Innovations within reach

It's fast, highly consumable, deeply knowledgeable, uses patterns – and it's purple

Top ten frequently asked questions about WebSphere CloudBurst


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This content is part of the series:Innovations within reach

Stay tuned for additional content in this series.

Each installment of Innovations within reach features new information and discussions on topics related to emerging technologies, from both developer and practitioner standpoints, plus behind-the-scenes looks at leading edge IBM® WebSphere® products.

Finding your way in the cloud

The IBM WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance provides the capability to create, deploy, and manage virtualized WebSphere application environments in an on-premise cloud. Since its first release in June 2009, followed by Version 1.1 in November 2009, we have observed a very healthy and broad interest in this new cloud management device. I suppose that part of the reason for this interest could be simply attributed to the appliance’s newness, but I also believe that a significant level of interest is because the capabilities of WebSphere CloudBurst make you reconsider the way in which you interact with your middleware application environments. This challenge to the status quo has prompted both excitement and countless questions about the appliance from clients and colleagues alike over the past several months.

I have had the opportunity to talk about WebSphere CloudBurst many times since it was launched, and in so doing have noticed a fairly common set of questions emerging from both business and technical professionals. In this first installment of What’s next, I thought it would be appropriate and helpful to share these top ten questions with everyone who is curious about the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance.

And so, in no particular certain order, here are the things that people want to know most about WebSphere Cloudburst:

1. Do my WebSphere application environments run on the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance?

No! In fact, if you remember nothing else from this article -- or anything else you read about WebSphere CloudBurst -- remember this: The appliance does not host your IBM WebSphere Application Server environments. It dispenses those environments into an on-premise cloud, and once they are out and running, the appliance is not a part of the critical path for that application. No application requests are routed through the appliance, and absolutely no part of the application environment runs on the appliance in any form or fashion. I’ll take it one step further and point out that if the appliance were to fail for any reason, that failure would not at all impact the availability of your applications running in the virtualized environments that had been dispensed by WebSphere CloudBurst.

2. What products can WebSphere CloudBurst provision into an on-premise cloud?

As of this writing, there are three IBM software products that are built into virtual images for the appliance: WebSphere Application Server, IBM WebSphere Portal, and IBM DB2®. WebSphere Application Server is offered in both V6.1 and V7.0, with and without feature packs. A beta image of WebSphere Portal V6.1.5 is being offered, as is a trial version of DB2 Enterprise 9.7.

3. Do the virtual images provided by WebSphere CloudBurst include 32-bit or 64-bit environments?

Currently the virtual images provide 32-bit versions of each IBM software product (WebSphere Application Server, DB2, and WebSphere Portal) and the operating system. The exception is the IBM WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition packaged for the PowerVM™ platform. In this virtual image, both the WebSphere Application Server and AIX® operating system are 64-bit.

4. What hypervisors are supported by WebSphere CloudBurst?

As of version WebSphere CloudBurst V1.1, both VMware ESX (3.0.2, 3.0.3, 3.5, and 4.0) and PowerVM hypervisor platforms are supported. From a single appliance, you can manage and deploy to both hypervisor platforms. The user experience -- with respect to deploying patterns and managing virtual systems -- is consistent regardless of the target platform. When you build a particular pattern, you base it on a virtual image that is packaged for either the VMware ESX or PowerVM platform. This does tie a pattern to a particular hypervisor platform, but it is very simple to clone a pattern to create a new one that is based off of a virtual image packaged for a different platform. This enables you to quickly and easily move patterns from one platform to another without losing any of the customizations you have built into the middleware tier.

5. Is SUSE Linux the only operating system supported when deploying to VMware ESX hypervisors?

As of this writing, SUSE Linux is the only operating system shipped in the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition virtual image. However, swapping out the SUSE Linux® virtual disks for virtual disks containing Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is supported. If you use RHEL, the only difference is that you are responsible for maintaining the operating system, whereas if you use the SUSE Linux included in the WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition images, IBM ships updates and maintenance for the operating system. There is an IBM services offering available to assist you in creating a custom WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition image that contains the RHEL operating system.

6. How is WebSphere CloudBurst different from other virtualization management solutions?

The biggest difference between the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance and other virtualization management solutions is that the appliance is deeply knowledgeable about the software it dispenses. The appliance knows how to do things like federate nodes into a cell, create application server clusters, apply best practice performance tuning, and apply both fixes and upgrades to your WebSphere Application Server environments, all without you having to supply custom scripting, as you would with other virtualization management solutions. Add this extensive WebSphere Application Server know-how to extremely fast deployment times and the ability to add your own customizations at each level of the software stack, and WebSphere CloudBurst is in a class of its own when it comes to managing WebSphere middleware environments in an on-premise cloud.

7. Is WebSphere CloudBurst only meant for non-production (development or test) environments. Can it be used for production environments? If so, what value does it bring?

WebSphere CloudBurst can absolutely be used in production environments. Although these environments are not usually as dynamic as their development and test counterparts, the appliance brings capabilities very applicable to production settings.

First of all, patterns make it easier to promote your middleware application environments from development to test to production, or whatever your particular promotion path may be. Moving an application environment from one context to another -- say, staging to production -- might mean simply redeploying the pattern and supplying new deploy-time parameters, or it might mean cloning the pattern you used in staging and selecting a new virtual image that represents the operating system environment or platform that you use in production. In either case, your entire middleware configuration, including your applications and their associated configuration, is preserved in the pattern, thereby limiting the opportunity for bugs to be introduced by way of inconsistent configurations, and accelerating the overall promotion process.

In addition to simplifying and hardening the process of promoting your middleware application environments, WebSphere CloudBurst provides you with the ability to simply and safely automate the application of both fixes and upgrades to your application environments. The appliance drives the application of the fix or upgrade after it has taken and stored a snapshot of the entire environment to provide a simple rollback capability. This is crucial in production environments where downtime must be kept at a minimum and last-known good configurations are crucial assets.

8. Why is WebSphere CloudBurst shipped as an appliance?

There are three main reasons why WebSphere CloudBurst is delivered in the appliance form factor:

  • The appliance form factor provides a high level of consumability. You simply drop in WebSphere CloudBurst, connect it to your network, do some one-time initialization, and then you are ready to begin building your on-premise cloud. Updates to the function of the appliance are provided by way of firmware updates that are applied directly from the WebSphere CloudBurst Web console. With the appliance, there is no need to install and maintain software on several different machines.
  • The appliance provides a dedicated and purpose-built compute resource. WebSphere CloudBurst includes two mirrored hard disks to store virtual images, script packages, patterns, and so on. You do not have to procure other resources on which to store these artifacts. The appliance also provides the necessary memory and processing power to handle pattern deployments, image imports, and other intensive compute resource processes.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the appliance provides an extremely secure environment from which to create and manage your on-premise WebSphere Application Server cloud. There is no shell or other mechanism from which you can upload and execute code on the appliance. The operating system in the appliance follows "Just Enough Operating System" principles to further decrease the attack surface. All contents stored on the appliance’s hard disks and flash memory are encrypted with a private key that is unique to each and every appliance, and that private key cannot be modified. And if all that isn’t enough, the physical casing of the appliance is tamper resistant. If anyone were to remove the casing in a malicious attempt to remove components, the appliance is disabled and must be sent back to IBM to be reset before it can be used again.

9. Can I use WebSphere CloudBurst to manage WebSphere Application Server environments that were previously installed?

No. WebSphere CloudBurst provides management capabilities for the virtual systems created from deploying patterns that exist on the appliance. There is no way to point WebSphere CloudBurst at an existing environment and subsequently use the appliance’s management capabilities with that environment.

10. What if I require vendor software -- like monitoring and anti-virus solutions -- in the environments dispensed by WebSphere CloudBurst?

If you require software above and beyond what we ship in our virtual images, you can use what we call the extend and capture capability of WebSphere CloudBurst to make these customizations. Essentially, you select an image that already exists in your WebSphere CloudBurst catalog and extend it. The appliance creates a running virtual machine from that image, and you can log in to that virtual machine and install your required software. Once you have made your changes, you simply capture the customized environment and it is stored as a new virtual image in your WebSphere CloudBurst catalog. At that point, you can use it as the basis for your custom patterns, thus ensuring the customized environment when you deploy said patterns.

And finally, one bonus question...

11. Is the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance really purple?

Yes it is. Seriously, people ask this a lot!

Any more?

Although these are probably the ten most frequent questions I get, this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you have questions about WebSphere CloudBurst that are not answered here, check out some of our articles and demonstrations listed in the Resources section. You can also reach me on Twitter (@WebSphereClouds) with any questions you have.

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Zone=WebSphere, Web development
ArticleTitle=Innovations within reach: It's fast, highly consumable, deeply knowledgeable, uses patterns – and it's purple