Platform9 Blog

How Platform9 Uses OpenStack Ironic to Manage Bare Metal as a Service

OpenStack Ironic allows users to manage bare metal infrastructure like they would virtual machines- essentially enabling bare metal as a service.

The OpenStack Foundation recently announced that Ironic is powering millions of cores of compute all over the world, turning bare metal into automated infrastructure ready for today’s mix of virtualized and containerized workloads. Platform9 was chosen as part of 30 organizations to join the OpenStack Foundation for the initial launch of the OpenStack Ironic Bare Metal Program.

Platform9 has been using Ironic for more than two years: both for our infrastructure, powering our SaaS-managed hybrid cloud service, as well as for some of our customers who require certain OpenStack or containerized workloads to run on bare metal, bypassing the hypervisor.

In a recent interview for Superuser, I shared why Platform9  adopted Ironic and some of the benefits we’ve seen. Check out the interview, below.


Q: Why did you select OpenStack Ironic for your bare metal provisioning in your product?

Internally within Platform9, our test teams need to provision and deploy our software for validation on a variety of hardware targets such as different hardware manufacturers (HPE, Dell etc), processor types (AMD, Intel), GPU resources (Nvidia), storage types (Optane), or special resources (SR-IOV, DPDK, etc.) This was a very manual and time-consuming process slowing down our software release velocity and impacting release schedules. We selected OpenStack Ironic to address our need to speed up our hardware testing process and deliver our services faster to our end customers.

Q: What was your solution before implementing Ironic?

Without Ironic, the whole process from racking and stacking a server to the time users get access to it would take weeks. Because of this, different teams would assume “ownership” over these resources. If another team needed those resources with a different configuration, it would again take a lot of manual networking configuration, provisioning and deployment to spin up the environment. Therefore, teams would often be reluctant to share those resources even if they were not being utilized fully.  This led to a lot of under-utilization and increased costs as different teams would either procure their own resources or wait around until the resource is released by another team.

With Ironic, on the other hand, the variety of hardware resources can be pooled together and when users need a specific type of bare metal resource such as a HP box with AMD processor, they can simply request that flavor that was discovered and provisioned by Ironic already and be able to instantly deploy their workloads on that server in a self-service manner. Internally, Platform9 tried to solve this problem with Cobbler and a lot of homegrown automation. This approach required a lot of time, effort and maintenance of the automation code which could have been better utilized on improving and adding value to our product.  Using Ironic simplified and streamlined the bare metal provisioning and automation of our testing environment.

Q: What benefits does Ironic provide your users?

The biggest benefit is time savings, without a doubt.  With Ironic, the time to provision bare metal servers is orders of magnitude faster, going from weeks or months it used to take previously with manual methods to just under 20 minutes.  The effect this has on our testing times and consequently on improving our software quality and release timelines is revolutionary. In our customer environments, a whole manual ticketing process that starts from racking and stacking, switch configuration, network configuration, server provisioning to Operation System deployment is all completely automated and replaced by a simple single-click self-service experience.

From an administration standpoint, Ironic also significantly reduces management overhead by providing a centralized operational console with complete visibility of all the resources in terms of their location (racks etc.) and their specific configurations (CPU, RAM, storage and special hardware such as GPU).  As a result, maintenance and updates also become fast and easy.  Another big benefit is repeatability, i.e. the ability to provision a bare metal server with exactly the same images and configuration, thus making it possible to treat them as “cattle” and the ability to swap them out without impacting availability or reliability in production.

And finally, as with other OpenStack projects, Ironic supports the notion of plugins so you can use any switch from Juniper, Cisco, Arista allowing the network automation (like virtual LAN configuration, for example) to be agnostic to whatever switches are being used.  This is extremely important from our product perspective as it allows us to easily integrate in various customer networking environments.

Q: What feedback do you have for the upstream OpenStack Ironic team?

More documentation! There are a lot of areas in the product that feel lightly documented. Specifically which versions certain features are in. The Ironic Inspector rules and modules were fun to kind of reverse engineer to figure out.

Check out a hands-on demo:

 

Learn more

Learn more about what makes OpenStack Ironic different and check out the short video here.

See the documentation in the project Wiki.

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