities seem to be a core part of WebSphere Virtual Enterprise. To that end, can you tell us a little about the autonomic capabilities provided by dynamic clusters in WVE?
Nitin: Dynamic application placement is a defining capability of WVE that directly contributes to WVE's ability to provide a dynamic, virtualized, and goal-oriented environment for workload management and continuous availability. The dynamic application management capability maximizes the efficient use of hardware resources by allocating resources appropriately per application based on fluctuating demands in the enterprise infrastructure. It determines which servers to stop and start in a dynamic server cluster in order to meet current demand for applications, and it does this in the context of a set of administrator-defined policies that uphold the enterprise’s service level agreements (SLAs) for its application infrastructure. The dynamic application placement framework must balance resource availability against health policies, service policies, and the importance levels assigned to applications.
Dynamic server clusters are key to WVE’s ability to dynamically adjust the application environment according to server load, and they provide the basis for a virtualized server runtime environment. The big difference between a dynamic cluster in WVE and a static cluster in WebSphere Application Server is that dynamic clusters grow and shrink as needed to meet current demand by starting and stopping members of the cluster. Although dynamic clusters and static clusters can co-exist in a cell, dynamic application placement can only work with dynamic clusters. To prevent unchecked growth, each dynamic cluster has a mechanism that you use to define a boundary for that cluster’s growth. The boundary is both quantitative (based on criteria that define the minimum and maximum number of application servers that can run in the cluster simultaneously) and locational (based on criteria that confine the growth of the dynamic cluster to a defined set of nodes).
Me: I know you have been around the country, and for that matter globe, helping our users to adopt and implement WebSphere Virtual Enterprise. Tell us about one of your favorite customer stories.
Nitin: So I would cite an example of one of the leaders in the entertainment Industry (and my favorite customer), let's call them Company X (since I cannot cite the name). The core of the company's application infrastructure system is the Sales App Infrastructure (SAI) consisting of more than 10 enterprise applications. To keep up with demand, Company X was required to procure more hardware and software to support the core systems. This strategy resulted in a large infrastructure footprint with low hardware utilization. The increase in hardware footprint became difficult to manage and required additional resources. The large footprint of the company's deployment put them in reaction mode rather than a posture of proactive monitoring. Some application servers rendered themselves unavailable and required the team to restart them every 24 hours. From a cost standpoint, it costs the company the same amount of money to request a virtual platform as it would to purchase a new physical server. This led to significantly under utilized hardware throughout the enterprise. WVE was brought in to Company X to help better manage their WebSphere Application Server footprint. Dynamic clusters, application health policies, and application editioning features helped the company to better utilize hardware, reduce hardware expenditures, increase visibility into their applications, and improve availability of their applications.
In addition to helping with the existing environment, WVE helped Company X to roll out a new project with applications that required continuous availability to worldwide users. The team made use of policy-based workload management to ensure performance and availability levels of these new applications met their business needs. In addition, the company was able to reduce the amount of WebSphere Application Server licenses and physical servers required for this new deployment. In sum, WebSphere Virtual Enterprise saves the company significant time, money, and management effort.
I wanted to take a brief moment to remind you that the Enabling cloud computing with WebSphere campaign is well underway. Check out the various presentations and podcasts on solutions such as WebSphere Virtual Enterprise, WebSphere CloudBurst, Cast Iron Systems, WebSphere DataPower Application Optimization, WebSpan Integration as a Service Cloud, WebSphere Application Server Feature Pack for Dynamic Scripting, and more. All you have to do is navigate to the site, and you can download presentations or listen to audio/video replays at your convenience.
In addition to the podcast sessions, I want to point out a couple of upcoming events. The first is a live Q&A webcast that takes place next Thursday (9/23). Myself and other IBMers will be joining the webcast to answer your questions about cloud computing and WebSphere solutions. You can register to attend the session here, and you can submit questions ahead of time here.
A week after the live Q&A webcast (9/30), there will be an online JAM. Think of this as an online chat between IBMers and you, our users. You can ask questions, give us your feedback and suggestions, or just watch the proceedings. Like with the live Q&A webcast, you can submit questions ahead of time by navigating here.
I hope you are getting a chance to take advantage of some, or all of the campaign. Of course, you do not have to wait for the sessions to ask questions or give feedback. You can always leave a comment here or reach out to me on Twitter (@damrhein). Happy Friday!
Yesterday, we kicked off a WebSphere in the Clouds campaign designed to connect you with IBMers that can help you to leverage WebSphere solutions to build clouds. The campaign consists of webcasts, podcasts, live Q&A sessions, and online JAMs. You can listen to replays and sign up for upcoming events by visiting the Global WebSphere Community website.
Next week, the campaign delivers a series of podcasts that discuss the WebSphere technologies that form the building blocks of clouds. These podcasts will discuss both the business and technical aspects of these solutions, and they will cover topics like application infrastructure in the cloud, policy-based workload management using application virtualization, hybrid cloud integration, and more. Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to catch up with the various presenters of these podcasts to ask them a few questions about their solutions. These interviews provide a nice sneak peak at what is coming in the podcasts, and I will be posting them here in the coming days.
To kick things off, I'm posting a video interview with Marc Haberkorn. Marc is the WebSphere Product Manager for WebSphere CloudBurst, WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition, and WebSphere Virtual Enterprise. My colleague, Ryan Boyles, caught up with Marc and got his thoughts on how these solutions enable virtualization and automation for your cloud environments. Enjoy!