published on 23 May 2012

Puppet Labs is really excited to introduce Razor, a next-generation hardware provisioning solution developed collaboratively with our friends at EMC. I'll be diving into details about specific Razor features in a series of blog posts, which includes installation via a Puppet module, but in this post I'll focus on a high level overview of Razor's features and the problem it's solving.

Problems With Current Solutions

EMC actually initiated Razor in response to challenges they were having internally with existing hardware provisioning technologies. In building-up test and burn-in environments for their own software solutions, EMC found themselves bottlenecked by provisioning tools that were vendor-specific, monolithic, and closed. Moreover, public and private clouds gave their Development & QA teams infrastructure that responded nimbly and on-demand; why couldn’t their hardware infrastructure give them the same responsiveness and efficiencies?

To remedy, EMC first surveyed the landscape of provisioning technologies. Given the importance of provisioning as the first, critical step in building compute infrastructure, surely someone had innovated a solution to these problems? But nothing seemed to really address the needs of the system administrators responsible for infrastructure, so EMC set out to solve the problem themselves.

Enter Puppet

EMC was already very familiar with Puppet Labs and our products, and these served as an inspiration and foundation for Razor. Specifically, the EMC team sought to bring Puppet’s declarative, model-based approach of configuring software to the provisioning of server hardware with an operating system. In addition, Puppet Labs’ metadata-driven enterprise message bus and node inventory technologies, MCollective and Facter respectively, were critical enabling components for Razor.

Further considerations in selecting to partner with Puppet Labs were the pervasiveness of its open source technologies as well as its active and engaged community. EMC’s Razor team recognized that existing provisioning technologies were handicapped by their tight association with a single vendor, and open sourcing Razor to an active community was the surest way to avoid a similar fate.

Razor: Cloud Agility and Efficiency for Hardware Infrastructure

OK, enough already … what’s different about Razor?

First, during boot the Razor client auto-discovers the inventory of the server hardware – CPUs, disk, memory, everything – and feeds this to the Razor server in real-time. This means you always have the latest, most up-to-date information about every server in your data center, eliminating the need for manual inventory processes and tools.

Second, Razor knows the latest state of every server, and this state is updated with the auto-discovered inventory data. Razor also maintains a set of rules to match the appropriate operating system images with server capabilities as expressed in metadata. This match is made dynamically, so any change in the underlying hardware is automatically detected, reflected in the model, and can potentially result in the selection of a different operating system image – all automatically.

Third, Razor is integrated with Puppet for a seamless hand-off. After Razor selects the operating system image it then automatically installs the Puppet agent and classifies the node. Puppet picks up the ball and begins configuring the operating system, and so on up the stack.

Fourth, in contrast to other provisioning technologies Razor is open, pluggable, and programmable. Hardware has a unique boot sequence? No problem, create a new model. Want to change how operating system images are selected? Just update the rules via the Razor CLI. Need to support a new OS? Easy. Razor is all about giving choice, agility, and automation to the system administrator so they can eliminate the repetitive and menial from their day.

What this all means is that now Razor and Puppet enable the system administrator to automate the entire infrastructure stack, from bare metal to fully deployed applications on the cloud.

Check It Out

Nigel Kersten, Puppet Labs’ CTO, will be on stage during Chad’s World at EMC World today at 5:30pm PDT to demo Razor, and we’re also in the EMC Innovation Center on the show floor. Also, our friends from the EMC CTO’s Office – Dan Hushon, Chuck Hollis, Nick Weaver – have blog posts out today (here, here, and here, respectively) sharing the details of EMC’s work and perspective on Razor.

Razor is available for download now from the Puppet Forge. Check it out - we’re looking forward to your feedback. And stay tuned for more Razor blog posts soon!

- Nan

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