Redefining PXE Boot Provisioning for the Modern Data Center

Over the past 20 years, Linux admins have defined provisioning with a limited scope; PXE boot with Cobbler. This approach continues to be popular today even though it only installs an operating system limiting the operators’ ability to move beyond this outdated paradigm

Digital Rebar is the answer operators have been looking for as provisioning has taken on a new role within the data center to include workflow management, infrastructure automation, bare metal, virtual machines inside and outside the firewall as well as the coming need for edge IoT management. The active open source community is expanding the capabilities of provisioning ensuring operators a new foundational technology to rethink how data centers can be managed to meet today’s rapid delivery requirements.

Digital Rebar was architected with the global Cobbler user-base in mind to not only simplify the transition but also offer a set of common packages that are shareable across the community to simplify and automate repetitive tasks; freeing up operators to spend more time focusing on key issues instead of finding new OS packages for example.

I encourage you to take 15 minutes and visit the Digital Rebar community to learn more about this technology and how you can up-level your organization’s capability to automate infrastructure at scale,

Migration Best Practices from Cobbler to Digital Rebar Provision

In this video, Rob Hirschfeld and Greg Althaus provide operators real-world examples of how best to migrate your provisioning platform to Digital Rebar Provision. This blog highlights one of these migration ideas.

Scenario

  • 10 Servers running in multiple subnets
  • DHCP Server
  • Cobbler Provisioning Tool

Migration Process

  • Setup Digital Rebar Provision (DRP) in the Network
    • Create a new subnet with DHCP server installed
    • Operate the DHCP in reservation mode
  • Run DRP to discover the entire network across subnets without DHCP access
    • Create a mapping of infrastructure including MAC address to IP address
  • Migrate DRP control server by server
    • Turn off old DHCP server control for a specific MAC address and turn it on for new DHCP server
    • Reboot the specific MAC address node and DRP will manage the provisioning for that specific server
    • Confirm reset server and continue to manage the changeover server by server
  • Other Options
    • Continue to manage Cobbler for existing infrastructure and use DRP for all new nodes
    • Split provisioning services based on application being deployed

Watch the full video below to hear other scenarios presented for migration options.

Video Participants:

Rob Hirschfeld, Co-Founder/ CEO, RackN   Twitter: @zehicle
Greg Althaus, Co-Founder / CTO, RackN      Twitter: @galthaus

Get started with Digital Rebar today:

It’s past time to give Cobbler the boot! Don’t PXE like it’s 1999

An interesting paradox in technology is our desire to obsess over the latest shiny (Note our L8istSh9y Podcast) object promising the moon; however, we tend to hold on to our reliable, dependable solutions that become outdated.  A great example of this reliance on outdated technology is the well-known Linux provisioning tool Cobbler.

Cobbler was built specially for Linux in the pre-cloud days with version 2.2.3-1 released in June 2012. The product continues on a schedule of 2 releases a year with the last update in September 2017. There is no commercial support, minimal development and hardly anyone keeping the lights on.  In today’s security landscape, that’s not a safe place for a critical infrastructure service.

The Digital Rebar community has taken the learnings from the Cobbler community.

We’ve built a modern PXE provisioning tool to handle today’s heterogeneous data centers and clouds as well architecting future provisioning needs for the upcoming edge computing rollouts. We believe that our new provisioning utility offers Cobbler users an easy path forward from their existing provisioning to modernize with an active, growing community focused on security, scalability, bare metal, heterogeneous infrastructure, etc.

Here are some key concepts around Digital Rebar that substantially enhance your Cobbler solution:

    • A small stand-alone Golang binary with no external dependencies – this provides operators the flexibility to place the provisioning tool anywhere including a network switch, Raspberry Pi or server as well as processor independence such as ARM or Intel.
    • API first approach based on 12-Factor App methodology – making the API a first-class citizen allows the CLI to be dynamically generated from the API ensuring 100% coverage of API implementations within the CLI
    • Composable content – Digital Rebar is architected with the concept of small, simple modules being assembled quickly to customize a unique and complex solution. This approach permeates of all the “Content” components that create the foundational building blocks for composable provisioning activities.
    • Flexible and Integrated DHCP – automating provisioning requires managing next boot instructions in a way to coordinates with install workflow.  It’s time to stop maintaining MAC tables and spreadsheets.
    • Secure and Auditable – The Digital Rebar API was built with security in mind with key features like limited use and duration tokens.  We’ve also built a comprehensive logging and event system so you can finally bring your provisioning into your operational processes.
    • Easy Migration / Complete Coverage – Built with Cobbler users in mind, the template system for Digital Rebar is intuitive with fixes where Cobbler needed them.  Check out our Cobbler vs Digital Rebar Feature Comparison Table.

We encourage Cobbler users to visit the Digital Rebar community home page and learn more about our technology. You can immediately get started with our technology or visit our YouTube page to see recent demonstrations of Digital Rebar including our Kubernetes deployment demonstration.

More Community Links:

RackN Ends DevOps Gridlock in Data Center [Press Release]

Today we announced the availability of Digital Rebar Provision, the industry’s first cloud-native physical provisioning utility.  We’ve had this in the Digital Rebar community for a few weeks before offering support and response has been great!

DR ProvisionBy releasing their API-driven provisioning tool as a stand-alone component of the larger Digital Rebar suite, RackN helps DevOps teams break automation bottlenecks in their legacy data centers without disrupting current operations. The stand-alone open utility can be deployed in under 5 minutes and fits into any data center design. RackN also announced a $1,000 starter support and consulting package to further accelerate transition from tools like Cobbler, MaaS or Stacki to the new Golang utility.

“We were seeing SREs suffering from high job turnover,” said Rob Hirschfeld, RackN founder and CEO. “When their integration plans get gridlocked by legacy tooling they quickly either lose patience or political capital. Digital Rebar Provision replaces the legacy tools without process disruption so that everyone can find shared wins early in large SRE initiatives.”

The first cloud-native physical provisioning utility

Data center provisioning is surprisingly complex because it’s caught between cutting edge hardware and arcane protocols and firmware requirements that are difficult to disrupt.  The heart of the system is a fickle combination of specific DHCP options, a firmware bootstrap environment (known as PXE), a very lightweight file transfer protocol (TFTP) and operating system specific templating tools like preseed and kickstart.  Getting all these pieces to work together with updated APIs without breaking legacy support has been elusive.

By rethinking physical ops in cloud-native terms, RackN has managed to distill out a powerful provisioning tool for DevOps and SRE minded operators who need robust API/CLI, Day 2 Ops, security and control as primary design requirements. By bootstrapping foundational automation with Digital Rebar Provision, DevOps teams lay a foundation for data center operations that improves collaboration between operators and SRE teams: operators enjoy additional control and reuse and SREs get a doorway into building a fully automated process.

A pragmatic path without burning downing the data center

“I’m excited to see RackN providing a pragmatic path from physical boot to provisioning without having to start over and rebuild my data center to get there.” said Dave McCrory, an early cloud and data gravity innovator.  “It’s time for the industry to stop splitting physical and cloud IT processes because snowflaked, manual processes slow everyone down.  I can’t imagine an easier on-ramp than Digital Rebar Provision”

The RackN Digital Rebar is making it easy for Cobbler, Stacki, MaaS and Forman users to evaluate our RESTful, Golang, Template-based PXE Provisioning utility.  Interested users can evaluate the service in minutes on a laptop or engage with RackN for a more comprehensive trail with expert support.  The open Provision service works both independently and as part of Digital Rebar’s full life-cycle hybrid control.

Scontactee specific features at http://rackn.com/provision/drsa.

Want help starting on this journey?  Contact us and we can help.

April 14 – Weekly Recap of All Things Site Reliability Engineering (SRE)

Welcome to the weekly post of the RackN blog recap of all things SRE. If you have any ideas for this recap or would like to include content please contact us at info@rackn.com or tweet Rob (@zehicle) or RackN (@rackngo). 

SRE Items of the Week

Continuous Discussions (#c9d9) Episode 66: Scaling Agile and DevOps in the Enterprise Watch Rob Hirschfeld in this Electric Cloud Podcast held on 4/11.

On the Continuous Discussions (#c9d9) podcast the discussion was on Scaling Agile and DevOps in the Enterprise.

  • What’s between scaling Agile and scaling DevOps?
  • What are some learnings and patterns for scaling Agile, that can be applied for starting and scaling a DevOps transformation in the enterprise?

Podcast Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uffUoX-O3g8
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Rob Hirschfeld on Containers, Private Clouds, GIFEE, and the Remaining “Underlay Problem”
Rob Hirschfeld Q&A with Gene Kim on ITRevolution

INTRO
Back in October of 2016, I was at OpenStack Conference in Barcelona and ran into a long-time friend, Rob Hirschfeld. He surprised me by talking about a problem domain that we have had discussions about for years, reframing it as “the data center underlay problem.”

His provocative statement was that while OpenStack solves many problems, it didn’t address the fundamental challenges of how to run things like OpenStack on actual physical infrastructure. This is a problem domain that is being radically redefined by the container ecosystem.

This is a problem that Rob has been tirelessly working on for nearly a decade, and it was interesting to get his perspective on the emerging ecosystem, including OpenStack, Kubernetes, Mesos, containers, private clouds in general (which include Azure Stack), etc.  I thought it would be useful to share this with everyone.
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Need PXE? Try out this Cobbler Replacement
Rob Hirschfeld Blog (https://robhirschfeld.com)

INTRO
We wanted to make open basic provisioning API-driven, secure, scalable and fast.  So we carved out the Provision & DHCP services as a stand alone unit from the larger open Digital Rebar project.  While this Golang service lacks orchestration, this complete service is part of Digital Rebar infrastructure and supports the discovery boot process, templating, security and extensive image library (Linux, ESX, Windows, … ) from the main project.

TL;DR: FIVE MINUTES TO REPLACE COBBLER?  YES.

The project APIs and CLIs are complete for all provisioning functions with good Swagger definitions and docs.  After all, it’s third generation capability from the Digital Rebar project.  The integrated UX is still evolving.
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Open Source Collaboration: The Power of No & Interoperability
Christopher Ferris, IBM OpenTech

INTRO
It’s a common misconception that open source collaboration means saying YES to all ideas; however, the reality of successful projects is the opposite.

Permissive open source licenses drive a delicate balance for projects. On one hand, projects that adopt permissive licenses should be accepting of contributions to build community and user base. On the other, maintainers need to adopt a narrow focus to ensure project utility and simplicity. If the project’s maintainers are too permissive, the project bloats and wanders without a clear purpose. If they are too restrictive then the project fails to build community.

It is human nature to say yes to all collaborators, but that can frustrate core developers and users.

For that reason, stronger open source projects have a clear, focused, shared vision.  Historically, that vision was enforced by a benevolent dictator for life (BDFL); however, recent large projects have used a consensus of project elders to make the task more sustainable.  These roles serve a critical need: they say “no” to work that does not align with the project’s mission and vision.  The challenge of defining that vision can be a big one, but without a clear vision, it’s impossible for the community to sustain growth because new contributors can dilute the utility of projects.  [author’s note: This is especially true of celebrity projects like OpenStack or Kubernetes that attract “shared glory” contributors]
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UPCOMING EVENTS
Rob Hirschfeld and Greg Althaus are preparing for a series of upcoming events where they are speaking or just attending. If you are interested in meeting with them at these events please email info@rackn.com.

DockerCon 2017 : April 17 – 20, 2017 in Austin, TX
DevOpsDays Austin : May 4-5, 2017 in Austin TX
OpenStack Summit : May 8 – 11, 2017 in Boston, MA  

  • OpenStack and Kubernetes. Combining the best of both worlds – Kubernetes Day  

Interop ITX : May 15 – 19, 2017 in Las Vegas, NV

Gluecon : May 24 – 25, 2017 in Denver, CO

  • Surviving Day 2 in Open Source Hybrid Automation – May 23, 2017 : Rob Hirschfeld and Greg Althaus

OTHER NEWSLETTERS

SRE Weekly (@SREWeekly)Issue #67

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