I spent most of my time growing up doing two things, going to school and playing sports. I made many fond memories -- mostly from the latter :) -- and learned more than a few lessons over that time. Of all of those lessons, there was one in particular that stuck out in both the classroom and on the baseball diamond: Sometimes you have to get back to the basics.
In that vein, I think it is time to revisit the basics of WebSphere CloudBurst. In revisiting the basics, I am not talking about the technical basics of the appliance. Rather, I am talking about revisiting exactly why WebSphere CloudBurst exists in the first place. In other words, let's take a look at the problem domains WebSphere CloudBurst addresses, and let's discuss a little bit about how the appliance does so.
It's really hard to complain about my work week right now. As I write this blog, I'm sitting in the Congress Center in Düsseldorf, Germany looking out over the Rhine River. As an aside, in Germany it is the Rhein River, and I have a historical connection to this body of water. My surname, Amrhein, translates (loosely) to 'on the Rhein'. It does not take an expert in genealogy to conclude that I have ancestors who at one time or another lived very close to this important German waterway.
Okay, putting the family tree aside for a minute, there is a good reason that I am in Düsseldorf this week. The city, and specifically the Congress Center, is playing host to the IBM European WebSphere Technical Conference. I am here presenting sessions that include a WebSphere CloudBurst overview, a WebSphere CloudBurst hands-on lab, and an up-close look at one of our internal team's use of the appliance. I have done each of these sessions once so far, and attendance was great, audience participation high, and feedback forthcoming. I am hearing and seeing the same thing in other sessions, which is of course, ideal for us presenters.
Now, to focus in on WebSphere CloudBurst for a bit, it seems that I am hearing a recurring question this week from the mostly European audience: "Why is WebSphere CloudBurst delivered as an appliance?" I am sure that I addressed this question in a previous blog post, but I believe it bears revisiting. There are various reasons I could give for the appliance form factor, but I like to distill all of that down into three major reasons: Consumability, Performance, and Security.
From a solution consumability perspective, nothing beats the appliance approach. WebSphere CloudBurst is an integrated hardware and software solution that delivers a specific set of function. You do not have to install software, procure and maintain storage for resources on the appliance (images, patterns, scripts, etc.), and maintain software components over time. You simply drop the appliance in to your data center, perform a one-time initialization, hook it up to the network, and you are ready to start leveraging WebSphere CloudBurst to build out your private cloud. While there is definitely work to setup the cloud infrastructure that WebSphere CloudBurst deploys environments to, we can completely eliminate a significant portion of solution implementation lead time by delivering everything you need in the appliance.
The performance benefits of an appliance approach are a natural result of building an integrated hardware and software stack. Design and development teams provide optimizations in both the hardware and software based on the fact that both the hardware and software have intimate knowledge of each other's design. In other words, this is not a 'least common denominator' tuning approach. Rather, the integrated design leads to enhanced performance for the specific set of functionality provided by WebSphere CloudBurst.
Finally, appliances enable us to deliver a very hardened, secure device. We provide private key encryption of every resource stored on the appliance. That private key is unique to each appliance and cannot be modified. In addition, the physical casing is tamper-resistant. If someone removes the casing, a 'Get Smart' style kill switch puts the appliance in a dormant state. You must send the appliance to IBM so we can reset it before further use, thus providing an additional layer of physical protection on top of the encryption. These security features, plus more, like a shield that prevents anyone from executing code on the appliance, come right out of the box and require no end-user configuration activity. In this way, you can simply focus on leveraging the user security and access controls provided by WebSphere CloudBurst.
If you had any questions on the rationale behind the appliance form factor of WebSphere CloudBurst, I hope this helps. I am off for now... back to the conference and the wonderful city of Düsseldorf.
"What is the difference between WebSphere CloudBurst and IBM CloudBurst?" After the IBM Pulse 2010 event this week, I'm hearing this question in my sleep. It came from both our customers and other IBMers, and it's not hard to understand the confusion caused by the name similarity. Let's take a shot at clearing up any confusion around the two separate offerings and explain the complementary value WebSphere CloudBurst can provide IBM CloudBurst.
Both IBM CloudBurst and WebSphere CloudBurst provide capabilities to enable private, or on-premise, clouds. The main differences between the products are the degree to which they are purpose-built and the form in which they are delivered. First off, the IBM CloudBurst solution form factor consists of three primary elements: service management software, hardware, and IBM services. The software portion of the package provides general purpose (very important distinction) provisioning, workflow, and management capabilities for the services that make up your cloud. These services could consist of WebSphere software or any other software that you can package into a virtual image format. The hardware is the actual compute resource for your on-premise cloud, and the IBM services portion of the package provide a fastpath to get started with your cloud implementation.
On the other hand, WebSphere CloudBurst is a cloud management hardware appliance that delivers function to create, deploy, and manage virtualized WebSphere application environments in an on-premise cloud. WebSphere CloudBurst is purpose-built for WebSphere environments meaning that a lot of the things users would have to script with general purpose cloud provisioning solutions (creating clusters, federating nodes into a cell, applying fixes, etc.), are automatically handled by the appliance and virtual images with which it ships. Also, it is important to note that WebSphere CloudBurst works on a "bring your own cloud" model. The virtualized WebSphere application environments do not run on the appliance, but instead they are deployed to a shared pool of resources to which the appliance is configured to communicate.
While we are talking about two offerings that have the noted differences above, I should also point out the how and why of the integration of these two offerings. The WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance can be leveraged from within the IBM CloudBurst solution to handle the provisioning of WebSphere middleware environments in your data center. From the included Tivoli Service Automation Manager interfaces in the IBM CloudBurst solution, you can discover and deploy WebSphere CloudBurst patterns that exist on an appliance in your data center. WebSphere CloudBurst will deploy the patterns to the set of hardware resource provided by the IBM CloudBurst solution. Why would you want to integrate the two? If a large portion of your data center provisioning involves WebSphere middleware environments, WebSphere CloudBurst provides quick time to value and low cost of ownership. The WebSphere know-how is baked into the appliance and the virtual images it ships meaning that you don't need to develop and maintain what would be a rather large set of configuration scripts for the WebSphere environments running in your cloud.
I hope this clears the air a bit about not only the difference in IBM CloudBurst and WebSphere CloudBurst, but also about how and why these two can be integrated. I will never answer everyone's question in a simple blog post, so if I didn't address yours please leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter @damrhein.
The answer is yes, I did a related but different blog post with a similar title a few weeks back. At that time I was primarily highlighting a webinar that I co-presented with Keith Smith regarding the various virtualization solutions and features that are available in IBM Workload Deployer in virtual application patterns and virtual system patterns leveraging the Intelligent Management Pack (IMP). If you didn't get a chance to attend that webcast live then I encourage you to check out the replay (especially Keith's portion with details on IMP - a really helpful overview).
This new blog post expands on the theme of that original blog post but takes a broader vision of where IBM has been with our private cloud offerings in WCA and IWD up to and including the recently announced IBM PureApplication System - and how this history demonstrates our leadership in supporting applications in the cloud.
In last week's post, I put the spotlight on various aspects of bundles in the Image Construction and Composition Tool. I finished with a look at a WebSphere CloudBurst virtual image created from the bundle. However, you do not just magically go from a bundle to an image that you can use in WebSphere CloudBurst, Tivoli Provisioning Manager, or on the IBM Cloud. Today, I want to show you how to go from a bundle to a custom virtual image using the IBM Image Construction and Composition Tool.
Once you have defined at least one bundle and one base operating system image, you are ready to compose a custom image. We already talked about creating a bundle, but the base operating system image is a new topic. You can do this by either starting from ISO and kickstart configuration files, or you can import an existing Open Virtual Appliance (OVA) image that contains your operating system of choice. Once you have that base image imported or defined in the Image Construction and Composition Tool, you can extend it to create a custom image on top of the base OS image.
After creating your extended image, you can add bundles that represent the software you want to install in your custom image. Simply click on the Software tab of the new virtual image. Click the add icon, and select the bundle that you want to add. You can add as many bundles as you would like to your custom image.
After adding a bundle, it will show up in the Planned list of software for the image. Click on it to display its details in the right side of the screen. You will notice General, Install, and Configuration sections for the bundle. In the Install section, you will find a list of the installation parameters you defined for the bundle. You can provide values for the parameters at this time.
If you click on the Configure section, you will see all of the configuration paramters you specified for the bundle. You can provide default values, and you can specify whether or not these should be configurable by deployers of your custom image. If you mark them as configurable, users will be able to provide values for the parameters at image deploy time, regardless of whether they provision the image using WebSphere CloudBurst, Tivoli Provisioning Manager, or the IBM Cloud.
After you add the necessary bundles and specify installation and configuration data, you can save the image. Upon saving, the image status changes from Synchronized to Out of Sync.
Now you are ready to synchronize the image. To do this, simply click the synchronize icon. This will result in the creation of a virtual machine in the cloud envrionment (VMware or IBM Cloud) you defined in the selected cloud provider. The Image Construction and Composition Tool will then invoke the appropriate installation tasks (per the bundles you included in the image) within the running virtual machine. It will also copy over any configuration scripts you defined in the bundle.
After a while, the synchronization process completes, and the image returns to the Synchronized state. At this point, you are ready to capture the image by clicking the capture icon. This results in the creation of an OVA virtual image with your customizations. When the capture process completes, the image status changes to Deployable.
Once the image is in the deployable state, it is nearly ready to use. If you are using the IBM Cloud as your cloud provider, you can simply mark the image complete by clicking the complete icon. At this point, the image will show up in your private catalog on the IBM Cloud and it is ready to use. If you are using VMware as the cloud provider, you need to export the image. Click the export icon and provide information about an SCP-enabled server to which you want to export the image. Ideally, this location is directly reachable by the WebSphere CloudBurst or Tivoli Provisioning Manager environment into which you will import the image.
You can monitor the export status in a separate window by clicking on a link shown after clicking the OK button in the dialog above. When the export finishes, you are ready to import your new custom virtual image into WebSphere CloudBurst or Tivoli Provisioning Manager.
I hope the last three posts have given you a better idea of what the new IBM Image Construction and Composition Tool is all about. There will definitely be more to come about this tool in the near future, but in the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, please reach out to me. Until then, good luck and full speed ahead on your custom image compositions!
The ability to package custom maintenance packages and upload them as emergency fixes is perhaps a lesser known feature of WebSphere CloudBurst, but nevertheless something that's been around since the product's initial release. This is a powerful feature that allows you to build your own fix packages that you can then apply the same way you would use WebSphere CloudBurst to apply a PAK file or fixpack shipped by IBM.
Since IBM is delivering fixes and updates to all of the contents within WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition virtual images (including the OS and IBM software components), you may wonder why you would even want to create your own maintenance packages. One reason would be if you switched out the SUSE Linux operating system shipped with the VMware ESX based images in favor of your own Red Hat operating system. In that case you would be responsible for maintenance to the operating system, and custom maintenance packages would be of interest to you. Another scenario where these custom maintenance packages come in handy would be if you created your own customized images that include non-shipped third-party software in addition to the software shipped in the images. If at some point you have the need to fix or update this software in a running virtual machine, custom maintenance packages provide you the vehicle with which to do just that.
What do these custom maintenance packages look like? In short, they are simply archives or ZIP files. The contents of the archive are largely decided by you, but there is one piece of metadata that is necessary if you want to use WebSphere CloudBurst to apply the maintenance. A file called service.xml is inserted into the root of the archive and tells WebSphere CloudBurst critical information about the custom fix archive. Here's an example of a service.xml file:
Most notably, this metadata tells WebSphere CloudBurst what module or script to invoke to apply the maintenance (Command, this executable is supplied by you), what image versions the fix is applicable to (ImagePrereqs), and the location of the working directory on the virtual machine (Location). In addition to the service.xml file and the executable, you can package up anything else, such as product binaries, which are needed to successfully apply the fix/upgrade/maintenance.
If you haven't noticed, this is an extremely flexible mechanism and can be used for just about anything. I should point out that you can only apply a given fix once per virtual machine, so it's not good for something that you want to run repeatedly against a given machine (check out user-initiated script packages instead). Also, there is a 512MB size limit on the archives. Keep these restrictions in mind when you are deciding how to use custom maintenance packages. If you are interested in learning a bit more about custom maintenance packages or other maintenance techniques, check out this article I co-authored along with Xiao Xing Liang from the IBM SOA Design Center in the China Development Lab.
In my last post, I concentrated on the new enhancements to WebSphere CloudBurst 188.8.131.52. One of the major new additions was the introduction of Environment Profiles, and I promised a developerWorks article would be forthcoming. The article is now live along with a demo that showcases the capability of environment profiles.
As I mentioned in my last post, environment profiles center around giving you more customization capability during the pattern deployment process. In WebSphere CloudBurst, the pattern deployment process consists of the five main steps depicted below.
Traditionally, WebSphere CloudBurst controlled the entire deployment process, thus closing it off to the deployer. Environment profiles extend the customization reach of users to be able to effect steps 1-3 in the above diagram. Specifically, environment profiles give you the following control:
Control over the assignment of IP addresses and hostnames to pattern parts: Instead of having WebSphere CloudBurst automatically assign IP addresses, and thus hostnames, to virtual machines during deployment, you can explicitly set both values during the deployment process.
Ability to deploy single patterns to multiple cloud groups: Previously, when deploying a pattern you selected a single cloud group and WebSphere CloudBurst deployed all the parts in the pattern to machines within that cloud group. While this may be okay for many cases, other cases may require you to deploy some parts of the pattern to one group of machines while other parts map to a separate set of machines. Before environment profiles, you could accomplish this with multiple patterns. With environment profiles, you can accomplish it with a single pattern.
Ability to supply virtual machine naming standards: As part of deploying a pattern, WebSphere CloudBurst creates one to many virtual machines with distinct names. Environment profiles allow you to supply a naming standard that WebSphere CloudBurst will use when creating the machines as opposed to default naming schemes previously used.
It is important to note that the use of environment profiles is completely optional, and you can continue to use the traditional deployment process, thereby leaving WebSphere CloudBurst in control. That said, the introduction of environment profiles is a direct response to consistent user feedback we received regarding the need for more control during the deployment process. Based on my user conversations, these profiles address many of said needs in an easy to use, straightforward manner. We are, of course, eager to know what you think. As always, you can let me know right here, through email, or on Twitter (@damrhein).
I write a lot about WebSphere CloudBurst script packages. Typically, I write about what they are, how to create them, and even provide some samples from time to time. I find that most of the time I'm either writing or talking about script packages from the standpoint that they allow you to automate the delivery of customizations to environments you deploy with WebSphere CloudBurst. More specifically, I usually explain how you can include these script packages in your patterns to ensure that your custom scripts execute as part of every pattern deployment. The truth is, that is not the whole story. In fact, it's only 1/3 of the story.
In WebSphere CloudBurst, when you define a script package you also define its execution mode. The execution mode can be one of three values, and it indicates the invocation time for the script. The default value is at virtual system creation, and that tells WebSphere CloudBurst to automatically invoke the script as part of the deployment process. This seems to be the most commonly used execution mode, and in the original version of WebSphere CloudBurst it was the only available mode (which probably attributes to why I only usually tell 1/3 of the story here). As you may expect, there is a wide range of usage scenarios for this class of script packages including installing applications, activating monitoring agents, registering cells with an externally managed DNS server, and much more.
If you are like me (and many humans), you enjoy and actually expect symmetry. In that regard, it probably comes as no surprise that there is a script package execution mode called at virtual system deletion. As the name indicates, this class of script packages executes as an automatic part of the virtual system deletion process. When a user tells WebSphere CloudBurst to remove a virtual system, before it shuts down the machines in the system, it will run each script package marked to execute at virtual system deletion. Typical use cases for these scripts include removing information about the cell from externally managed DNS servers, freeing up connections with external systems, and other external 'clean up' activities.
So this leaves the final execution mode for script packages, the when I initiate it mode to be precise. This class of script packages executes when explicitly triggered by a user. In the virtual machine detail section for a deployed virtual system, you can see a list of user-initiated script packages for a given machine. There is a start button by each of the user-initiated script packages that allows you to invoke the script when, and as many times as you need to. While these script packages have many different use cases, the most common use case is to deploy application updates. Users build these application update scripts, attach them to a pattern, and invoke them whenever they want to deliver an updated application into their already deployed environment.
WebSphere CloudBurst script packages are one of the main vehicles for delivering your customizations to your cloud environments. The three execution modes mentioned above allow you to determine when the right time to deliver those customizations is.
One of the fundamental tenants of IBM Workload Deployer is a choice of cloud deployment models. Starting in v3.0, users will be able to deploy to the cloud using virtual appliances (OVA files), virtual system patterns, or virtual application patterns. The ability to provision plain virtual appliances is a way to rapidly bring your own images, as they currently exist, into the provisioning realm of the appliance. As such, I think the use cases and basis for deciding to use this deployment model are fairly evident. However, when comparing the two patterns-based approaches, virtual system patterns and virtual application patterns, the decision requires a bit more scrutiny.
Our pattern approach is a good thing for you, the user. Basically, when we refer to patterns in the context of cloud, we are referring to the encapsulation of installation, configuration, and integration activities that make deploying and managing environments in a cloud much easier. Regardless of what kind of pattern you end up using, you benefit from treating a potentially complex middleware infrastructure environment or middleware application as a single atomic unit throughout its lifecycle (creation, deployment, and management). In turn, you benefit from decreased costs (administrative and operational) and increased agility via rapid, meaningful deployments of your environments. That said, it is imperative to understand the differences between virtual system and virtual application patterns, and more importantly, it is important to understand what those differences mean to you. Let's start by considering the admittedly simple 'Cloud Tradeoff' continuum below.
In the above graph, the X-axis represents the degree to which you have customization control over the resultant environment. The degree of control gets lower as we move from left to right. The left Y-axis represents total cost of ownership (TCO), which decreases as we move up the axis. The right Y-axis represents time to value, which similarly decreases as we go up the axis. Naturally, enterprises want to move up the Y-axis, but, and it can be quite a big but, they are sometimes hesitant to relinquish much control (move to the right on the X-axis) in order to do so. In that light, I think it helps to explore our two patterns-based approaches a bit more.
The most important thing to understand about this continuum is that the X-axis really represents the customization control ability from the point of view of the deployer and consumer of the environment. An example is probably the best way to explain. Let's consider a fairly simple web service application that we want to deploy to the cloud. If we were to use a virtual system pattern to achieve this, we would probably start by using parts from the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition image to layout our topology. We may have a deployment manager, two custom nodes, and a web server. After establishing the topology, we would add custom script packages to install the web service application and then configure any resources the application depended on. Users that wanted to deploy the virtual system pattern would access it, provide configuration details such as the WAS cell name, node names, virtual resource allocation, and custom script parameters, and then deploy. Once deployed, users could access the environment and middleware infrastructure as they always have. That means they could run administrative scripts, access the administrative console provided by the deployed middleware software, and any other thing one would normally do. The difference in using virtual system patterns is not necessarily the operational model for deployed environments (though IBM Workload Deployer makes some things, like patching environments, much easier). Instead, the difference is primarily in the delivery model for these environments.
Using a virtual application pattern to support the same web service application results in a markedly different experience from both a deployment and management standpoint. In using this approach, a user would start by selecting a suitable virtual application pattern based on the application type. This may be one shipped by IBM, such as the IBM Workload Deployer Pattern for Web Applications, or it may be one created by the user through the extensibility mechanisms built into the appliance. After selecting the appropriate pattern, a user would supply the web service application, define functional and non-functional requirements for the application via policies, and then deploy. The virtual application pattern and IBM Workload Deployer provide the knowledge necessary to install, configure, and integrate the middleware infrastructure and the application itself. Once deployed, a user manages the resultant application environment through a radically simplified lens provided by IBM Workload Deployer. It provides monitoring and ongoing management of the environment in a context appropriate for the application. This means that there are typically no administrative consoles (as in the case of the virtual application pattern IBM ships), and users can only alter well-defined facets of the environment. It is a substantial shift in the mindset of deploying and managing middleware applications.
Okay, with that explanation in the bag, let's revisit the diagram I inserted above. I hope it's clear that, all things being equal, virtual application patterns indeed provide the lowest TCO and shortest TTV because of the degree to which they encapsulate the steps involved in setting up complex middleware application environments. So, let's get back to my assertion that the customization control continuum really applies to the deployer and consumer. Why do I say that? It's simple. In the case of either the virtual system pattern or the virtual application pattern, the pattern composer has quite a bit of liberty in how they construct things. Sure, we enable you right out of the chute by shipping pre-built, pre-configured IBM Hypervisor Edition images, as well as pre-built virtual system and virtual application patterns. The key is though, that the IBM Workload Deployer's design and architecture also enables you to build your own patterns -- be they the virtual system or virtual application type. With anywhere from a little to a lot of work, you can build virtual system and virtual application patterns tailored to your use cases and needs.
At this point, you may be saying, "Well now you have really confused things! How am I supposed to decide what kind of patterns-based approach fits my needs?" I have some advice in that regard. First, map your needs to things that we enable with the assets you get right out of the box with IBM Workload Deployer. If your application fits into the functional scope of one of the virtual application patterns that we ship, use it. If you can support the application by using IBM Hypervisor Edition images, virtual system patterns, and custom scripts, do it. In this way, you benefit most from the value offered by IBM Workload Deployer. However, if you find that you cannot use any of the assets we provide right out of the box (e.g. you want to deploy your environment on software not offered in IBM Hypervisor Edition form or in a virtual application pattern), then ask yourself one simple question: "What do I want my user's experience to be?"
In this sense, I primarily mean a user to be a deployer or consumer of your patterns. You need to decide whether you favor the middleware infrastructure centric approach afforded by virtual system patterns, or if you prefer the application centric approach proffered by virtual application patterns. There is no way to answer this generically for all potential IBM Workload Deployer users. Instead, you have to look at your use case, understand what's available to help you accomplish that use case, and finally, decide on what you want your user's experience to be. I hope this helps!
Customization capabilities have been very important to the design of IBM Workload Deployer going back to the beginning with WebSphere CloudBurst. Having the ability to quickly spin up environments in a cloud really does little good if those environments are not customized according to your needs. If you look at the virtual system pattern capability, it is why we always had the notion of custom images, custom patterns, and custom scripts. We give you a strong foundation, and you tweak it here and there to create what you want.
Customization is not a concept unique to virtual system patterns. The virtual application model in IBM Workload Deployer supports many different mechanisms for you to tailor your cloud-based environments. You can start with the virtual application pattern types that we ship and use any components in those patterns to build a custom environment. The patterns you build can include your own configuration (within the set of configurable parameters) and include policies that you need for your environment. In looking at just the IBM Workload Deployer Pattern for Web Applications and the IBM Workload Deployer Pattern for Databases, there are quite a number of scenarios you can support with your cloud. However, what happens when you want to go a little further and color outside the lines of what we provide?
At some point you may have heard or read that the entire virtual application pattern model resides on a pluggable architecture. In effect, this means that everything about a virtual application pattern type, from the elements that show up when building a pattern to the management interface you interact with after deployment, is customizable. The fundamental unit of customization for a virtual application pattern type is a plugin. Plugins provide the know-how in terms of installing, configuring, integrating, and managing the application types supported by a given pattern. Plugins also provide metadata that control what users see as they build and manage these patterns. In short, plugins are the source of truth for virtual application patterns!
If you looked in IBM Workload Deployer, you would find the collection of plugins that support the virtual application pattern types shipped with the offering. While that is interesting, you should also know that you can supply your own plugins. That's right. You can develop a plugin, and load it directly into the appliance. This allows you to do two very important things. First, you can extend the virtual application pattern types that come with IBM Workload Deployer with any kind of functionality you deem important. This may be additional monitoring, integration with external systems, or any number of other extensions. Second, you can create new virtual application pattern types that support your desired workloads. You can support the workloads with the software of your choosing so long as you can supply the necessary know-how in your plugins. In either case, you contribute the plugin, and your customized components become first class members of the IBM Workload Deployer landscape.
Okay, so I admit that this is not necessarily news. We have supported user-contributed plugins since the release of IBM Workload Deployer. However, there is something new that significantly lowers the barrier to entry in the custom plugin game. Early last week, IBM announced the IBM Workload Plugin Development Kit. This kit provides a set of tools and samples designed to make the construction and packaging of custom plugins a simple process. In my opinion, this reiterates our commitment to an extensible, application-centric cloud approach, and it represents a huge step forward in the industry as a whole. Be sure to check this out, and don't be shy with the comments and feedback!