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Dell puffs up OpenStack clouds

Rackspace providing backstop support

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Dell has announced an OpenStack-based suite of hardware, software, and services as the core of its new cloud-in-a-box strategy, and released a software tool, appropriately called Crowbar, to help its customers pry their way into their cloudy futures.

Dell was once enamored with Canonical's Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud for helping its customers build their own cloudy infrastructure on its PowerEdge-C dense and low-powered servers. UEC is based on the Eucalyptus cloud controller, but will be shifted to OpenStack at some point in the future. And predictably, Dell now has a crush on OpenStack, too. But this time, it isn't counting on Canonical.

OpenStack is a completely open source cloud fabric that includes the Nova compute cloud from NASA and the Swift storage cloud from Rackspace Hosting. The two organizations launched OpenStack a year ago as an alternative to Eucalyptus for a number of reasons, but mainly they wanted to start a completely open source project.

Eucalyptus Systems has a core product that is open source, but keeps some of the features closed source so it can make money off Eucalyptus. The OpenStack goals were to get lots of people contributing to the project, and to offer more scalability than Eucalyptus could deliver – the design goal for OpenStack is to span 1 million hosts and 60 million virtual machines.

NASA is not interested in making money on OpenStack, but Rackspace certainly is – both directly by using the cloud fabric to control its own for-fee public and semi-private clouds as well as by selling support services for companies that want to build internal clouds based on OpenStack. Back in March, Rackspace announced its own OpenStack support and related services, and Dell said it would be putting together bespoke clouds based on the Power Edge-C machines.

On Tuesday, Dell rolled out a reference architecture that shows customers and its own sales force how to build properly configured OpenStack clouds, as well as how to deliver front-line support for the OpenStack software as well as for the Dell hardware that it runs on.

Dell is also delivering an OpenStack deployment tool that the company said it was working on back in March, Crowbar, that significantly reduces the time it takes to deploy OpenStack on Dell's PowerEdge-C cloud servers.

According to John Igoe, executive director of cloud software solutions at Dell, the company will eventually offer two different variants of the OpenStack tools on the PowerEdge-C servers. The first is the straight open source version of OpenStack, while the other, to come later, is the "Project Olympus" variant of OpenStack that Citrix Systems is extending with its own closed-source extensions.

Citrix has not been terribly specific about what will go into Project Olympus, but has said that it will tightly bind OpenStack with its XenServer hypervisor; it will eventually support Microsoft's Hyper-V and VMware ESXi hypervisors. (OpenStack already supports Xen and ESXi, and it was Citrix that added that support to the cloud fabric; it was designed to support the KVM hypervisor.) Project Olympus will be available sometime in the second half of this year, and its feeds, speeds, and pricing have not yet been divulged.

The Crowbar installation tool is a key differentiator for Dell to help it peddle clouds to telco and hosting providers, as well as to companies looking to build an OpenStack private cloud.

Dell said back in March that Crowbar could install OpenStack on a six-node cluster from bare metal in a few hours, including BIOS configuration, network setup, and the addition of tools such as Nagios for system monitoring, Ganglia for cluster monitoring, and Chef for managing software packages on individual nodes. Doing it by hand was taking Dell's techies several days. The Crowbar tool has been extended so it can also deploy the Nova compute cloud or Swift storage cloud on specific nodes in a cluster so you don't have to go back and do this later.

On cloudy servers, not rack machines

Dell is building the initial OpenStack clouds on the PowerEdge-C6100 servers, which were taken mainstream out of its Data Center Solutions bespoke server unit back in March 2010. This is different iron than Dell is using for its vStart private clouds aimed at enterprises, which were launched in April running VMware's ESXi hypervisor and other vSphere management tools on general-purpose PowerEdge rack servers.

The OpenStack starter configuration comes with three C6100 chassis, which can hold up to four server nodes – "sleds", as Dell calls them. Dell sets each chassis up with two sleds, which are two-socket machines based on Intel's Xeon X5620 processors, configured with 96GB of memory. The C6100 chassis can hold a dozen 600GB 2.5-inch SAS disks.

Dell is lashing together those six server nodes with one of its own PowerConnect 6248 Ethernet switches. With two 48-port switches, Dell can push up to 48 nodes, and has designed the setup to expand to 60 nodes.

The reference architecture says that each node gets two ports, and inexplicably claims you can do 60 nodes with only two switches, but by El Reg's math, it should take three switches to get to 60 nodes – unless Dell is converting some of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet uplinks to multiple Gigabit Ethernet ports.

The setup includes 30TB of disk capacity (only 10TB is usable because of triple redundancy), two power distribution units, and a rack to house it all in.

The base OpenStack configuration is set up with one of the six nodes being an administrative server and the five others being compute/storage nodes. You can add Nova and Swift nodes beyond that, and there is no reason that the whole shebang can't be scaled up further than 60 nodes. This is just as far as Dell expects for initial telco and hosting companies to go as they test the OpenStack software.

Pricing for the six-node OpenStack starter kit was not available as we went to press, but Igoe says that the initial tire kickers who were buying PowerEdge-C and PowerConnect setups for the past few months were spending anywhere from $150,000 to $350,000 for their initial setups, depending on configuration.

If you buy an OpenStack starter kit from Dell, the machines will run the current "Cactus" release of OpenStack; the "Diablo" release of OpenStack is expected to be available in September. Dell's own support experts are offering Level 1 and 2 tech support on this OpenStack software, with Rackspace backstopping with Level 3 support for any particularly tricky issues. This is exactly the same kind of deal that all of the major server makers have with Red Hat and SUSE when they resell support for their respective Linuxes. ®

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