Executive Summary

SDDC Bare Metal Bootstrap puts control back in the hands of the VMware operators by eliminating manual operations, improving speed and consistency, and allowing the operator to focus on higher level value.  This software only solution allows customers to choose the commodity infrastructure components that are right for their environment, and fully automating the vSphere process from first boot to a fully functioning cluster.

Fortune 100 and financial services customers today are using the integrated solution to deliver globally distributed SDDC build-outs that go from from first boot to delivered cluster in one hour.

Technical and Business Benefits

RackN and VMware have integrated the Digital Rebar Platform and VCF to provide a completely integrated SDDC installation experience.  By keeping the IT teams in full control, the solution allows VMware operators zero-touch deployments even in remote locations without having to give up choice about the hardware type, architecture, or surrounding systems. This partnership delivers  the promise  of a heterogenous, continuously integrated/continuous deployment (CICD) data center.

This software-only solution is completely self-service and behind the firewall so that operators are in full control to completely integrate with their own infrastructure and processes.  The product is architected with composable design principles; thereby providing full bare metal validation and configuration while still allowing IT teams to select their own commodity servers, switches and storage.

Solution Description

The SDDC bootstrap discovers, verifies, patches and installs VMware clusters on multi-vendor commodity “bare metal” servers.

The RackN software, Digital Rebar Platform (DRP), completely automates physical layer data center configuration from the PXE boot, BIOS/RAID configuration and installation of virtualization and advanced workloads on commodity infrastructure without specialized operators or technicians. 

DRPs multi-site management capabilities transform globally distributed facilities into centrally controlled infrastructure without compromising site autonomy.

Unlike managed services, Digital Rebar Platform is self-managed behind the firewall.  We let customers keep control while proving a deep library of proven standard operating practices to completely manage the physical layer.

Innovative Security and Workflow Features

In addition to fully automating the VCF process, the DRP workflows add important capabilities for VMware operators around security, conformance, integration and networking.  By default, the RackN Digital Rebar Platform system will fully evaluate new systems against a flexible set of validation criteria including the VMware HCL.  In this process, anomalies are quickly detected allowing for rapid or automatic remediation. Weeks of installation time are saved resulting in the freeing up of  resources for other tasks.

Once verified, the software will automatically update the firmware to the correct level, naming the systems, securing the system and installing the required ESXi systems for VCF.  This process includes quickly moving the system from VLAN0 to a secure operational network.

Once ESXi has been fully validated and configured, DRP hands off the systems to VCF which completes the installation process.  No spreadsheets, CSVs or additional steps are required.  Operators are then free to focus on tuning and integration since the system is fully automatic: cluster rebuilds and tuning rehearsals can be performed at the click of a button and completed over lunch.

SDDC Bare Metal Bootstrap

Our integrated solution extends the power and flexibility of VMware SDDC down to the physical layer of your data center.  Starting from commodity bare metal servers and switches, the RackN Digital Rebar Platform completely manages the inventory, validation, configuration and installation of your infrastructure to VMware’s exacting requirements.  Once prepared, the integration seamlessly invokes the VCF process to reliably deliver operational vCenter Clusters without manual intervention.  End to end, the process can be completed in an hour with minimal setup.

Workflow is the key to the integrated bootstrap process.  While the DRP process is composable and flexible to meet each customer’s unique requirements, our out-of-the-box standard practices deliver working clusters with minimal effort.  The steps include:

  • Discovery – systems automatically boot into Digital Rebar for management.
  • Inventory – we perform a deep scan of the systems’ network, storage, firmware and components.
  • Verification– extensible compatibility and setup checks make sure that the system matches both VMware HCL and local site requirements.
  • Configuration – DRP has an extensive library of hardware configuration modules that set correct firmware levels automatically
  • Installation – Powerful ESXi templates map the correct media and configuration to the discovered systems.
  • Network – Simple post-install agents perform additional ESXi configuration steps to ensure network connectivity, secure access and other advanced processes.
  • Handoff – After building in parallel, Digital Rebar Platform waits until all the systems have been built before handing control to VCF to complete the SDDC bootstrap.

DRP provides a unique combination of integrated automation and operator choice.

An API-Driven Self-Service Approach

Major financial services organizations are using RackN Digital Rebar Platform to provision racks of vCenter clusters in globally distributed data centers.  The RackN Digital Rebar Platform software is designed as API-first for customers to operate themselves.

RackN Digital Rebar Platform is designed to be run and managed by data center operators in your own facilities without external networking or supervision.  No SaaS or firewall exceptions are required because the system is completely self-contained.

A BYO Infrastructure Approach

Unlike opinionated and hardware restricted HCI solutions, the VMware RackN Digital Rebar integration is software only.  We work with customers to fit within their environment needs from networking, security and hardware requirements from our deep list of qualified vendors including Dell, HPE, Lenovo, Supermicro, Quanta, Netapp and others.  

Critically, site specific changes do not require special programming.  Most customers are able to make self-service extensions to the platform after a single day of training.  Even adding entirely new vendors or configurations typically takes just a few weeks.

An Infrastructure as Code Approach

To reduce operator toil, RackN Digital Rebar Platform uses a simple and modular infrastructure as code (IaC) architecture.  The system delivers different parts of the life-cycle as individually managed catalog components.  This allows customers to either start from a universal default or select customized life-cycle from a curated catalog.

For both standard and custom approaches, customers can lock-in specific-components and then build a continuously integrated data center (CIDC) process.  By implementing a CIDC approach operators have a highly controlled process for rolling out upgrades, patches and other improvements throughout their infrastructure.

A Workflow Life-Cycle Approach

DRP data center automation takes an integrated platform approach.  Other companies offer tools that overlap with DRP in certain components, but no other company has matched our combination of physical control, provisioning, configuration, workflow and multi-vendor support as an on-premises product.  This integrated capability provides unmatched advantage in efficiency and control.

Building for the Future

Seamless VCF integration is just the starting point for RackN and VMware.  Together, we’re building on this partnership to tackle even more challenging operational configurations, including parallel switch fabric construction, deep security features like trusted platform module (TPM), rolling upgrades for day-N success and complete lights-out multi-site edge management panels.

RackN Technology Advantage

With DRP, we make it simple to build, test and package new capabilities for zero-touch and remote deployments by non-technical users.

The RackN platform automates the full lifecycle of physical layer infrastructure from first boot, verification and configuration through to completely installed virtualization and applications.  Our software uses portable system manifests to deliver a self-contained, in-field service at the physical layer without external networking, specialized hardware or “aaS” management.

We create an air-gapped bare metal cloud: our offerings are behind the firewall only.  There is no managed service or cloud component for RackN software.

In cases where wide-area networking (WAN) is available, DRP offers a self-managed, multi-site federation extension that monitors field data centers and allows remote updates and automation.  This capability is designed for intermittently connected sites.

RackN software provides integration and infrastructure control for commodity components using their current APIs.

Since we’re a software only solution, DRP works with customers’ existing hardware vendors, networking, operating systems and configuration tooling.  No specialized gear or virtualization layer is required.

Platform Benefits

An integrated platform provides significant advantages over a patchwork of tools approach.

Speeds Deployment: DRP greatly reduces the post-cloning time required by operators to deploy systems to the field by automating the process to remove human intervention.  While it’s working, operators can monitor progress on an integrated role-based Web UI.

Enables Redeployment: Our continuously integrated data center tooling makes it simple to patch and update existing infrastructure.  DRP dramatically improves data center resiliency by eliminating the cost, time and risk of resets.

Reduces Operator Effort: System discovery and verification, an integrated part of DRP processes, allows applications to seamlessly detect an air-gapped bare metal cloud and adapt to the field environment.  This closed loop automation eliminates operator work during the delivery, reducing risk of human error and time.

Use Legacy and Commodity Infrastructure: The platform already includes integration with many of the technologies operators currently implement (Puppet, VMware, etc.). This enables rapid deployment through Immutable Automation which allows a “Target State” to be defined and achieved with little to no human intervention.

Truly Heterogeneous: DRP supports a wide range of server vendors (Dell, HPE, Lenovo, Cisco, Supermicro, etc) to install your current operating systems (Windows and Linux) and platforms (VMware, Kubernetes, and others).  While not required for lifecycle management, we expect to review and leverage existing configuration management scripts (Puppet, Ansible, Terraform, etc) when useful.

API Driven: DRP provides multiple ways to access our system interface depending on role:

  • Most operators use our full featured, interactive Web UI
  • Advanced users will also work with our multi-platform CLI and REST APIs
  • Operators get streamlined views of Web UI for narrow use-cases based on their role.

Multi-Site Federation: DRP’s unique evented API and “infrastructure as code” management approach allows operators to create a single pane of glass console spanning geographically distributed data centers.  Our unique design never compromises site autonomy: each site operates without any outside management – centralization is a benefit, not a requirement.


With DRP, every company is smart enough to manage their own infrastructure in a fully automated way.  We have broken the cloud provider barrier by bringing hyperscaler caliber platforms to operators at any scale.  Try it for yourself at https://portal.rackn.io!

VMware Bootstrap


September 24, 2020




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