22 May 2015

HP Helion CloudSystem: More than OpenStack?

Level: Intermediate.
Estimated reading time: 5-10 minutes.
Recommended reading:
What is OpenStack and so what?
HP Helion Cloud portfolio explained

In the previous post I discussed the OpenStack project and in the end I promised to present to you one OpenStack- based solution: HP Helion CloudSystem.

In this post I will explain what is the HP Helion CloudSystem and what makes it different. I will also briefly describe the installation process. You can test my installation of HP CloudSystem Foundation anytime in our demo portal.

What is HP Helion CloudSystem?

If you read my previous post, you have a pretty good idea of what OpenStack is. You can think of HP CloudSystem as a flavor of OpenStack by HP. CloudSystem aims to be a more complete solution so there are of course additional features but the basics stay the same: We are still providing a cloud management infrastructure. OpenStack is the core technology and HP has taken that and built enterprise- grade functionalities on top of it.

CloudSystem consists of two offerings:

1) HP CloudSystem Foundation is a virtual appliance for provisioning and management of compute, network and storage resources. You can manage CloudSystem Foundation from an administrative console, self-service portal, CLIs, and OpenStack APIs. It provides an appliance-based deployment console to simplify installation and maintenance, and an embedded version of HP Operations Orchestration (OO) for automating administrative processes. Foundation appliance has two web-interfaces (both are available for you to test!):

1a) CloudSystem Console manages the initial preparations for deployment. These include creating images, establishing a Provider network, and configuring block storage drivers. This is where you configure what resources are available. In other words, here you tell to the CloudSystem which hypervisors it can use, where is the storage and which networks are reserved for new instances.


CloudSystem Console

CloudSystem Console


1b) CloudSystem Portal controls the deployment side. This includes launching virtual machines, managing instance security and attaching volumes.


CloudSystem Portal

CloudSystem Portal


2) HP CloudSystem Enterprise expands on CloudSystem Foundation. Enterprise enables you to build hybrid clouds. In this case it means you can also use for example resources in your AWS account, in addition to your in-house resources. Template architects can use Enterprise to create infrastructure templates and offer them as services in a Marketplace Portal. Users select services from a catalog and manage their subscriptions. Enterprise also includes an enhanced set of Operations Orchestration workflows. Enterprise appliance also has two web- interfaces:

2a) Cloud Service Management Console.
HP says: “HP Cloud Service Automation orchestrates the deployment of compute and infrastructure resources and complex multi-tier application architectures. HP CSA and its user interface, the Cloud Service Management Console, integrates and leverages the strengths of several HP data center management and automation products, adding resource management, service offering design, and a customer portal to create a comprehensive service automation solution.

I say: “Here you can create products (virtual machine templates) which can be ordered by the end-users at the Marketplace Portal.”


Cloud Service Management Console

Cloud Service Management Console


2b) Marketplace Portal provides a customer interface for requesting new cloud services and for monitoring and managing existing services, with subscription pricing to meet your business requirements.


Marketplace Portal

Marketplace Portal


These two offerings are separate virtual appliances. CloudSystem Foundation is, as the name implies, the mandatory base component that provides the OpenStack functionality like managing the resources and launching new virtual machine instances. From the installation point of view, CloudSystem Enterprise is not a compulsory component but it adds several advanced features to the CloudSystem.

Recap: Two virtual appliances with two web-interfaces each.


CloudSystem offerings

CloudSystem offerings

Regardless of whether you want to install just the Foundation or also the Enterprise, you first need to install the CloudSystem Foundation. The install process is the first major difference you notice if you have installed OpenStack components in a Linux system before: Installation is heavily automated. You initiate the installation process by executing a script from the command prompt. No need for the increased palm perspiration, the script will open a graphical user interface where you get to set the correct IP addresses and other deployment settings.

For our installation, I had the opportunity to use a HP 3PAR 7200c and some brand new Gen9 blade servers. If you want to learn more, you should check out the adventures of Markus and how he installed and configured the 3PAR and the BladeSystem (part 1, part 2).

A high-level overview of the CloudSystem installation process is as follows:

  1. Download the software packages to your computer.
  2. Verify that you meet the hardware and software requirements.
  3. Plan the network environment carefully (NOTE! Spend some time with this one, some of the settings are a pain to reconfigure afterwards)
  4. Configure 3PAR storage system to support CloudSystem.
  5. Set up the management hypervisor (ESXi or KVM) and vCenter if using ESXi.
  6. Execute the installation script.
  7. Fill in the correct network settings.
  8. Prepare the Compute nodes.
  9. Build and manage cloud resources.
  10. Optional: Install CloudSystem Enterprise.

“I can do all of that with just OpenStack”

Because CloudSystem is based on OpenStack, most of the basic functionalities can be achieved by setting up just OpenStack. This actually leads us to one of the coolest things about CloudSystem: It is based on Helion Openstack, a OpenStack distribution by HP which is (like OpenStack) completely open source. No proprietary code. Secondly, a lot of effort has been invested in the user interface design. Dashboards, installation steps and provisioning tools are very intuitive and easy to navigate compared to the ones in OpenStack. Though there are still some minor details missing e.g. some strings in the menus of the CSA are not translated.


The discriminating Topology Designer

The discriminating Topology Designer


In my mind, the ability to build hybrid clouds or cloud bursting is one of the key functionalities to look for when thinking about building a private cloud for your business. CloudSystem delivers here and it has a good level of integration with AWS, Microsoft Azure and of course HP Helion Public Cloud.

One of the biggest benefits that is a must for larger enterprises is the extensive support HP offers. They have an army of professionals who are there to help you with any issues you face from the planning of your environment to maintenance. OpenStack has an amazing community but the sole purpose of their existence is not to help you get your uniquely unstable environment up and running.

CloudSystem only supports ESXi and KVM management hypervisors, which is a bit disappointing but likely to change in the future. Currently CloudSystem supports two kinds of storage: HP 3PAR StoreServ and VMware Virtual Machine File System (VMFS).

There are also some mysterious errors generated by OpenStack which are more likely to be resolved by searching through the OpenStack forums than picking up the CloudSystem Administrator Guide or sending an email to the support. In some occasions it’s a bit tricky to figure out if are you dealing with an OpenStack error or something caused by the CloudSystem functions. The documentation is good (especially the HP CloudSystem 8.1 Networking Configuration and Troubleshooting!) but during the installation there were times when I wished it was a bit more comprehensive.

Final thoughts

If I was in charge of selecting a partner to build a private cloud for my large enterprise, HP would probably be a viable option depending of course on my tailored needs. A solid argument for HP is that it is unlikely that they go bankrupt or some other player acquires them.

HP has to be much more clear about their value proposition: What is the problem that CloudSystem solves and why is it better? In other words, what is Helion CloudSystem and how it differs from other Helion products/ OpenStack? The product is great but the story remains frustratingly unclear. Hard to see why enterprises would buy something they don’t completely understand.

There has been a lot of discussion regarding private cloud. Some say it completely contradicts with the very idea of cloud and some say it is mandatory to have it beside the public cloud. In my mind, hybrid cloud is probably the optimal solution in many cases but the real question which many fail to answer is more about how much private and how much public. This is a tough one, I know. It simply points to the fact that investing heavily in the the planning& testing phase of the project will lead to success, as in all IT projects.

Thank you  for reading and remember to check out the demo in our portal!


Sources and more information:

HP Helion CloudSystem 8.1 Help
HP CloudSystem 8.1 Update 2 Installation and Configuration Guide
HP Helion documentation
HP Helion Practitioner series: HP CloudSystem Foundation and Enterprise (video)

About Mikko Ala-Jaakkola

Master of the Blinking Lights/ System Specialist at Devilabs Inc. Also busy with writing my Master's thesis in Computer Science. HP Certified in Server and Storage. Interests: Security, Operating systems, Virtualization and Analytics. Open to everything new & Sceptical about everything.

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