New techniques using Pathway Systems Blueprints and Amazon EC2
Growth of cloud-based IT infrastructure has accelerated in recent years, and the unique capabilities of these platforms continues to drive adoption. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Windows Azure Services Platform are just a few of the services at the leading edge of these developments. The advantages of cloud services — rapid deployment, dynamic scale, and distributed infrastructure — makes them ideal for building failure-tolerant systems to support critical applications.
Such critical applications require appropriately rigorous documentation, as their integration and maintenance are often highly prioritized. One of the challenges in managing cloud infrastructure is building a seamless and complete picture of these remote resources so that they can be incorporated into the existing context of an organization’s information architecture.
This challenge is in two parts. The first is that the resources are not only remote from the maintainer, they may exist in an entirely virtualized environment, spanning many physical locations. The second and greater complication is that the dynamic nature of cloud systems (“elastic,” to use the Amazon jargon) means that static documentation of these resources rapidly becomes obsolete. The inevitability of its decay tends to encourage half-hearted documentation, because the maintainers know how it will end, and don’t enjoy wasting their time.
Rapid and constant changes are a feature of the cloud environment, not a bug. The Blueprints platform helps to smooth away the challenges, and turn them to the advantage of the maintainer. By interfacing with Amazon Web Services, Blueprints can automatically build a dependency map of the resources associated with an Amazon EC2 account. This dependency structure can be continuously synchronized to reflect the reported real-time status of your cloud components, essentially creating the documentation for you. Synchronized remote components such as EC2 resources can be seamlessly integrated with an existing dependency model, and co-exist with hand-maintained objects and relations in the usual way.
Of course, when the environment changes too rapidly, it can become difficult to get a sense of the evolution of the system over time. Maintainers see the latest configuration, and perhaps remember the previous one, but what might have happened in between, when they weren’t watching? This is one of the reasons that Blueprints maintains a complete history of changes to the model. Maintainers are able to call up the state of the model at any time in the past, or inspect changes over an arbitrary time span. These features apply to any resource in a Blueprints model, but are especially suited to automated information, which can change constantly, often in small but crucial ways.
The currents and trends of dynamic deployment and distributed IaaS present real challenges for traditional methods of documentation and maintenance, but the unique architecture of the Blueprints platform keeps you comfortably ahead of the curve, providing consistent, rigorous visual documentation that blends automatic and manual knowledge to help chart the changing seas of modern IT.