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December 21, 2009

Appliance Deployment Game Plan: Ensuring a Repeatable, Consistent Build Process

By Marisa Torrieri, TMCnet Editor

At first glance, telecom techies and football coaches don’t seem to have much in common. But both personality types, most certainly, agree on one very important rule: Have a road map and an endgame in mind.
For developers looking to deploy next-gen appliances – who often know less about what the next generation is going to look like than a rookie coach knows the nuances of the “wildcat” offense – this is especially true.

To address this and another of other issues, technology partners NEI and rPath teamed up to create the white paper “Top Five Considerations for Deploying Next-Gen Appliances.”

The white paper addresses many issues for software developers and OEMs, from why it’s important to use a hardened, secure Linux OS stripped down to the bare minimum needed to run the application, to maintaining an appliance over a lifetime. Additionally, the paper answers a couple of very important questions, on how a developer can ensure a consistent, repeatable build process and support virtual/cloud deployments.

Mike Slattery, director of software development for NEI, said there are a number of “end game” considerations when choosing an appliance.
In a manufacturing facility, it is expected that processes are automated, consistent and repeated from one item to the next, the white paper noted. This allows hundreds or thousands of units to be built so that one is indistinguishable from another. A uniform product makes sense to maximize economies of scale, ensure quality and facilitate support. If a product specification changes, then the factory tooling is altered to produce that change.
“In an enterprise type of environment, you constantly need new capabilities,” Slattery told TMCnet. “Staying on the older version over time becomes less and less viable.”
Most developers are looking for ways to “painlessly” upgrade technology, Slattery said.
“Repeatability ties into the build process,” Slattery said. “You need to transition to version two from version one seamlessly, so to everybody out in the field, version two looks the same.”
The more versions of software out there that a developer has to support, the more fragmented his or her efforts become, Slattery added.
NEI’s Element Manager 3.0 features rBuilder technology, which means the entire system, together with all of its components and dependencies, is stored and managed in a centralized repository that provides consistent control over the lifecycle of the deployed system. It also supports virtual and cloud deployments, which are experiencing huge growth in enterprises.
The white paper noted that many ISVs and OEMs recognize the need to support virtual environments and even cloud computing platforms. Without specialized tools, building images to support popular image formats, such as VMware, Citrix Xen and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) machine images, can be time-consuming and onerous.
One significant advantage to using the NEI/rPath solution is that once an appliance is defined in rBuilder, it can be output to a number of popular formats without any additional engineering effort. This particular feature provides hardware appliance vendors with the flexibility they need to produce these formats.
“The bigger issues I see with virtualization is that a lot of software vendors are trying to figure out how cloud computing is going to impact their business,” Slattery said. “And I think the appliance model is a good solution.”

Marisa Torrieri is a TMCnet Web editor, covering IP hardware and mobility, including IP phones, smartphones, fixed-mobile convergence and satellite technology. She also compiles and regularly contributes to TMCnet's gadgets and satellite e-Newsletters. To read more of Marisa's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Marisa Torrieri

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