March 17, 2015

The Elastic Cloud project - Porting to UCSD

Porting to a new platform

This post shows how we did the porting of the Elastic Cloud project to a different platform.
The initial implementation was done on Cisco IAC (Intelligent Automation for Cloud) orchestrating Openstack, Cisco ACI (Application Centric Infrastructure) and 3 hypervisors.

Later we decided to implement the same use case (deploy a 3 tier application to 3 different hypervisors, using Openstack and ACI) with Cisco UCS Director, aka UCSD.

The objective was to offer another demonstration of flexibility and openness, targeting IT administrators rather than end users like we did in the first project.
You will find a brief description of UCS Director in the following paragraphs: essentially it is not used to abstract complexity, but to allow IT professionals to do their job faster and error-proof.
UCSD is also a key element in a new Cisco end-to-end architecture for cloud computing, named Cisco ONE Enterprise Cloud suite.

The implementation was supported by the Cisco dCloud team, the organization that provides excellent remote demo capabilities on a number of Cisco technologies. They offered me the lab environment to build the new demo and, in turn, the complete demo will be offered publicly as a self service environment on the dCloud platform.

The dCloud demo environment

Cisco dCloud provides Customers, Partners and Cisco Employees with a way to experience Cisco Solutions. From scripted, repeatable demos to fully customizable labs with complete administrative access, Cisco dCloud can work for you. Just login to with your Cisco account and you'll find all the available demo:

Cisco UCS Director

UCSD is a great tool for Data Center automation: it manages servers, network, storage and hypervisors, providing you a consistent view on physical and virtual resources in your DC.

Despite the name (that could associate it to Cisco UCS servers only) it integrates with a multi-vendor heterogeneous infrastructure, offering a single dashboard plus the automation engine (with a library containing 1300+ tasks) and the SDK to create your own adapters if needed.

UCSD offers open API so that you can run its workflows from the UCSD catalog or from a 3rd party tool (a portal, a orchestrator, a custom script).

There is a basic workflow editor, that we used to create the custom process integrating Openstack, ACI and all the hypervisors to implement our use case. We don't consider UCSD a full business level orchestrator because it's not meant to integrate also the BSS (Business Support Systems) in your company, but it does the automation of the DC infrastructure including Cisco and 3rd party technologies pretty well.

Implementing the service in UCS Director

Description of the process

The service consists in the deployment of the famous 3 tier application with a single click.
The first 2 tiers of the application (web and application servers and their networks) are deployed on Openstack. The first version of the demo uses KVM as the target hypervisor for both tiers, next version will replace one of the Openstack compute nodes with Hyper-V.
The 3rd tier (the database and its network) is deployed on ESXi.
On every hypervisor, virtual networks are created first. Then virtual machines are created and attached to the proper network.

To connect the virtual networks in their different virtualized environments we used Cisco ACI, creating policies through the API of the controller.
One End Point Group is created for each of the application tiers, Contracts are created to allow the traffic to flow from one tier to next one (and only there).
If you are not familiar with the ACI policy model, you can see my ACI for Dummies post.

All these operations are executed by a single workflow created in the UCSD automation engine.
We just dropped the tasks from the library to the workflow editor, provided input values for each task (from the output of previous tasks) and connected them in the right sequence drawing arrows.
The resulting workflow executes the same sequence of atomic actions that the administrator would do manually in the GUI, one by one.

The implementation was quite easy because we were porting an identical process created in Cisco IAC: the tool to implement the workflow is different, but the sequence and the content of the tasks is the same.

Integration out-of-the-box

Most of the tasks in our process are provided by the UCSD automation library: all the operations on ACI (through its APIC controller) and on ESXi VM and networks (through vCenter).

When you use these tasks, you can immediately see the effect in the target system.
As an example, this is the outcome of creating a Router in Openstack using UCSD: the two networks are connected in the hypervisor and the APIC plugin in Neutron talks immediately to Cisco ACI, creating the corresponding Contract between the two End Point Groups (please check the Router ID in Openstack and the Contract name in APIC).


Custom tasks

The integration with Openstack required us to build custom tasks, adding them to the library.
We created 15 new tasks, to call the API exposed by the Openstack subsystems: Neutron (to create the networks) and Nova (to create the VM instances).
The new tasks were written in Javascript, tested with the embedded interpreter, then added to the library.

After that, they were available in the automation library among the tasks provided by the product itself.
This is a very powerful demonstration of the flexibility and ease of use of UCSD.

I should add that the custom integration with Openstack was built for fun, and as a demonstration.
To implement the deployment of the tiers of the application to 3 different hypervisors we could use the native integration that UCSD has with KVM, Hyper-V and ESXi (through their managers).
There's no need to use Openstack as a mediation layer, as we did here.

The workflow editor

Here you can drag 'n drop the task, validate the workflow, run the process to test it and see the executed steps (with their log and all their input and output values).

Amount of effort

The main activities in building this demo are two:
- creating the custom tasks to integrate Openstack
- creating the process to automate the sequence of atomic tasks.

The first activity (skills required: Javascript programming and understanding of the Openstack API) took 1 hour per task: a total of 2 days.
Jose, who created the custom tasks, has also published a generic custom task to execute REST API calls from UCSD:
In addition, he suggests a simple method to understand what REST call corresponds to a Openstack CLI command.
If you use the  --debug option in the Openstack CLI you will see that immediately.

As an example, to boot a new instance:
nova --debug boot --image cirros-0.3.1-x86_64-uec --flavor m1.tiny --nic net-id=f85eb42a-251b-4a75-ba90-723f99dbd00f vm002

The second activity (create the process, test it step by step, expose it in the catalog and run it end to end) took 3 sessions of 2 hours each.
This was made easier by the experience we matured during the implementation of the Elastic Cloud Project. We knew already the atomic actions we needed to perform, their sequence and the input/output parameter for each action.
If we had to build everything from scratch, I would add 2-3 days to understand the use case.

Demo available on dCloud

The demo will be published on the Cisco dCloud site soon for your consumption.
There are also a number of demonstrations available already, focused on UCS Director.
You can learn how UCSD manages the Data Center infrastructure, how it drives the APIC controller in the ACI architecture, and how it is leveraged by Cisco IAC when it uses the REST API exposed by UCSD.


A lot of thanks to Simon Richards and Manuel Garcia Sanes from Cisco dCloud, to Russ Whitear from my same team and to Jose Moreno from the Cisco INSBU (Insieme Business Unit).
Great people that focus on Data Center orchestration and many other technologies at Cisco!

You can also find a powerful, yet easy demonstration of how UCSD workflows can be called from a client (a front end portal, another orchestrator...) at Invoking UCS Director Workflows via the Northbound REST API