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So You Want to Use Open Source Cloud for Your Web Application

There’s a learning curve with the cloud

What Is Cloud?
Before embarking on using open source cloud technology for your web property, a basic understanding of cloud, as it's used in the industry, is essential. While there might be exceptions, here are the definitions.

A software application delivered on the web instead of installing standalone software on a particular OS requiring some environment qualifies as Software as a Service. This makes applications available anywhere on a browser in any OS, device, and also makes latest updates available asynchronously, e.g., email on the web, banking on the web.

A web application requires software in turn to be built like the environment, application server, and web server and the configuration of these should be adequate for the applications deployed on this platform. For a Java-based application, one may require a JBoss server to deploy code. With Platform as a Service, instead of trying to manage the JBoss server deployment and configuration, it can be made available as a service and integrated right within your IDE, e.g., openshift.redhat.com, cloudfoundry.org.

These applications need to be hosted on hardware for serving client requests. IaaS makes available virtualized and non-virtualized servers and network on demand with a certain capacity that can scale up or down. Instead of trying to manage a hosted server or a data center, IT can focus on reducing their costs and increasing server utilization, e.g., openstack.org, cloudstack.org.

Figure 1

Why Should I Consider Cloud?
Cloud computing is becoming increasingly important to consider and difficult to ignore as part of your IT strategy. If you're still reading this article, you are either thinking or in the process of moving to the cloud for your infrastructure or platform, and are interested in leveraging any open source options available.

Gartner predicts $180B being spent on cloud by 2015. About 50% of this is expected to be on open source cloud technology. There are many providers with commercial and open source offerings, and more startups are emerging constantly in the space.

The technology available varies from provider to provider, as well as the ability to get all needs satisfied from one or more vendors.

If you look at a traditional datacenter without any virtualization or IaaS, only 15% of server capacity is utilized in the industry per analysts. Using IaaS can bring this utilization up to considerable levels, translating into considerable cost savings.

If you look at a traditional coding and deployment model, developers have to think not only about code, but the configuration and maintenance of the platform hosting the code. Using PaaS, developers simply code while the underlying platform takes care of deployments, configurations, policies and more.

These are all sound reasons to consider using cloud computing for your next enterprise web property.

Now I'll walk through a scenario that qualifies for leveraging open source cloud products to launch a web application.

Scenario Problem
Company A has web properties related to Hollywood, astrology, sports and news. It has a massive user base across the world. It has its own datacenter with servers, storage, routers, switches, firewalls, and load balancers that has evolved over time as the properties have demanded scale. This is shown in Figure 2A.

Figure 2a

It has hosted web and application software and servers for Java and PHP, two primary languages developers use in company A to code. It also involves services such as Big Data, CDN, streaming and file storage and sharing. This is shown in Figure 3A.

Figure 3a

Any new web application launch for company A could mean procuring hardware, installing software, configuring software and hardware, coding, deployment and the launch.

As explained before, the cycle is large for company A and involves several touch points like Ops, IT and Engineering. Each additional scale event may need to go through the same cycle.

With the help of an external consultant, Company A has analyzed that making their infrastructure available as a service, and then on top of it providing Platform as a Service for code in Java, PHP, etc., can provide them with agility and cost savings.

Scenario Solution
Let's see how problem of company A gets resolved using open source cloud technologies with IaaS and PaaS.

The cloud solution for company A would be a software package that allows them to create and manage all hardware infrastructure as a service, and a software package that can manage all platform components as a service. The software package for IaaS will enable key services as whoen in Figure 2B.

Figure 2b

The software package for PaaS will enable key services as shown in Figure 3B.

Figure 3b

Note that both IaaS and PaaS are fundamentally different challenges. If you are looking for a public cloud deployment, then PaaS would be more relevant on the public cloud of choice, since the public cloud must have already made IaaS available through the use of another software package enabling just that.

For this private cloud scenario, for company A, there are a number of open source software options available. I'm going to briefly cover one each for the services I've looked at and how you can learn it. I have no particular preference or bias. You should do your own research for what works best for your needs.

OpenStack for IaaS
OpenStack is an IaaS enabler software with a vibrant community of developers from many organizations; it's a joint effort started originally by Rackspace and NASA. It is made available as components that address different aspects of IaaS:

  • Nova - for compute VMs with a certain CPU and RAM
  • Swift - for providing object storage
  • Glance - for images to install on compute VMs
  • Quantum - for network and security management
  • Horizon/API - for managing all services via web based dashboard or API

For those new to OpenStack, I recommend trying it on a trail computer first or on a playground like TryStack.

Figure 4

OpenShift Origin for PaaS
OpenShift origin provides the ability to code, deploy, test and run apps in Java and PHP for company A. It also provides more languages besides Java and PHP. It's an offering from RedHat.

OpenShift origin can be made to run on top of OpenStack-enabled IaaS. An installable image is available that can be installed on OpenStack. As of this writing, RedHat's site says they're working on putting together a wiki specifically for this purpose.

OpenShift origin works on the concept of cartridges that are pluggable for each language or framework that a developer might want to code in.

To create an application, a developer needs to create an OpenShift application, code it, and then deploy the same. This could be done via an IDE like Eclipse, which can be configured to work with OpenShift origin.

For those new to OpenShift origin, I recommend trying it on a trial computer first or on a playground like OpenShift's hosted cloud PaaS.

Figure 5

Useful Software That Can Be Used Within or Outside the Cloud
Company A also uses services like CDN, which warrants for covering open source software for those needs also. These can be made to work as part of the cloud or standalone.

PowerDNS for DNS
This can serve as an authoritative server for DNS management and also handle global load balancing.

Donated by Yahoo to the Apache Foundation, ATS (Apache Traffic Server) is a fast and scalable http caching proxy server.

ATS can work as a standalone offering outside the cloud, or could be installed on compute VMs in OpenStack. Swift container could then be configured to store cacheable and compressible objects such as images that could then be served by ATS. The rest of the traffic could be configured to go to origin web server VMs.

GStreamer for Streaming
GStreamer enables encoding and streaming for open streaming formats like ogg and webm. GStreamer could be installed on compute VMs in OpenStack, just like ATS, or work on standalone offerings outside the cloud. Swift container could store video and audio files that need to be streamed with GStreamer.

OwnCloud for Cloud Storage
OwnCloud enables out-of-the-box storage and retrieval of objects on the cloud, such asmusic and files. It can run on top of OpenStack. OwnCloud provides a basic turnkey solution for object storage, sharing and retrieval and is under development to provide more capabilities, as of the writing of this article.

There's a learning curve with the cloud, and I strongly recommend trying it out on a test setup to understand what works and what needs to be further developed. Different providers have reached different levels of maturity. For someone new to cloud computing, I would also recommend looking at AWS. While AWS is paid, it is the pioneer in this space and provides a number of resources to read to try and understand cloud computing.

Also note that as a web application scales, you may need to use more than one cloud provider (e.g., use compute from provider X while storage from provider Y, load balance between a public and private cloud). Since each provider comes with their own set of APIs and functionality, it can become another IT nightmare to maintain multiple systems. Here's where cross-cloud providers like Apache DeltaCloud can help.

More Stories By Puneet Sangal

Puneet Sangal has been in the Internet technology space for 14 years. He occasionally writes on Internet technology at http://www.inmovi.net/ He can be reached at [email protected]

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