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Cloud Orchestration: Automating Deployments Of Full Stack Configurations

Over the past few months we have been working hard to provide more automation capabilities for the Rackspace Cloud. In November we told you about Auto Scale, which allows you to define rules to grow or shrink your cloud. Back in August we told you about Deployments, a Control Panel capability that allows you to deploy common applications with a point-and-click interface and based on our best practices.

A common request we have heard from you that you want a programmatic approach to create and deploy full stack configurations. Today we are releasing the Cloud Orchestration API to help configure and deploy your cloud stack topologies and applications.

WHAT IS CLOUD ORCHESTRATION?

Automating your deployment helps you be more efficient, saves you time that you can use more productively, and helps you reduce the possibility of manually introducing configuration errors. Many of you are familiar with the Nova API. There is really no easier way to programmatically create a single server on the Rackspace Cloud. But what about deploying more complex configurations? What if you need to install software or provision load balancers, servers and databases, and wire them all together?

This new Cloud Orchestration API makes automation easy for you. Cloud Orchestration is a service that allows you to create, update and manage groups of cloud resources and their software components as a single unit and then deploy them in an automated, repeatable fashion via a template.

Before today, you had to worry about separate service API call code to get your application up and running. You also had to worry about the order in which you instantiate and connect cloud resources. With the Cloud Orchestration API, now you can simply declare the resources you want, how you want them configured, and what software to install by simply editing a text file (the configuration template) instead of editing API call code. The Cloud Orchestration service implements automation for you. Configuration updates can be done by simply editing the configuration template and making a single API call to Cloud Orchestration, regardless of how many changes you made (say, adding more nodes to your auto scaling policy or adding a new node to your database tier). Even deleting the entire stack can be done with a single API call.

WHAT IS SUPPORTED?

Cloud Orchestration today supports declaration and configuration of:

  • Cloud Servers
  • Cloud Load Balancers
  • Cloud Databases
  • Cloud Block Storage
  • Cloud DNS
  • Auto Scaling
  • Bash scripts
  • Chef Cookbooks and Berkshelf

We are working on additional features in the open, jointly with other contributors to OpenStack. Here is a list of some future features that are in development here at Rackspace or are in planning within the open community:

  • Support for additional cloud resources, including Cloud Monitoring and object storage through Cloud Files, among others.
  • Automatic error handling and retry logic to ensure you always get exactly what you declare despite underlying system errors.
  • Self-healing, for automatic repair or re-provisioning of new resources when a stack becomes unhealthy or a resource is not performing as expected.
  • Integration with additional software configuration management tools, such as Ansible.
  • Multi-region deployment from within a single API call or template.
  • Catalog functionality to help you deploy Rackspace’s or the community’s best-practice templates.

BENEFITS OF CLOUD ORCHESTRATION

Declarative Syntax and Portability

With Cloud Orchestration, you first specify declaratively the set of cloud resources that needs to be deployed, using the OpenStack Heat Orchestration Template (HOT) format. A declarative template format (as opposed to other imperative approaches) ensures that you don’t have to be concerned with how the provisioning will happen. You just specify what needs to happen. Your declaration is also separated from any input you provide on the how (e.g. scripts and recipes). This principle of Separation of Concerns helps simplify the maintenance of your infrastructure and allows you to more easily port your templates to other OpenStack clouds running the Heat service.

Take a look at the below:

heat_template_version: 2013-05-23

resources:
  compute_instance: 
    type: "OS::Nova::Server"
    properties:
      flavor: 1GB Standard Instance
      image: CentOS 6.4
      name: A very simple stack

That simple example shows how we specify that the deployment requires a 1GB server instance with CentOS 6.4.

More productivity with reusable, repeatable and intelligently ordered resource provisioning

Cloud Orchestration takes care of sequencing the provisioning operations (“orderability”) of your stack. For example, imagine that you have to setup three servers and one load balancer. Cloud Orchestration will ensure that the servers are up and working and the appropriate IP addresses get added to the load balancer before completing the stack. Cloud Orchestration has the intelligence to determine what needs to be provisioned first and in which order each task in the provisioning workflow must be executed. You don’t have to worry about ordering tasks.

Cloud Orchestration templates ensure repeatable deployments. New configurations based on the same template are deployed in exactly the same manner, reducing errors by avoiding potential configuration deltas.

Finally, Cloud Orchestration templates are reusable, nestable, and portable, which can help improve your productivity. You can utilize templates that you have previously created or those created by the community. The rich orchestration capabilities will ensure that you always get a full working stack. Cloud Orchestration templates are also portable across private and public cloud deployments of OpenStack.

HOW ARE HEAT ORCHESTRATION TEMPLATES (HOT) DIFFERENT FROM CHEF AND PUPPET?

Cloud Orchestration is not a replacement for server configuration tools such as Puppet and Chef. They are very complementary. You will continue to use Chef and Puppet to “template-ize” your server software configurations, while Cloud Orchestration and its HOT templates will help you create a full stack that includes all the infrastructure resources required for your stack. Cloud Orchestration allows you to quickly bootstrap your preferred software configuration management solution. With Chef, we have gone several steps further and provided direct support to specify the cookbooks and Berksfile you want deployed.

Heat is the future of automation in our cloud

We are making a big commitment to the OpenStack Heat project here at Rackspace. We have been making great strides with Heat as a community over the past few months. Today, we are making the capabilities of Cloud Orchestration available via API, but we are already working to provide this capability directly in the Control Panel. You will hear from us soon. We will also be integrating the current Deployments feature of the Control Panel into Cloud Orchestration.

Best Practices from Rackspace, backed by Fanatical Support

One of the greatest benefits of helping thousands of customers through our support and DevOps services is that the templates we produce here at Rackspace represent best practices that you can take advantage of. We see each template we produce as the implementation of months and years of experience for a specific application or scenario. You can just “borrow” these templates and customize them for your own purposes. With Cloud Orchestration, you get reliable and repeatable deployments every time.

We have created a GitHub organization at http://github.com/rackspace-orchestration-templates. In there you will find a list of our available orchestration templates. These templates contain tried-and-true application and resource topologies to provide an optimized experience for a particular type of application or infrastructure configuration. While these templates may not be suitable for every use case, they serve as a trusted foundation for many common use cases and are an ideal reference from which you can build a custom template or use as-is. To start, you will find templates for WordPress (Single and Multi-node options), Minecraft server, Ghost, and PHP. We will continue to add new templates regularly. Please check back often. If you would like to see something there that you don’t see today, leave a comment below or in the Cloud Orchestration community post.

Finally, in the Rackspace Orchestration Templates organization in GitHub, you will also find the sample-templates repository, which includes examples that you can use when learning how to write your own templates. These templates may not always capture best-practice application or resource topology configurations, but will serve as a frame of reference on how applications and resources can be constructed and deployed with Cloud Orchestration templates.

WHAT SHOULD I DO NEXT?

Take a look at the Getting Started Guide, the API Reference and the Heat Orchestration Template Authoring Guide. Create your first template and deploy it. It is really easy to create, change and finally delete your stack with a few command line calls. Again, visit the Cloud Orchestration community post and let us know what else you would like to see or just drop a comment below. As usual, don’t forget to let us know what great applications you are building.

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by J.R. Arredondo.

J.R. Arredondo joined Rackspace in February 2012 in the areas of Cloud storage and Cloud databases. J.R. came to Rackspace from Microsoft in the SharePoint and Office product management and engineering groups from 2006 to 2012. Before Microsoft, he was with BMC Software in its Corporate Development and Strategy group driving M&A initiatives in the areas of BSM and Application and Database Performance Management. Prior to BMC he led software engineering and architecture groups for eCommerce at Compaq.


Connect with J.R. on Twitter @jrarredondo or Google+.


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