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Building A Cloud Community

March 20, 2017 - 1 Comment

Six months ago, I inherited a stagnant OpenStack San Diego user group and its dozen orphaned members. I had discovered the benefits of working with OpenStack the previous year when a client asked me to develop a cyber security solution for its OpenStack powered cloud. OpenStack was a breath of fresh air after my experience with closed, proprietary public cloud environments.   I was motivated to ensure other people in the industry know its benefits. To really get people excited about OpenStack, I needed to include hands-on experience; give people some “stick time” using OpenStack. This user group needed an OpenStack cloud for its (no longer) orphaned members.

Unfortunately, San Diego isn’t exactly Silicon Valley. Sponsorship (in the form of cash or hardware) doesn’t flow freely. I had to build this cloud on the cheap, so I turned to eBay. A friend suggested an Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing), a small-form factor with 16 GB, and SSD drive and one Ethernet interface. I installed devstack, set up user accounts, connected to a WiFi router and had my first cloud!

For most members, this was the first time they had ever logged into an OpenStack cloud. Sadly, the Horizon UI quickly started displaying out of resource errors. The little NUC didn’t have the horsepower I needed to support 20 users starting up VMs… so it was back to the drawing board.

I knew what was required to move beyond a single box because I had set up a four node OpenStack cloud using VirtualBox, on a laptop. In order to support 20-30 concurrent users, we required more memory than available in the NUC. I thought I stumbled upon my solution when I found a local company moving into a public cloud that sold me their old computer gear for a song. Excited, a core set of us got together to review the hardware and figure out our next steps. However, to bring this to life required three things we didn’t have: space, power and networking. Once again, the dedicated hardware plan was put aside.

For the next few months, we ran the monthly workshop using some public cloud providers I met at the Barcelona Summit. This time, we had the horsepower, and had solved the space, power and networking issues … but it didn’t give us the flexibility to customize the cloud as needed. We needed the ability to enable different cloud options each month – creating novel workshops. Unfortunately, the public cloud providers don’t run all the latest bells and whistles (which are the very things we want to demonstrate).

To recap, in order the rescue the OpenStack San Diego user group, I needed to build a cloud, but building that cloud with our own hardware was proving impossible. We needed the ability to support 20 users starting up VMs, we needed flexibility so we could demonstrate something new and novel every month, and we needed to do it without he burden of space, power and networking.

Today, we are running our own private cloud on public bare metal hardware which we rebuild before each workshop. Rebuilding allows us to always stay current with the latest OpenStack release.

We’ve run a number of successful workshops this way, including;

  1. a Swift object storage workshop (in conjunction with the San Diego Supercomputing Center)
  2. a software defined networking workshop (in cooperation with Midokura)
  3. an “Internet of Things” workshop, using node-red

This is how it works: A few hours before the workshop, I spin up a dedicated bare metal server from Packet, a bare metal provider, using a Terraform configuration file. This workflow connects to the Packet API spins up a CentOS server, runs a packstack install, downloads some default VM images and sets up the workshop user accounts. Within 30 minutes the brand new OpenStack cloud is up and running. At the conclusion of the evening, at the push of a button, it all gets torn down and the hardware de-allocated.

Our user group has since become healthy and successful. Nor longer stagnant nor orphaned, we continue to find hosts and sponsors with interesting ideas and we have hands-on workshops. We start off with 15 minute overview and then let people get their hands dirty using the provided cloud environment. Best of all, I get to spend time building the workshops rather than fiddling with the hardware.

From here we’ve got a slew of events planned, one a month through the next four months, as well as two presentations at the Boston OpenStack Summit this May, 2017. At the Securing Web Applications with Service Chaining workshop attendees will be using just such an environment to deploy virtual security devices in an OpenStack cloud. And at The Evolution of the User Group: Facilitation OpenStack Adoption panel, with my associates from the Los Angeles and Silicon Valley OpenStack user groups, I’ll be discussing further about how these user group driven clouds can help drive OpenStack further. Hopefully I’ll see you in Boston!

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