Monthly Archives: November 2014

Introducing blivet-gui — a new GUI storage management tool

Introduction

Let’s be honest and start directly with the inconvenient truth 1 — storage management is hard. There are many technologies using many ways how to make our data available faster, more reliably, with high availability, over long distances, etc. What’s even harder is that all those technologies can be combined together to get a combination of their advantages. Do you think having tens of iSCSI LUNs combined in an MD RAID exporting RAID devices used as LVM PVs together with two SSD drives combined in a another MD RAID providing fast dm-cached LVs with an XFS file system on top of all this exported as a GlusterFS sounds crazy, overly complicated and totally unusable? 2 Five words: “Welcome to the enterprise storage!” Where something like that is a perfectly usable solution providing all the features mentioned in the beginning of this post.

The Anaconda installer and blivet

Being a storage expert or at least a senior system administrator it is quite easy to run a few commands in a shell to set the stack described above up. But we are in the age of nice, shiny graphical user interfaces that are expected and thus required to support many many more or less crazy combinations and configuration options. And when does storage configuration usually happen? When the system is installed. That’s the reason why the most comprehensive and feature-complete storage management (or more precisely, storage configuration) UI was over the years implemented in the Anaconda installer, the RHEL and Fedora 3 OS installer. Just a small demonstration — the only two technologies from the example described above currently unsupported in the Anaconda installer are GlusterFS and dm-cache 4 with the list of supported technologies being at least three times as long as the list of abbreviations from that example.

Having probably the only code in the world supporting so many technologies it started to become evident that it would be useful to put such code in a library usable for other projects. And thus the code majorly rewritten by David Lehman in 2009 was in early 2013 split into a library (or more precisely Python package) which was due to its nature given name blivet“[blivet] is an undecipherable figure, an optical illusion and an impossible object” 5 –because it seems impossible to provide high-level and easy to understand API for something that is so complicated as (enterprise) storage.

Birth of blivet-gui

When Vojtěch Trefný approached me last year telling me that he doesn’t like Anaconda installer’s partitioning UI and he saw a bachelor thesis topic focused on improving it (by implementing a visualisation of the changes that will happen on the disks) I was really happy to see somebody who doesn’t “just complain”, but actually wants to make some effort to make things better. Since the topic focused on visualisation had already been taken by somebody else 6, we needed to come up with something new. And that’s how the idea of a new storage management tool based on the blivet library was born. We gave Vojtěch a link to blivet documentation and he then, to my surprise, came after a few months to me as a supervisor for the thesis with an announcement that he has it done and in a shape that fulfills the requirements specified in the bachelor thesis’ description — partitions and LVM support, user and developer documentation and the whole thing being embedable into another application. After defending the thesis and the implementation Vojtěch has been continuing with the work on the blivet-gui tool adding new features (LUKS, kickstart generation,…), fixing bugs and improving the UX (clickable objects in the visualisation,…) with me being partially a QA, source of some ideas and comments about the implementation. And in the most recent days a press agent spreading the word about such a great and promising tool the blivet-gui already is 7.

Now and the future

The blivet-gui tool is under heavy development and for now, it doesn’t support all the features the blivet library supports. But it was intentionally announced 8 and made publicly known in this shape becase I’m sure Fedora and the whole open-source world is a great community with a lot of clever and productive people who can help with development, QA, documentation, ideas, feature requests and everything else. We are a community of great people ready to do great things that can literally help thousands and millions of people all around the world. And we all know that storage management is a hard thing to do even harder when trying to do it right. So let’s go guys, everybody can help to make blivet-gui more user- or developer-friendly, secure, reliable and feature-complete! Tell us what you like or hate on it most, tell us what you miss in it most, tell us what other storage management tools do better. Every rational and non-aggressive input is welcome, the patches being welcome most, of course. :) Cloning the blivet-gui repository at GitHub is a great way to start.

Disclaimer

The purpose of the blivet-gui tool is not to replace GParted, gnome-disks-utility or any other storage management tool. It is just another option for storage management providing a different (although not disjoint) feature set than other storage management tools.


  1. reaching for the Nobel Prize for peace, of course
  2. I really like how storage gives you a chance to use 20 cryptic abbreviations in a single sentence
  3. and their derivatives
  4. both already being discussed and planned by the Anaconda-storage sub-team
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blivet
  6. not implemented yet though
  7. http://blog.vojtechtrefny.cz/blivet-gui
  8. https://lists.fedoraproject.org/pipermail/devel/2014-September/202105.html