Choosing the right IaaS Provider for a custom Appliance or: how hard is it to install from ISO in the cloud?


Which Cloud Infrastructure provider allows to install custom appliances via ISO? The short answer is: none of the IaaS market leaders Amazon Web Serviese (AWS), Microsoft Azure offer the requested functionality, but they offer the workaround to locally install the virtual machine (VM) and upload the VM to the cloud. The cheaper alternative DigitalOcean does not offer any of those possibilities.

At the end, I thought I have found  the perfect solution to my problem: Ravello Systems a.k.a. Oracle ravello is a meta cloud infrastructure provider (they call it “nested virtualization provider”), which is re-selling the infrastructure from other IaaS providers like Amazon AWS and Google Engine. They offer a portal that supports the installation of a VM from an ISO in the cloud. Details see below. They write:

2016.03.30-13_57_04-hc_001

However, Ravello was ignoring my request for a trial for more than two months.

Ravello’s trial seems to be open for companies only? I even told them that I am about to found my own company, this did not help.

2016.03.30-13_08_51-hc_001

If you are representing a large company and if you are offering them a prospect to earn a lot of money, they might be reacting differently in your case, though. Good luck.

I am back at installing the image locally and uploading it to Amazon AWS. Maybe this is the cheaper alternative, anyway. I am back at the bright side of life…

2016.03.30-13_06_53-hc_001

At the end, after more than 2 months, I have got the activation link. The ISO Upload tool has some challenges with HTTP proxies, but is seems to work now.

Document Versions

v1.0 (2016-03-14): initially published version
v1.1 (2016-03-21): added a note on ravello’s nested virtualization solution, which makes the solution suitable for VMware testing on public non-VMware clouds
v1.2 (2016-03-23): added a note of my problems of getting a trial account; I have created a service ticket.
v1.3 (2016-03-30): Ravello has chosen to close my ticket without helping me. I am looking for alternatives.
v1.4 (2016-04-09): After I have complained about the closed ticket, they wrote a note that they are sorry on 2016-03-30. However, I have still not got an account. I have sent a new email asking for the status today.
v1.5 (2016-05-25): I have received an activation link on May, 11th. It has taken more than 2 months to get it. I am not sure, if I am still interested…

The Use Case

Integration of high tech systems with legacy systems is fun. At least, it is fun, if you have easy access from you development machine to the legacy systems. In my case, I was lucky enough: the legacy systems I am dealing with are modern communication systems that can be run on VMware. Using a two year old software version of the system, I have run the legacy system on my development machine. With that I could run my integration software against the real target system.

But why have I used a two year old software version of the legacy system? That is, why: the most recent versions of that system have such a high demand on the virtual resources (vCPU, DRAM) that it has outgrown my development machine: it was quite a bit…

2016.03.14-19_48_01-hc_001

…overloaded.

Possible Solutions

How to deal with this? Some thoughts of mine are:

  • I could buy a new notebook with, say 64 GB RAM.2016.03.14-20_25_24-hc_001
    • this is an expensive option. Moreover, I am a road warrior type of developer and do a lot of coding in the train. Most notebooks with 64GB RAM are bulky and heavy and you need to take a power plant with you if you do not want to run out of energy during your trip.
  • I could develop a lightweight simulator that is mocking the behavior of the legacy system.
    • In the long run, I need to do something along those lines anyway: I want to come closer to Continuous Integration+Deployment process and for the automated tests in the CI/CD system, it is much simpler to run a simulator as part of the software than to run the tests against bulky legacy systems.
  • I could develop and test (including integration tests) in the IaaS cloud.

2016.03.14-18_57_14-hc_001

The Cloud Way of Providing a Test Environment

Yes, the IaaS cloud option is a particularly interesting one; especially, if development is done as a side job because:

  • I need to pay only for resources I use.
  • For most functional tests, I do not need full performance. I can go with cheaper, shared resources.
  • I can pimp up the legacy system and reserve resources for performance tests, while freeing up the resources again after finish of the test.
  • Last but not least, I am a cloud evangelist and therefore I should eat my own dog food (or drink my own champagne, I hope).

However: which are the potential challenges?

2016.03.14-19_01_14-hc_001

  1. Installation challenges of the legacy system in the cloud.
  2. How much do you pay for the VM, if it is shut down? Open Topic, but will not (yet) investigated in this blog post.
  3. How long does it take from opening the lid of the development notebook until I can access the legacy system? Open Topic, but will not (yet) investigated in this blog post.

First things first: in this post, I will concentrate on challenge 1.

The Cloud Way of installing (a custom appliance from ISO)

2016.03.14-19_04_03-hc_001

In my case, the legacy system must be installed from ISO. From my first investigation, it seems that this is a challenge with many IaaS providers. Let us have a closer look:

Comparison of IaaS Providers

2016.03.14-19_05_07-hc_001

  • DigitalOcean: they do not support the installation from ISO. See this forum post.
    • there is no workaround like local installation and upload of the image, see here. Shoot.😦

2016.03.14-19_06_58-hc_001

  • AWS: same thing: no ISO installation support.
    1. For AWS, the workaround is to install the system locally and to upload and convert the VM. See this stackoverflow post.
      One moment: didn’t I say the legacy system is too large for my notebook? Not a good option.😦
    2. Another workaround for AWS is to use a nested virtualization provider like ravello systems: they claim here that the installation of an AWS image from ISO is no problem.
      Note: ravello’s nested virtualization solution places an additional Hypervisor on top of AWS’ XEN hypervisor, in order to run VMware VMs on public clouds that do not support VMware VMs natively. This will not increase the performance, though and is intended for test environments only. However, this is exactly, what I am aiming at (for now).

Ravello claims: “With Ravello, uploading an ISO file is as simple as uploading your files to dropbox. Once the file is in your library in Ravello simply add the CD-ROM device to your VM and select your customer ISO file from your library.”2016.03.14-19_38_13-hc_001

2016.03.14-19_08_58-hc_001

  • Microsoft Azure: not fully clear…
    • I have found here the information that an ISO can be attached to an existing VM. I do not know, though, whether or not the VM can be installed from the ISO by booting from ISO.
    • you can create a local image in VHD format and upload it to the cloud. However, the only (convenient) way to create this image is to install the VM on Hyper-V. I do not have access to Hyper-V and I do not want to spend any time on this for now.😦

Among those options, it seems like only AWS and ravello are possible feasible for me.

Even so, I need to take the risk caused by the fact that my legacy systems are supported on VMware only. However, this is a risk I need to accept, if I want to go with a low cost mainstream IaaS provider. A private cloud on dedicated VMware infrastructure is prohibitive with respect to effort and price.

Decision:

I have a more powerful notebook at home and I could install the image locally. However, I will give the meta IaaS provider Ravello Systems a try and I will install the legacy system via their overlay cloud. Within Ravello systems, I will choose AWS as the backend IaaS provider, because AWS is the number one IaaS provider (see this article pointing to the Gartner report) and therefore I want to gain some experience with AWS.

Note about the pricing comparison between AWS and ravello: I believe that ravello comes at higher rates (estimated 30-50%). But please do not take this for granted and calculate yourself, using the AWS monthly calculator and the ravello pricing page.

HowTo

More than 2 months after my application, I finally got an activation link. Looking for how to import the ISO, I have found this ravello link. However, the documentation is not good. They write:

To download the tool, click Download VM Import Tool on the Library page.

However, there is no Download VM Import Tool on the Library page. Instead, you can choose Library->Disk Images ->Import Disk Image in order to reach the import tool download page (or click this direct link).

After installing the GUI tool on Windows using the exe file, I am redirected to the browser login page of the tool:

2016.05.24-14_53_30-hc_001

If you are behind a proxy, you will receive the following connectivity problem error:

2016.05.24-14_59_19-hc_001

The link will lead here. The process is to create a config.properties file on a folder named .ravello in the user’s home directory (%HOME%\.ravello).

Note: be sure to use %HOME%\.ravello and not %USERPROFILE%\.ravello, if those two pathes differ in your case (in my case they do: %HOME% is my local Git directory on F:\veits\git).

The file config.properties needs to have following content:

[upload]
proxy_address = <ip address of proxy server>
proxy_port = <port on which the proxy server accepts connections>

The nasty thing is, that you need to kill the RavelloImageImportServer.exe task in case of Windows or the ravello-vm-upload process in case of Linux.

The problem is, that

  1. they do not tell you how to restart the process. In my case, I have found RavelloImageImportServer.exe on C:\Program Files (x86)\Ravello Systems\Ravello import utility. I have restarted it.
  2. Even though I have created the properties file, the import tool does not find the proxy configuration on %USERPROFILE%\.ravello. Crap! I have found out that the import tool is looking for %HOME%\.ravello instead, which has been set by my local git installation to be on F:\veits\git. I was close to giving up…

Finally, I have managed to upload the ISO:

2016.05.24-16_01_49-hc_001

From there, it should be possible to create an empty VM, attach the ISO on it and boot the VM from ISO…

No luck: after some time, the upload is stopped due to no apparent reason:

2016.05.24-20_48_42-hc_001

The pause button as well as the resume button are greyed out. No way to resume the upload. Well thought, but not so good implemented. Okay, the service is quite new. Let us see, how ravello works, if we give them a few additional months…

After connection to the Internet without HTTP proxy (my notebook was in standby for a while), I have seen, that I could not log into the local GUI upload tool anymore. The process was consuming a constant 25% of my dual core CPU. Workaround: renaming the config.properties file (or maybe remove/comment out its content), killing and restarting of the process brought back the GUI upload process to normal.

Summary

I have shortly investigated, which options I have to run a legacy system on an IaaS provider cloud network.

Before I found out that ravello’s service times are sub-optimal, I initially thought that the meta IaaS provider called Ravello Systems is the winner of this investigation:

2016.03.14-19_38_13-hc_001

However, I see following problems:

  • it has taken ravello more than two (!) months to provide me with an activation link.
  • An ISO or VM upload requires the installation of a local tool
  • the GUI tool has problems to handle HTTP proxies. I have followed their instructions, but I could not get it to work, initially. At the end, I have found out, that the tool is not looking in Maybe the tool is looking in %USERPROFILE%\.ravello, but in %HOME%\.ravello, which is a GIT home directory and does not match C:\Users\myusername in my case.
  • another problem might be that Ravello is running the VMware VMs on top of a Hypervisor layer, which in turn translates the VM to the underlying infrastructure. There is a high risk that this will work only for test labs with low CPU consumptions. This is to be tested.

In the short time I have invested into the investigation, I have found that

  1. ravello had seemed to be the best alternative, since the system can be installed in the cloud with
  2. A reader of my blog suggests to check out Vultr. Since ravello has its own drawbacks (service: long time to respond, longer time to help, GUI import tools seems to have weaknesses: I could not get it to work from behind a HTTP proxy, even if I follow the instructions), Vultr might be a real good alternative with low pricing.
  3. Amazon AWS is an alternative, if it is O.K. for you not to install from ISO, but to install locally and upload the created custom VM.

The following alternatives have major drawbacks:

  • Microsoft Azure requires the local installation of the VM using Hyper-V and I do not have such a system. I have not found a statement, whether it is possible to boot a Microsoft Azure VM from ISO (do you know that?).
  • DigitalOcean neither supports an installation from ISO, nor does it support the upload of custom VMs.

See also:

Next steps:

  • once the ISO is uploaded, create a VM and try to boot the VM from ISO.
  • Try out Vultr.

Update 2016-03-21: I have applied for a trial with ravello on March 17th, but no reaction so far, apart from the automatic email reply. I have opened a ticket yesterday and I got an email that they will come back to me…

Danger_No Entry

Update 2016-03-23: still waiting…

Update 2016-03-30: instead of helping me, Ravello’s support has sent an email that they did not get any response from me (response about what?) and they have closed the ticket, along with a link with the possibility to give feedback. My feedback was “not satisfied”. Let us see, how they react.

Update 2016-05-11: I have received the activation link, more than 2 months after my application. I have signed in although I do not know, if I am still interested. I have added the HowTo chapter, but I have failed to upload the ISO via a HTTP proxy, even though I have followed the instructions closely.

Meanwhile, I have signed up for a native AWS account. The intent of this blog was to find a provider that makes it more easy to install an image from ISO: I did not want to install locally, and then upload and convert the image, because my SSD disk is notoriously full. Ravello was the only alternative I had found in a quick Internet research. However, Ravello had failed to provide me with a valid registration within 2 months.


One thought on “Choosing the right IaaS Provider for a custom Appliance or: how hard is it to install from ISO in the cloud?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s