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Don MacVittie

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In Control… At Every Layer

The idea of DevOps is appealing, particularly in highly complex environments. There are just so many places where a system can go wrong, let alone a complex interconnected multi-machine system like a cluster or a cloud hosting environment. As systems have become progressively more complex, there have been improvements in deployment, monitoring, and management capabilities to address those changes in complexity.

I hear frequently from current and future customers that what is appealing about StackIQ is the idea that they could take deployment, monitoring, and management, and roll them into easy to use bundles, while still maintaining adaptability. This struck me as a powerful proposition.

Only a month into the job as an evangelist of the product, I thought I’d share some insight with you on how it is done, and why it is done that way. There will be more detail in the future, we’ll just start out with an overview of the power and flexibility StackIQ brings to bear.

Note, for this blog, I will be ignoring some standard ways of expressing things here at StackIQ to focus on an explanation that does not require knowledge of the StackIQ nomenclature. Of course I want to get you thinking about our product, but also, I want to spur some ideas about better ways of doing things, and that is best done in a more generic manner. Since I am a StackIQ employee though, where we have a brand name, I will use it.

The first thing that is unique about StackIQ is the depth of installation capability. From bare metal (or bare virtual metal) to functional system in just a few minutes. Functional system can be a RedHat derivative Linux box, or a full on Ambari server, or even a full on Foreman server. That is everything, there is no prompting of the user done at any point in the install.

The way that StackIQ gets from bare metal to full-on server is both simple and complex. Out of the box, the OpenStack manager disk can install StackIQ Boss (our base product), and Boss can manage an OpenStack installation. The same is true for the Big Data disk, and there are other possibilities – HPC, other flavors of big data that require additional software, and core Linux machines.

First, let me introduce what those “easy to use bundles” I mentioned above are. Imagine if you could make a tarball that held the ISO, the RPMs, all the necessary configuration information for both OS and packages, some custom software, a few scripts (even Puppet scripts, if your organization uses them), and a manifest that tells the system what order to perform each of the steps. That is what StackIQ Pallets are. They’re a complete definition of how a machine needs to work. From RAID and specialized NIC configuration before install to final configuration of the application being installed. It knows everything that is not variable, and StackIQ has a mechanism to feed it those parts (like IP address and hostname) that vary from machine to machine.


Now imagine if you had a team of trained techies who knew how to install everything perfectly, and you had one per server, and they could all start at the same time. StackIQ does. The Pallet is a set of instructions to perfectly install a server, and our Avalanche-based installer (a distribution network using modified BitTorrent) allows Pallets to be installed simultaneously on as many servers as you need. I believe the record for simultaneous installs with StackIQ to date is 2000.

And finally, what if all of those installers were knowledgeable in the bevy of tools used in your organization every day. Whether you’re running Puppet or Satellite Server StackIQ knows how to use them to make installs conform to corporate standards. Again, this is what StackIQ does. Sometimes – as in the case with Ambari or Foreman – our Pallet sets up the infrastructure to fulfill all of the prerequisites. Sometimes – like a core Linux installation – our Pallet knows all it needs without handing off to an application layer and guarantees a finished configuration and installation of the entire application stack. Either way, the time to get the systems configured is a fraction of what it would take by hand – or even with popular scripting tools.

Similarly, for Puppet, the system installs the necessary parts, but they can be disabled, enabling the StackIQ Boss to play the role of a puppet server through a single command line statement. Enabling all of the machines defined as “compute” nodes to use Puppet agents is also simple – because they’re already configured with the agents, the functionality just has to be turned on if you need it. The point is, the tools (and beyond built-in support, anything that can be called or configured from a Linux command line) can be used, there is no need for a complete change in procedures. If a scripting language works for you, or a bare metal installer, you can continue to use it, while getting the benefits of StackIQ Boss’ total application stack management.

And, we’ve only just highlighted the install process. What if all these people were available every time you upgraded, patched, or modified your complex systems? Because StackIQ Boss knows what you’ve already installed and how it’s configured, changing these things is relatively easy, and just involves utilizing tools provided to update the Pallets that require changes.


But, it doesn’t stop with installation and upgrades. There’s more! Those machines are monitored 24×7. The infrastructure your mission critical apps are running on is watched like a hawk. Need to understand disk usage on a given partition of a given machine somewhere in the datacenter? Log in to Boss and check it. The overall performance of your cluster is there, and you can drill down to the memory/cpu/disk usage to see what individual machines are doing. Along with such automated reporting is a performance test that will tell you how each machine under management is performing. Since the report comes out as a scatter graph, it is relatively easy to find the outlying machines (performance-wise), and discover what is different about them – so you can troubleshoot why there are low performance outliers, or replicate high performance outliers.

At every step of the lifecycle, and every layer of the application infrastructure, it’s like having a team of experts at your beck and call. StackIQ Boss’ many hooks into tools that do one job very well obviates costly and frustrating forklift changes, and removes the steep learning curve that’s often a less talked about but significant burden for “the new way to do things”.

This is what Warehouse Grade Automation is all about. Full-stack, Full-lifecycle automation of the infrastructure while drawing on the investments IT has already made.

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More Stories By Don MacVittie

Don MacVittie is founder of Ingrained Technology, A technical advocacy and software development consultancy. He has experience in application development, architecture, infrastructure, technical writing,DevOps, and IT management. MacVittie holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Northern Michigan University, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.