Linux Containers Authors: Gordon Haff, Pat Romanski, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White, Roger Strukhoff

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Tackling Dependencies

Automated dependency resolution

You don't have to be around Linux for long before you hear about "the dependency problem," which is no problem at all for many users - until the day it bites them. In a nutshell, the problem is that most Linux applications depend on the operating system to provide various pieces of functionality that the applications need. These components most often take the form of shared libraries that are dynamically loaded and linked to the application at runtime. Problems occur when one or more of these libraries are replaced with a different (usually newer) version. Provided all the interfaces remain the same and the semantics of the functionality remain the same, there's no problem. However, due to security fixes, bug fixes, or new or improved functionality, the interfaces and semantics can and do change, and the changes can be enough to break the application.

In general, individual libraries aren't distributed individually but as part of a package of related components. Packages are installed as a whole. In general there's no way to take just one part of a package, and in fact to do so would be inviting trouble since packages are usually composed of related components that need to be installed as a whole to guarantee that the components work together correctly.

It would seem reasonable to assume that once an application is installed and working there would be no reason to touch it, or any of the components that it depends on. However, there are myriad reasons why components end up changing. The most common are:

  • A new application is installed that requires a later version of a package containing one of the shared libraries used by the first application.
  • A security or bug fix affects a package used by the application.
  • An update version of the OS from the distributor includes newer packages.
Whatever the cause, installing a package to satisfy the requirements of some totally unrelated piece of software can break a currently installed application, even if it has no libraries in common with the new software, but simply because some of the libraries of the two applications are contained in the same package. The more applications that are installed, the greater the chance of problems, and the more complex it becomes to find a combination of packages that will satisfy all of the dependencies.

This problem isn't unique to Linux. It's been a long-time problem with many different Unix systems that make heavy use of shared libraries, and is essentially the same as the famous "dll hell" that afflicted older versions of Windows (a Windows .dll file is a dynamically loaded shared library). Unix vendors reduced the problem to manageable proportions by tightly controlling the evolution of the system and providing lots of advance warning to third-party vendors of impending changes. Microsoft adopted similar tactics and became adamant about which libraries third parties were free to change, and which they weren't, making it difficult for third-party applications to overwrite system-provided libraries.

Linux is essentially no better or worse in terms of shared library management than Unix or Windows. What's different is that there's no central coordinating authority to make sure that changes happen in a controlled and consistent manner. In some respects this is one of the strengths of Open Source development; it allows change to happen at its natural pace and forces people to be more aware of the potential problems associated with change. It's also a weakness from the point-of-view of an end user having to integrate systems with components with different dependency requirements.

Linux distributors spend a lot of time and effort making sure that their systems are delivered with the dependencies all correctly resolved, and that any updates they create don't disturb this balance. They often go so far as to take security/bug/performance updates that tend to be created by the component development group on the latest version of their software - which is probably not the version currently shipping - and back-port the changes to the shipping version and test to make sure the changes don't introduce any inconsistencies. However, distributions have limited control over third parties, both commercial and Open-Source, that are reluctant to re-test their products with every new version of a package on which they have a dependency.

One of the interesting benefits Linux holds for its enterprise adopters is that it's multi-sourced. Essentially the same product is available from multiple vendors, improving competition and avoiding lock-in. Although managing multiple Linux distributions adds overhead, some companies prefer not to put all their eggs in one basket and use multiple distributions to help ensure that they don't end up locked in to a specific distribution.

However, this adds a new dimension to the dependency problem.

In many instances, different packages are used on different distributions. There's no standardized system for packaging, although most major Linux distributors use the RPM packaging system that defines how the package is constructed and what information it contains on individual file location and a set of dependency rules. Unfortunately, the same package name on two different distributions can contain different revisions of components or even different components. To add to the problem, not all Linux systems use the same package mechanism. For example, Debian-based systems don't use packages at all.

The end result is that the configuration management of these systems becomes quite complex. Applying something such as a security fix may necessitate other changes to bring the dependencies back into alignment, and then subsequent testing of all applications running on those revised systems/distributions before they can be declared stable and rolled out into production. This has to happen independently on each distribution platform.

Aduva OnStage

Having lived and worked with this problem, and recognizing the need for a better solution than the mostly manual process that they and everyone else was using, the founders of Aduva began work on trying to automate the dependency resolution process.

One of the key components of their system was based on recognizing that the package level - at which most people were working - is too high a level for successful resolution. They built a database (the Aduva Universal KnowlegeBase) of dependency information based on the contents of the packages - the individual files that they contain.

By extending the dependency information and including specific dynamic dependency rules down to the file level it becomes much easier to find solutions to dependency problems. Once a set of solutions is found, information stored in the database about the composition of the packages is used to resolve the set of packages with the highest version levels possible to implement a solution. Since information is stored on distribution-specific packages, the system can derive package lists specific to individual distributions for the same dependencies.

The database also contains information on security alerts and errata notifications and fixes for packages and their components, so in building a specific package list the system takes account of these, and will find a path through the dependency graph that avoids as many of them as possible, hopefully all of them. Rarely, when re-evaluating dependencies to add a new application, the only valid path(s) will include components with known security issues. In that case the system delivers its package list, but warns that the list will introduce known security problems, leaving system administrators to decide whether to continue or consult with Aduva's Lab and professional services team to devise a solution.

Keeping the database up-to-date is the key to success. Aduva works closely with Linux distributions, many different Open Source development communities, and various security groups to ensure that it has complete and current information. A set of tools automates and tests much of the process of determining dependencies.

The complete KnowledgeBase allows systems configurations to be generated based on combinations of different packages beyond those directly supported by a given Linux distribution, provided those packages are known to the KnowledgeBase. Of course, in real-world deployments a huge variety of different applications and third-party packages are going to be encountered, more than in the centrally maintained Universal KnowledgeBase. To make sure that the extended dependency requirements encompassing these additional components are taken into account when configuring, a set of tools exists that permits individual customers to create their own KnowledgeBase with dependency rules specific to their particular software. This local KnowledgeBase is then used in conjunction with the central KnowledgeBase to ensure that the specific requirements of local software components are taken into account when determining a stable configuration.

With this core technology in place Aduva has used it as a platform on which to build a set of tools designed to simplify Linux configuration management, application deployment, change management, and patch control for the enterprise. This set of management tools is sold under the name OnStage.

The OnStage toolset provides a very complete set of system configuration management tools, enabling machine types to be defined, a configuration generated for that specific set of machines, and automatically deployed at the click of a button. Changes can be made to any given set of machines such as deploying an application, adding a patch, or changing the system configuration, and the set of changes are validated against the local and central KnowledgeBases and automatically updated to ensure dependency rules are met and pushed to the entire set of machines, either immediately, or deferred until a specific time or other criteria are met. Configurations are recorded at each stage making it trivial to back out any change or set of changes should that be required.

What's unique about the OnStage toolset is that it sits on the KnowledgeBase and takes the uncertainty out of making changes to a stable production platform, which is one more step in making Open Source a viable solution for the enterprise.

More Stories By Zev Laderman

Zev Laderman is chairman and CEO of Aduva. He was previously CEO of Tradeum, President of Verticalnet, and was a VP at Oracle. He has an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Digital Transformation and Disruption, Amazon Style - What You Can Learn. Chris Kocher is a co-founder of Grey Heron, a management and strategic marketing consulting firm. He has 25+ years in both strategic and hands-on operating experience helping executives and investors build revenues and shareholder value. He has consulted with over 130 companies on innovating with new business models, product strategies and monetization. Chris has held management positions at HP and Symantec in addition to ...
Cloud-enabled transformation has evolved from cost saving measure to business innovation strategy -- one that combines the cloud with cognitive capabilities to drive market disruption. Learn how you can achieve the insight and agility you need to gain a competitive advantage. Industry-acclaimed CTO and cloud expert, Shankar Kalyana presents. Only the most exceptional IBMers are appointed with the rare distinction of IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the company. Shankar has also receive...
Enterprises have taken advantage of IoT to achieve important revenue and cost advantages. What is less apparent is how incumbent enterprises operating at scale have, following success with IoT, built analytic, operations management and software development capabilities - ranging from autonomous vehicles to manageable robotics installations. They have embraced these capabilities as if they were Silicon Valley startups.
The standardization of container runtimes and images has sparked the creation of an almost overwhelming number of new open source projects that build on and otherwise work with these specifications. Of course, there's Kubernetes, which orchestrates and manages collections of containers. It was one of the first and best-known examples of projects that make containers truly useful for production use. However, more recently, the container ecosystem has truly exploded. A service mesh like Istio addr...
Predicting the future has never been more challenging - not because of the lack of data but because of the flood of ungoverned and risk laden information. Microsoft states that 2.5 exabytes of data are created every day. Expectations and reliance on data are being pushed to the limits, as demands around hybrid options continue to grow.
Poor data quality and analytics drive down business value. In fact, Gartner estimated that the average financial impact of poor data quality on organizations is $9.7 million per year. But bad data is much more than a cost center. By eroding trust in information, analytics and the business decisions based on these, it is a serious impediment to digital transformation.
Business professionals no longer wonder if they'll migrate to the cloud; it's now a matter of when. The cloud environment has proved to be a major force in transitioning to an agile business model that enables quick decisions and fast implementation that solidify customer relationships. And when the cloud is combined with the power of cognitive computing, it drives innovation and transformation that achieves astounding competitive advantage.
As IoT continues to increase momentum, so does the associated risk. Secure Device Lifecycle Management (DLM) is ranked as one of the most important technology areas of IoT. Driving this trend is the realization that secure support for IoT devices provides companies the ability to deliver high-quality, reliable, secure offerings faster, create new revenue streams, and reduce support costs, all while building a competitive advantage in their markets. In this session, we will use customer use cases...
Digital Transformation: Preparing Cloud & IoT Security for the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) power solution development and delivery, many businesses need to build backend cloud capabilities. Well-poised organizations, marketing smart devices with AI and BlockChain capabilities prepare to refine compliance and regulatory capabilities in 2018. Volumes of health, financial, technical and privacy data, along with tightening compliance requirements by...
Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settlement products to hedge funds and investment banks. After, he co-founded a revenue cycle management company where he learned about Bitcoin and eventually Ethereal. Andrew's role at ConsenSys Enterprise is a mul...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that "Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO" has announced that its Call for Papers is now open. The two-day event will present 20 top Blockchain experts. All speaking inquiries which covers the following information can be submitted by email to [email protected] Financial enterprises in New York City, London, Singapore, and other world financial capitals are embracing a new generation of smart, automated FinTech that eliminates many cumbersome, slow, and expe...
DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing was coined and where technology buyers and vendors meet to experience and discuss the big picture of Digital Transformation and all of the strategies, tactics, and tools they need to realize their goals. Sponsors of DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO benefit from unmatched branding, profile building and lead generation opportunities.
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
DevOpsSummit New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DXWorldEXPO within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of bus...
With 10 simultaneous tracks, keynotes, general sessions and targeted breakout classes, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO are two of the most important technology events of the year. Since its launch over eight years ago, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO have presented a rock star faculty as well as showcased hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors! In this blog post, we provide 7 tips on how, as part of our world-class faculty, you can deliver one of the most popular sessions at our events. But before reading...
Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo have announced the conference tracks for Cloud Expo 2018. Cloud Expo will be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, and November 6-8, 2018, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DX Expo within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive ov...
DXWordEXPO New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City and will bring together Cloud Computing, FinTech and Blockchain, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, AI, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location.
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICOHOLDER named "Media Sponsor" of Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO. ICOHOLDER give you detailed information and help the community to invest in the trusty projects. Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO has opened its Call for Papers. The two-day event will present 20 top Blockchain experts. All speaking inquiries which covers the following information can be submitted by email to [email protected] Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO also offers s...
Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized digital expert, bestselling book author, frequent keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, and transformation expert based in Washington, DC. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the industry-leading digital strategy and online community solutions firm, 7Summits.
With tough new regulations coming to Europe on data privacy in May 2018, Calligo will explain why in reality the effect is global and transforms how you consider critical data. EU GDPR fundamentally rewrites the rules for cloud, Big Data and IoT. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Adam Ryan, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Calligo, examined the regulations and provided insight on how it affects technology, challenges the established rules and will usher in new levels of diligence arou...