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,

Digital Rebar v3.1 Release Annoucement

We’ve made open network provisioning radically simpler.  So simple, you can install in 5 minutes and be provisioning in under 30.  That’s a bold claim, but it’s also an essential deliverable for us to bridge the Ops execution gap in a way that does not disrupt your existing tool chains.

We’ve got a remarkable list of feature additions between Digital Rebar Provision (DRP) v3.0 and v3.1 that take it from basic provision into a powerful distributed infrastructure automation tool.

But first, we need to put v3.1 into a broader perspective: the new features are built from hard learned DevOps lessons.  The v2 combination of integrated provisioning and orchestration meant we needed a lot of overhead like Docker, Compose, PostgreSQL, Consul and RAILS.  That was needed for complex “one-click” cluster builds; however it’s overkill for users of Ansible, Terraform and immutable infrastructure flows.  

The v3 mantra is about starting simple and allowing users to grow automation incrementally.  RackN has been building advanced automation packages and powerful UX management to support that mission.

So what’s in the release?  The v3.0 release focused on getting core Provision infrastructure APIs, process and patterns working as a stand alone service. The v3.1 release targeted major architectural needs to streamline content management, event notification and add out-of-band actions.  

Key v3.1 Features

  • New Mascot and Logo!  We have a cloud native bare metal bear.  DRP fans should ask about stickers and t-shirts. Name coming soon! 
  • Layered Storage System. DRP storage model allows for layered storage tiers to support the content model and a read only base layer. These features allow operators to distribute content in a number of different ways and make field upgrades and multi-site synchronization possible.
  • Content packaging system.  DRP contents API allows operators to manage packages of other models via a single API call.  Content bundles are read-only and versioned so that field upgrades and patches can be distributed.
  • Plug-in system.  DRP allows API extensions and event listeners that are in the same process space as the DRP server.  This enables IPMI extensions and slack notifiers.
  • Stages, Tasks & Jobs.  DRP has a simple work queue system in which tasks are stored and tracked on machines during stages in their boot sequences.  This feature combines server and DRP client actions to create fast, simple and flexible workflows that don’t require agents or SSH access.
  • Websocket API for event subscription.  DRP clients can subscribe to system events using a long term websocket interface.  Subscriptions include filters so that operators can select very narrow notification scopes.
  • Removal of the minimal embedded UI (moving to community hosted UX).   DRP decoupled the user interface from the service API.  This allows features to be added to the UX without having to replace the Service.  This also allows community members to create their own UX.  RackN has agreed to support community users at no cost on a limited version of our commercial UX.

All of these features enable DRP to perform 100% of the hardware provision workflows that our customers need to run a fully autonomous, CI/CD enabled data center.  RackN has been showing examples of Ansible, Kubernetes, and Terraform to Metal integration as a reference implementations.

Getting the physical layer right is critical to closing your infrastructure execution gaps.  DRP v3.1 goes beyond getting it right – it makes it fast, simple and open.  Take a test drive of the open source code or give RackN a call to see our advanced automation demos.

SRE Thinking : Reframing Dev + Ops

Last month, Eric Wright and I were able to complete a discussion the inspired my guest post for CapitalOne “How Platforms and SREs Change the DevOps Contract.” While our conversation ranged widely over the challenges of building and integration of IT processes, the key message is simple: we need to make investments in operations.

This podcast explains why I’ve been using Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) as a proxy for this DevOps inspired rethinking of operations.

I hope you’ll take the time to listen to this deep conversation about very real IT issues. Eric and I are not shy about expressing our opinions, but we’re also anti-shaming. The simple reality is that building infrastructure is hard and we all make difficult choices. My hope is that we can start sharing the fixes and helping each other out.

Podcast Episode 50 – SRE Revisited plus the Challenges of Ops and more with Rob Hirschfeld (@zehicle) 

Do these topics inspire you? Creating data center automation for SREs is our mission at RackN. We believe that well run infrastructure requires building APIs from the ground up and keeping them simple. I hope that you’ll take 5 minutes to try our latest offering, Digital Rebar Provision and join us on the quest drive excellence in operations.

 

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.

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