From Start to Scale: learn faster with heterogenous deployments

Why mix VMs and Physical? Having a consistent deploy approach can dramatically speed learning cycles that result in better scale ops. I would never deploy production OpenStack on VMs but I strongly recommend rehearsing that deployment on VMs hundreds of times before I touch metal.

Over the last two months, the RackN team redefined “heterogeneous” infrastructure in Digital Rebar from being “just” multi-vendor hardware to include any server resource from containers and Vagrant/Virtualbox to clouds like AWS or Packet. To support this truly diverse range, there were both technical and operational challenges to overcome.

The technical challenge rises from the fundamental control differences between cloud and physical infrastructure. In cloud, infrastructure is much more prescribed – you cannot change most aspects of your system and especially not your network interfaces or IPs. To provision hardware efficiently, we had to establish control over the very things that Cloud systems manage for you. 

That management diversity exercised the full extent of the Digital Rebar “functional ops” architecture.

Over the last year, we’ve been unwinding baked-in control assumptions from earlier versions of Digital Rebar. That added flexibility allows Digital Rebar to mix control APIs for infrastructure ranging from using Cobbler to Docker, Vagrant and AWS. Since we could already cope with heterogeneous control APIs using Digital Rebar’s unique functional ops design, we retained the ability to mix and match container, virtual and physical infrastructure.

The operational challenge was more subtle. We were motivated to make this change by first hand observations of the fidelity gap. I am a strong believer that container platforms will directly target metal in the next two years. The challenge is how do we get there from our current virtualization-focused infrastructure.

It’s easy to look at the completed work as an obvious step forward. Looking over my shoulder, I know that it took years of learning and perseverance to create a platform that was flexible enough to handle both extremes of control. Even more important was understanding why it was so important for a physical scale deployment platform to provide ops fidelity for developers too.

With the infrastructure work behind us, we’re seeing Digital Rebar deliver real operational transformation. We want to help IT embrace containers and immutable infrastructure without having to discard the hard won battles installing cloud and traditional infrastructure. Most critically, we hope that you’ll join our open community and share your operational journey with us.