Tuesday Jun 16, 2009

Paris in the Clouds: A CloudCamp Paris report

CloudCamp logoLast week, Eric Bezille invited me to Paris for a couple of Cloud Computing related meetings and to help out with CloudCamp Paris. Paris in the clouds, what a nice experience!

This was also a great opportunity to try out the audio recording features of my LiveScribe Pulse pen. This pen not only can record what you write (on special dot paper), it can also record what has been said while you write, creating links between the words you write and the points in time of the audio recording. Very cool. You can then tap on the words in your notebook and the pen will play back the associated audio. Great for conferences, and I wish I had had this pen during my university times :). You can also export your notes including the audio as a flash movie and share them on the net, which is what I'm going to do below.

Intro Session and Lightning Talks

The CloudCamp was kicked off by a representative of Institut Telecom, the location sponsor of CloudCamp Paris. Sam Johnston gave a short and sweet introduction to Clouds, providing some definitions, examples and also some contrarian views, finishing with a short video on how easy it is to set up your account in the cloud.

A series of lightning talks by the sponsors gave us some interesting news, insights and context for the conference:

  • Eric Bezille from Sun showed us what's behind Sun's cloud activities.
  • Arvid Fossen from Aserver.com talked about how they provide datacenters as a service to their clients. Wanna have your own cloud? Go buy it as a turnkey solution!
  • Matthew Hugo (Not sure if I got that name right...) from Runmyprocess.com showed some nice examples of integration between different cloud services.
  • Josh Fraser, VP of Business Development at Rightscale showed some impressive examples of how the cloud can neatly adjust to your business demand curve.
  • Peter Martin from Orange Business Services showed us some pictures of his kids who use clouds based services today (Facebook anyone?), pointing out that when they'll grow up to be CEOs, CIOs and decision makers, they're most likely not going to operate their own datacenters. Food for thought for the sceptics who think Cloud Computing is just a temporary hype or not ready (yet) for prime time: Just wait 'til your kids grow up. It may happen sooner than that, though, given the enthusiasm of the more than 100 people in the room...
  • Finally, Owen Garrett from Zeus provided a really good reason for using a software load balancer: Take back control of your application!

Here are two pencasts with audio and notes taken during the above lightning talks. The first one covers the intro until and including the Rightscale talk, the second one starts with the Orange talk and finishes with the Zeus talk.

The Unpanel

I've been to a couple of unconferences before, but this was my first unpanel. Dave Nielsen asked the attendees about who thought they were an expert on Cloud Computing. A couple of hands went up and whoosh - there you have seven experts for a panel :). Then he asked the group to provide seven questions for the panel to answer, after which each of the panelists got to answer one. For each question, the group was asked whether there was potential for some more discussion on that topic, so we also had a good basis for creating some spontaneous sessions during the conference part. Listen to the whole unpanel session on the right.

Cloud Architecture Session

After the introductory sessions and the unpanel, it was time for the breakouts. There were four of them: Cloud Security (moderated by Luc Wijns from Sun), Cloud Architecture, Open Clouds and Cloud Business Opportunities. Sébastien Pahl from DotCloud and I moderated the Cloud Architecture session. After some introductory slides, Sébastien explained his work on creting portable cloud-based services (including leverating Solaris Containers). (Sébastien, let me know when you have your slides online...). We then let the group share their questions, answeres, thoughts and discussion points. We talked about scaling MySQL in the cloud, or perhaps it would be better to leave the traditional relational model and use a simple key/value alternatives such as CouchDB. Developers asked whether they'll be able to use their IDEs with the cloud (hint: Check out NetBeans...) or whether they need to throw it all away and learn everything from scratch. How much should developers care about scalability? Isn't that something the cloud should provide? What about different APIs? Does it make sense to write your own abstraction layer? Message queues were also a popular topic and we noticed that RESTful interfaces are everywhere. I liked the final statement of one attendee most: Maybe clouds are forcing us to rethink a lot of our developer concepts so we can actually sit down and start writing clean code for a change!

Here's the audio recording from the architecture session. I tried to write down some notes after they have been discussed so you can try and skip to the pieces you're most interested in. The audio is a bit low volume, but still quite intelligible.

Wrapping It All Up

After the breakouts, a surprisingly large number of attendees were still there despite being late into the evening to gather and listen to the summaries of the different sessions. Here's the recording, including some notes to help you navigate.

All in all, this was a great event. A big thank you to Eric and his team in Paris and the sponsors for setting this up! More than ever, it became clear to me how significant the trend towards cloud computing is and how many talented people are part of this community, driving the future of IT into the sky.

Update: Eric now published his own summary with a lot of background information. It's a great read, so check it out!

Friday May 16, 2008

Detlef Drewanz on Virtualization in the POFACS Podcast

Detlef DrewanzIf you understand german, are interested in virtualization and listen to podcasts, don't miss the current episode of the POFACS podcast.

POFACS, the podcast for alternative computer systems is a german podcast that coveres everything non-mainstream in computing. From people running their business on a Commodore 64 to the state of the art Amiga OS to office packages that fit on a floppy disk or one of the many Linux variants.

There have been a few episodes covering Solaris related technologies, such as ZFS and Project Indiana. Today adds an interview with my colleague Detlef from Berlin about virtualization.

Actually, whenever I listen to one of the POFACS episodes about some crazy new operating system that's being developed somewhere, I've always liked to try it out and see how it is. The perfect way to do that of course is to use virtualization, so you don't have to re-install your machine again. Well, that's where Sun's VirtualBox comes in: It comes with a great range of supported operating systems so there's a good chance it will run even the strangest alternative OS just fine.

But now, let me download Detlef's interview myself and listen to is. Enjoy!

Tuesday Feb 19, 2008

VirtualBox and ZFS: The Perfect Team

I've never installed Windows in my whole life. My computer history includes systems like the Dragon 32, the Commodore 128, then the Amiga, Apple PowerBook (68k and PPC) etc. plus the occasional Sun system at work. Even the laptop my company provided me with only runs Solaris Nevada, nothing else. Today, this has changed. 

A while ago, Sun announced the acquisition of Innotek, the makers of the open-source virtualization software VirtualBox. After having played a bit with it for a while, I'm convinced that this is one of the coolest innovations I've seen in a long time. And I'm proud to see that this is another innovative german company that joins the Sun family, Welcome Innotek!

Here's why this is so cool.

Windows XP running on VirtualBox on Solaris Nevada

After having upgraded my laptop to Nevada build 82, I had VirtualBox up and running in a matter of minutes. OpenSolaris Developer Preview 2 (Project Indiana) runs fine on VirtualBox, so does any recent Linux (I tried Ubuntu). But Windows just makes for a much cooler VirtualBox demo, so I did it:

After 36 years of Windows freedom, I ended up installing it on my laptop, albeit on top of VirtualBox. Safer XP if you will. To the top, you see my VirtualBox running Windows XP in all its Tele-Tubby-ish glory.

As you can see, this is a plain vanilla install, I just took the liberty of installing a virus scanner on top. Well, you never know...

So far, so good. Now let's do something others can't. First of all, this virtual machine uses a .vdi disk image to provide hard disk space to Windows XP. On my system, the disk image sits on top of a ZFS filesystem:

# zfs list -r poolchen/export/vm/winxp
NAME                                                          USED  AVAIL  REFER  MOUNTPOINT
poolchen/export/vm/winxp                                     1.22G  37.0G    20K  /export/vm/winxp
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0                              1.22G  37.0G  1.05G  /export/vm/winxp/winxp0
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0@200802190836_WinXPInstalled   173M      -   909M  -
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0@200802192038_VirusFree           0      -  1.05G  -

Cool thing #1: You can do snapshots. In fact I have two snapshots here. The first is from this morning, right after the Windows XP installer went through, the second has been created just now, after installing the virus scanner. Yes, there has been some time between the two snapshots, with lots of testing, day job and the occasional rollback. But hey, that's why snapshots exist in the first place.

Cool thing #2: This is a compressed filesystem:

# zfs get all poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0
NAME                             PROPERTY         VALUE                    SOURCE
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0  type             filesystem               -
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0  creation         Mon Feb 18 21:31 2008    -
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0  used             1.22G                    -
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0  available        37.0G                    -
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0  referenced       1.05G                    -
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0  compressratio    1.53x                    -
...
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0  compression      on                       inherited from poolchen

ZFS has already saved me more than half a gigabyte of precious storage capacity already! 

Next, we'll try out Cool thing #3: Clones. Let's clone the virus free snapshot and try to create a second instance of Win XP from it:

# zfs clone poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0@200802192038_VirusFree poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp1
# ls -al /export/vm/winxp
total 12
drwxr-xr-x   5 constant staff          4 Feb 19 20:42 .
drwxr-xr-x   6 constant staff          5 Feb 19 08:44 ..
drwxr-xr-x   3 constant staff          3 Feb 19 18:47 winxp0
drwxr-xr-x   3 constant staff          3 Feb 19 18:47 winxp1
dr-xr-xr-x   3 root     root           3 Feb 19 08:39 .zfs
# mv /export/vm/winxp/winxp1/WindowsXP_0.vdi /export/vm/winxp/winxp1/WindowsXP_1.vdi

The clone has inherited the mountpoint from the upper level ZFS filesystem (the winxp one) and so we have everything set up for VirtualBox to create a second Win XP instance from. I just renamed the new container file for clarity. But hey, what's this?

VirtualBox Error Message 

Damn! VirtualBox didn't fall for my sneaky little clone trick. Hmm, where is this UUID stored in the first place?

# od -A d -x WindowsXP_1.vdi | more
0000000 3c3c 203c 6e69 6f6e 6574 206b 6956 7472
0000016 6175 426c 786f 4420 7369 206b 6d49 6761
0000032 2065 3e3e 0a3e 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
0000048 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
0000064 107f beda 0001 0001 0190 0000 0001 0000
0000080 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
\*
0000336 0000 0000 0200 0000 f200 0000 0000 0000
0000352 0000 0000 0000 0000 0200 0000 0000 0000
0000368 0000 c000 0003 0000 0000 0010 0000 0000
0000384 3c00 0000 0628 0000 06c5 fa07 0248 4eb6
0000400 b2d3 5c84 0e3a 8d1c
8225 aae4 76b5 44f5
0000416 aa8f 6796 283f db93 0000 0000 0000 0000
0000432 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
0000448 0000 0000 0000 0000 0400 0000 00ff 0000
0000464 003f 0000 0200 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
0000480 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
\*
0000512 0000 0000 ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff
0000528 ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff
\*
0012544 0001 0000 0002 0000 0003 0000 0004 0000

Ahh, it seems to be stored at byte 392, with varying degrees of byte and word-swapping. Some further research reveals that you better leave the first part of the UUID alone (I spare you the details...), instead, the last 6 bytes: 845c3a0e1c8d, sitting at byte 402-407 look like a great candidate for an arbitrary serial number. Let's try changing them (This is a hack for demo purposes only. Don't do this in production, please):

# dd if=/dev/random of=WindowsXP_1.vdi bs=1 count=6 seek=402 conv=notrunc
6+0 records in
6+0 records out
# od -A d -x WindowsXP_1.vdi | more
0000000 3c3c 203c 6e69 6f6e 6574 206b 6956 7472
0000016 6175 426c 786f 4420 7369 206b 6d49 6761
0000032 2065 3e3e 0a3e 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
0000048 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
0000064 107f beda 0001 0001 0190 0000 0001 0000
0000080 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
\*
0000336 0000 0000 0200 0000 f200 0000 0000 0000
0000352 0000 0000 0000 0000 0200 0000 0000 0000
0000368 0000 c000 0003 0000 0000 0010 0000 0000
0000384 3c00 0000 0628 0000 06c5 fa07 0248 4eb6
0000400 b2d3 2666 6fbb c1ca 8225 aae4 76b5 44f5
0000416 aa8f 6796 283f db93 0000 0000 0000 0000
0000432 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
0000448 0000 0000 0000 0000 0400 0000 00ff 0000
0000464 003f 0000 0200 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
0000480 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000
\*
0000512 0000 0000 ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff
0000528 ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff
\*
0012544 0001 0000 0002 0000 0003 0000 0004 0000

Who needs a hex editor if you have good old friends od and dd on board? The trick is in the "conv=notruc" part. It tells dd to leave the rest of the file as is and not truncate it after doing it's patching job. Let's see if it works:

VirtualBox with two Windows VMs, one ZFS-cloned from the other.

Heureka, it works! Notice that the second instance is running with the freshly patched harddisk image as shown in the window above.

Windows XP booted without any problem from the ZFS-cloned disk image. There was just the occasional popup message from Windows saying that it found a new harddisk (well observed, buddy!).

Thanks to ZFS clones we can now create new virtual machine clones in just seconds without having to wait a long time for disk images to be copied. Great stuff. Now let's do what everybody should be doing to Windows once a virus scanner is installed: Install Firefox:

Clones WinXP instance, running FireFox

I must say that the performance of VirtualBox is stunning. It sure feels like the real thing, you just need to make sure to have enough memory in your real computer to support both OSes at once, otherwise you'll run into swapping hell...

BTW: You can also use ZFS volumes (called ZVOLs) to provide storage space to virtual machines. You can snapshot and clone them just like regular file systems, plus you can export them as iSCSI devices, giving you the flexibility of a SAN for all your virtualized storage needs. The reason I chose files over ZVOLs was just so I can swap pre-installed disk images with colleagues. On second thought, you can dump/restore ZVOL snapshots with zfs send/receive just as easily...

Anyway, let's see how we're doing storage-wise:

# zfs list -rt filesystem poolchen/export/vm/winxp
NAME                              USED  AVAIL  REFER  MOUNTPOINT
poolchen/export/vm/winxp         1.36G  36.9G    21K  /export/vm/winxp
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp0  1.22G  36.9G  1.05G  /export/vm/winxp/winxp0
poolchen/export/vm/winxp/winxp1   138M  36.9G  1.06G  /export/vm/winxp/winxp1

Watch the "USED" column for the winxp1 clone. That's right: Our second instance of Windows XP only cost us a meager 138 MB on top of the first instance's 1.22 GB! Both filesystems (and their .vdi containers with Windows XP installed) represent roughly a Gigabyte of storage each (the REFER column), but the actual physical space our clone consumes is just 138MB.

Cool thing #4: ZFS clones save even more space, big time!

How does this work? Well, when ZFS creates a snapshot, it only creates a new reference to the existing on-disk tree-like block structure, indicating where the entry point for the snapshot is. If the live filesystem changes, only the changed blocks need to be written to disk, the unchanged ones remain the same and are used for both the live filesystem and the snapshot.

A clone is a snapshot that has been marked writable. Again, only the changed (or new) blocks consume additional disk space (in this case Firefox and some WinXP temporary data), everything that is unchanged (in this case nearly all of the WinXP installation) is shared between the clone and the original filesystem. This is de-duplication done right: Don't create redundant data in the first place!

That was only one example of the tremenduous benefits Solaris can bring to the virtualization game. Imagine the power of ZFS, FMA, DTrace, Crossbow and whatnot for providing the best infrastructure possible to your virtualized guest operating systems, be they Windows, Linux, or Solaris. It works in the SPARC world (through LDOMs), and in the x86/x64 world through xVM server (based on the work of the Xen community) and now joined by VirtualBox. Oh, and it's free and open source, too.

So with all that: Happy virtualizing, everyone. Especially to everybody near Stuttgart.

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