Monday, August 13, 2012

How Red Hat's Cloud Portfolio Fits Together

As part of Red Hat's announcement of an OpenStack technology preview today, I wrote a blog that provides some additional background. Here, I'm going to delve a bit more deeply into one of the topics that I cover in that blog--namely, how do the different pieces of Red Hat's open hybrid cloud portfolio fit together? I'll be referring to the below diagram throughout this discussion.

From Blog

First, there is the infrastructure layer. This typically [1] consists of a hypervisor, its associated infrastructure management stack, and APIs providing the ability to control that management stack programmatically.

This is where OpenStack plays. OpenStack is an IaaS solution that manages a hypervisor and provides cloud services to users through self-service. (The OpenStack project supports a variety of hypervisors to various degrees; Red Hat is focused on KVM--the hypervisor used by Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization--which is part of Linux and has become pretty much the default open source hypervisor.) Perhaps the easier way to think of OpenStack, however, is that it lets an IT organization stand up a cloud that looks and acts like a cloud at a service provider. That OpenStack is focused on this public cloud-like use case shouldn't be surprising; service provider Rackspace has been an important member of OpenStack and uses code from the project for its own public cloud offering.

This IaaS approach differs from the virtualization management offered by Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, which is more focused on what you can think of as an enterprise use case. In other words, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization supports typical enterprise hardware such as storage area networks and handles common enterprise virtualization feature requirements such as live migration. Both OpenStack and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization may manage hypervisors and offer self-service—among other features—but they're doing so in service of different models of IT architecture and service provisioning.

Alternatively, the self-service infrastructure may be at a public cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services or Rackspace. Ultimately the goal is to make the underlying infrastructure decisions largely transparent to the consumer of the resources, such as a developer. Of course, where the resources are located, how they are managed, and what types of hardware functions they expose make a big different to the ops team. But they're deliberately abstracted from those developing and using applications.

Then there is open, hybrid cloud management of those “cloud providers.” These providers can consist of the various types of infrastructure just described:  on-premise IaaS like OpenStack, public IaaS clouds, and virtualization platforms (not just a hypervisor) like Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization or VMware vSphere. This is where Red Hat CloudForms comes in. CloudForms allows you to build a hybrid cloud that spans those disparate resources. It lets you build a "cloud of clouds" in a sense. 

However, equally important, is that CloudForms provides the lifecycle management of the content and images that will run across the hybrid cloud infrastructure. For example, CloudForms lets you specify content repositories which feed the construction and ongoing management of single- and multi-tier applications through Application Blueprints created by IT administrators. These Application Blueprints also embed policy. When a user chooses an available application environment through the self-service interface, it can only be deployed to a location enabled by policy. For example, development environments may be deployed to a public cloud while production applications may be deployed to an on-premise virtualization platform.

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is delivered by Red Hat OpenShift PaaS. PaaS is perhaps best thought of as an abstraction focused on the typical concerns of developers. Thus, instead of an operating system image-centric view (as an IaaS provides), PaaS is more oriented to a view that revolves around pushing and pulling code into and from repositories;  the operation of the software needed to run that code is largely kept in the background. 

Unlike a PaaS that is limited to a specific provider, OpenShift PaaS can run on top of any appropriately provisioned infrastructure whether in a hosted or on-premise environment. It then provides application multi-tenancy within the operating system images that make up the infrastructure. It does so using a combination of Linux Containers, SELinux for security isolation, and other Linux features. Red Hat's Matt Hicks spoke with me about some of these technologies in an interview a while back (podcast and transcript).

This approach allows organizations to not only choose to develop using the languages and frameworks of their choice but to also select the IT operational model that is most appropriate to their needs. The provisioning and ongoing management of the underlying infrastructure on which OpenShift PaaS runs is where virtualization, IaaS, and cloud management solutions come in. (After all, someone needs to operate the PaaS infrastructure whether it's on-premise or at a cloud provider.)

Nor does Red Hat Cloud end with "cloud products." For example, Red Hat Enterprise Linux--in addition to providing features used by offerings such as OpenShift--also provides a consistent and reliable runtime for applications as they move across different environments such as on-premise and public clouds. Red Hat Storage (from our Gluster acquisition) provides a distributed, scalable, software-only filesystem that will be an important part of data portability across clouds.

Sound complicated? It is a bit, I guess. But when you're talking about such a big change in the way that IT systems are operated and applications are consumed, some complexity is unavoidable. (Which is one reason we're so focused on solutions. But that's a topic for another day and another blog post.)

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[1] In a future version, CloudForms will be able to provision "bare metal" physical servers using Foreman/Puppet components. In this respect, CloudForms includes the ability to build an IaaS. However, for our purposes here, I'm going to focus on how CloudForms builds hybrid cloud resource pools on top of IaaS and virtualization management products and manages the applications running in those pools.

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