Is OpenStack still a thing?

You know how much I care about OpenStack and how deep I feel involved in its community. A recent experience in the Netherlands at a premier customer made me think about OpenStack as a whole.

1024px-The_OpenStack_logo.svgAs I said at a conference last year, probably the most involved consultant in Europe, and yet I’ve seen more failures than success. Most failures were due to the lack of expertise in OpenStack and deep knowledge of Linux, protocols and OpenSource in general. I initially thought that the skills I have are quite common and that there’s plenty of people capable of running an infrastructure, but apparently, I was wrong.

Even big brands have usually 1-3 great engineers and the others are on the average. This is not really a bad thing, but you have to have great skills to manage OpenStack and most of the time management can’t rely on a bunch of guys for their business. Many decided either to go to public clouds and some went back to VMWare because skills are easier to find.  To be honest, as an entrepreneur, I can’t blame them.

Public clouds (AWS, Azure, Google, …) are easy to embrace and you don’t have to maintain hardware, storage, network and is very attractive to those customers where IT is not their core business. Public clouds might seem costly at the beginning, but if you look at the real TCO (including labour cost), then you find out is not that much.
And if you are concerned about your privacy, a good VMWare cluster is enough for most of the businesses.

Kubernetes quickly ramped up into developers radar in the last year. It’s “cool” and containers are great ways for developers to distribute their applications. At the end of the day, companies need to run their applications to make money or support their business. How they do it, they don’t really care.

In my humble opinion, Kubernetes is not mature yet, especially in the networking and storage, and still lacking multitenancy. But is slowly getting there. Kubernetes is not that simple to manage, but it’s way less complex than OpenStack … and you don’t depend on MySQL or RabbitMQ to operate (which is a real pain). So what’s the need for OpenStack then?

This is the question I’m asking myself. Probably the number of use cases for OpenStack is quite small now, mostly related to telco operators and NFV.

The only thing that Kubernetes is not capable of is Microsoft Windows app, but Microsoft has shown interest in porting its apps to Linux (see SQL Server for example), not mentioning they are actively contributing to Helm.

While I still love OpenStack, we need to face the evidence that the interest in OpenStack is slowing fading away. However, its legacy has been invaluable to me and the community as well. The “Software-Defined” revolution that OpenStack brought, as well as the mindset around automation is the base for the future steps of IT.

An era has ended: SecurePass shutdown

shutdownGARL announced that SecurePass would have ceased its official activities in August 2017. As of today, I shut down all the virtual machines of SecurePass.

I am a bit sad, but there are choices you have to make and sentiment sometimes is far away from the business.

This definitively marks the end of an era, but a new one is showing up.

Project “simplification” for 2018

shutterstock_64028797-634x0-c-defaultSince the beginning of 2018, I started an “internal” project whose ultimate goal was to simplify my life. 2017 was definitively a stunning year, with a lot of great projects and great results as well. I believe that will be difficult to achieve the same ever again. With great results, however, comes also great sacrifices: it was all about work and there was little space for my own life. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, the proverb says, so I believe I deserve a little relief from the big pressure.

My new year resolution was to simplify my life and have a better work/life balance. This “simple” resolution turned out to be more complex and harder than I thought. Since January, I worked really hard to reduce the number of hassles as much as I can. This is the main reason why you haven’t seen me around and I wasn’t very often involved with social media, events, etc…

At the end of June, I can say I’m on the right track, but a lot has yet to come. Standby for some great announcements 🙂

Alicloud & RedHat Linux 7.4 BYOS


Alibaba Cloud (Alicloud or Aliyun) is a promising Chinese cloud provider that is becoming popular in the Asia-Pacific region. If you want to release services in China and be able to comply with Chinese privacy law, all your data need to stay in China. For this reason, Alicloud can be handy to start your journey in the Asian country.

Most businesses want to have the same certified workloads in China as well, and those are mostly based on RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Alicloud is a RedHat Certified Cloud Provider and offers RHEL images in their marketplace, but these images include a RedHat subscription. What if you have an Enterprise agreement and you want to use a Bring Your Own Subscription (BYOS) method?

Here are some handy tricks to bring RHEL 7.4 BYOS into Alicloud and start serving your customers in China.

Alicloud supports importing images in RAW and VHD format, which help us a lot. If you have an active RedHat subscription, you should download the RHEL 7.4 KVM guest image (see image below). This image is compatible with the Alicloud virtualization system; Alicloud is also compatible with cloud-init to customize the virtual machine at boot time. The direct link to the download page is here:—7/7.4/x86_64/product-software

rhel guest.PNG

The next step would be converting the QCOW2 image into a RAW format. However, the conversion will expand the 500MB QCOW2 image into a 10GB RAW format. Uploading such a big file would be problematic if you do not sit in China and you have to traverse the Great Firewall of China.

As such, we will upload the QCOW2 image into Alicloud  Object Storage Service (OSS) and convert it using a temporary virtual machine in China. Create a bucket through the console and upload the image. Shall you need a GUI to perform the upload, an official GUI client named “OSS Browser” is available here:

I strongly recommend downloading also ossutil64, a CLI based tool for OSS, to be able to upload your image from the temporary Linux instance. The tool is available here:

Create a small Linux instance with the distro of your choice (I recommend CentOS) in your Chinese region (in my case Beijing), but ensure you have sufficient disk space. Once the instance is reachable, login and download the QCOW2 from the bucket using curl and the object URL. Convert it using qemu-img tool:

qcow-img -f qcow2 -O raw rhel-server-7.4-x86_64-kvm.qcow2 rhel-server-7.4-x86_64-kvm.img

Once converted, use the ossutil64 to upload the image to your previously created bucket.

Object Storage Service 1.PNG

If you click on the file, you can get its public URL in the preview. Copy the file URL as we will feed it into the image importer,

Object Storage Service detail.PNG

Go back to the Elastic Compute Service (ECS), select Image on the menu on the left and start the import through the “Import Image” functionality. In the OSS Object Address, insert the URL as copied before. Use Linux as operating system and RedHat as system platform. Mind to specify RAW as image format.

import image1.PNG

import image 2.PNG

The Alicloud image service will (slowly) import the image. If everything is successful, you should see an image similar to the one below:


You can start a virtual machine with your newly created image and register your RedHat subscription with subscription-manager 🙂

Outside of “The Net”


I’d wish to share with you something that recently happened to a friend of mine couple of days ago. He runs a small cloud provider and acts as an outsourcer for his selected customers. A very big firm in his country decided to move his brand-new website to one of his datacenters.

He runs two datacenters for disaster-recovery and business continuity.  Each one of the datacenters has its own provider independent IPs, different ASNs and different upstream providers.

What happened is that, once he moved the new website, Google has delisted the website from its search engine.  Absolutely no evidence of this company when searching excepts for its famous products on the Amazon marketplace. No need to say that the marketing of the customer and the developers were blaming my friend.

After an initial investigation, Google failed to retrieve the robots.txt file that is needed to index the website, so it decided to delist its website. Funny enough, other search engines (es: Bing and Qwant) were able to retrieve the same file. On access logs and tcpdump, no sign of the Google crawler.

During a test, he was able to “restore” the situation by moving the complex website with its e-commerce platform to the other datacenter. A deeper investigation revealed that -for some unknown reasons- Google seemed to have blocked the ASN IPs, while other search engines and the rest of the world was able to access the website. While contacting the Google NOC, they said that Google search engine and webmaster tools are unsupported,  so basically my friend was on his own. For the unknown reason, after a couple of weeks, the ASN IP of the datacenter were reachable again.

This reminds me of my previous posts in which I told about how the Internet has been designed to be as much as possible independent from a central point, while the information is now more and more centralized to few companies.  Of course, there is no malicious willing from Google to block my friends IPs, but it turned out that one of these companies have the potential power to decide if you can run your business or not.

The same thing could potentially happen to a public cloud provider: what if Amazon decides to shut down your machines (and it has the right to do so!)?

I’m not against any cloud provider and we need to thank AWS and Azure for bringing such an inspiring innovation to the world of IT. But, as I stated in previous posts, we need to be ready to bring back our business on-premise if forced to do so.

Just a couple of hints:

  1. Create your local micro-cloud on-premise, say with OpenStack and Kubernetes, so that you can start and scale up quickly
  2. Use open data and open standards and avoid any layered product that is offered by the cloud provider, it will lock you in.
  3. Automate deployments as much as you can, so that is reproducible and can be run on-premise

The idea I’m currently advocating is to apply the Raiffeisen model to IT to foster a complementary alternative to public clouds and big outsourcers so that heterogeneous enterprises in a local territory can team up to create a small micro-cloud and save.

Mia moglie vuole lo scontrino: una analisi dell’adozione cloud in Europa

I miei personali obiettivi del 2018 sono la semplificazione e la riduzione del “disagio” quotidiano. Una  e’ il proliferare di scontrini che si moltiplicano come i gremlins: la “collezione” di scontrini ormai a casa rasentava un livello inaccettabile.

Qualche giorno fa ho installato a mia moglie l’applicazione di un famoso supermercato, visto che offe la possibiimg_20130228_131815.jpglità di avere degli scontrini virtuali. All’atto della spesa, il supermercato in questione ti crea immediatamente un PDF, che e’ consultabile sia tramite app che tramite sito Internet.

Anche se l’applicazione e’ molto semplice da usare, dopo qualche spesa fatta in autonomia, mia moglie si e’ arrabbiata: “come si usa questo coso” e “non posso vedere quanti punti ho e se hanno sbagliato”, ha detto. Anche se bastava semplicemente guardare sull’applicazione, praticamente mi ha costretto a disabilitare la funzionalità dello scontrino virtuale: l’abitudine dello scontrino fisico ha vinto.

Vi chiederete: bella storia, ma cosa c’entra con il cloud?

Beh, e’ che nelle mie molteplici consulenze, con alcuni tipi di clienti alcune abitudini di avere “qualcosa di fisico” non muore.

Nel 2017 ho fatto un grande lavoro -insieme al mio team- per portare una piccola banca di affari di Londra totalmente su Amazon Web Services. Non avendo personale IT interno, ma soltanto persone che si occupavano del supporto desktop, l’idea che avevo avuto era di eliminare qualsiasi hardware on-site che non fosse strettamente necessario a far funzionare i desktop stessi. Se qualcosa si rompe, qualcuno deve metterla a posto, no? Se non c’e’ nessuno, chi sostituisce (ad esempio) un disco????

In realtà il management era molto favorevole a non avere “rogne” di gestione, quindi passata la “forca” del legal & compliance, abbiamo proceduto lentamente alla migrazione, facendo attenzione che non si “rompesse nulla”.

Server-relocation1Ora, a distanza di poco piu’ di un anno e completata la migrazione, il cliente ha chiesto di tornare indietro. Non per problemi tecnici, ne’ per problemi di performance. Con una linea veloce e ridondata, e a pochi hop da AWS, la sensazione era come essere leggermente piu’ lenti dei server locali.

Quindi qual’e’ il problema?? La paura di non avere piu’ i dati “nello sgabuzzino” e di perdere il controllo ha innescato un meccanismo psicologico al CEO che lo ha portato a prendere la decisione di tornare indietro, pur con un TCO più elevato e con la gesione dei possibili fault. Vorrei farvi notare che sto parlando di una banca della city di Londra, non dell’officina di “Zio Tonino”.

Cosa mi ha insegnato questa storia?

Mi ha insegnato che la tecnologia ci da a disposizione una infinita’ di strumenti e di possibilità, ma alcune mentalità sono veramente difficili da sradicare.

Piu’ vado da clienti in Europa e piu’ sto assistendo ad un vero e proprio paradosso. Con l’avvento di fibra e link radio ad alta velocità, le PMI Europee che maggiormente trarrebbero vantaggi dall’uso del cloud, sono quelle che sono piu’ restie al cambiamento. Al contrario, le grosse aziende che potrebbero fare economia di scala con l’adozione di un private cloud, oltre ad avere maggior controllo sulla sicurezza del dato, si rivolgono invece al public cloud (AWS, Azure, Google Compute Engine) perche’ cosi’ hanno “meno rogne” nella gestione del ciclo di vita dell’hardware e nei processi interni.

Cosa possiamo fare noi consulenti quindi?

La mia esperienza come entusiasta su Linux mi ha insegnato che le guerre di religione non servono a niente, ed -in fondo- e’ il cliente che paga. Il nostro ruolo e’ quindi quello di consigliare al meglio il cliente a seconda di quello che vuole fare.

Mentre aspettiamo che alcune tecnologie vengano “digerite” meglio, ho visto che una strategia vincente per chi vuole l’hardware on-premise e’ quello di offrire i servizi cloud sia per la parte di front-end web (ragioni di immagine), ma soprattutto quella di offrire la possibilità di avere un disaster recovery veloce, rapido e a basso costo.

Dall’altra parte, invece, possiamo proporre a chi ha tutto in cloud, la possibilità di creare un micro-ambiente interno su cui poggiare l’infrastruttura, ad esempio con un private cloud basato su OpenStack con soli 3 nodi, un object storage per il backup o un sistema Kubernetes/Docker, tenendosi pronti a “scalare” con automatismi quando “in emergenza” dovremmo accendere i sistemi in casa.