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Binding to Data Services with Spring Boot in Cloud Foundry

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Written by Dave Syer on the Spring blog 

In this article we look at how to bind a Spring Boot application to data services (JDBC, NoSQL, messaging etc.) and the various sources of default and automatic behaviour in Cloud Foundry, providing some guidance about which ones to use and which ones will be active under what conditions. Spring Boot provides a lot of autoconfiguration and external binding features, some of which are relevant to Cloud Foundry, and many of which are not. Spring Cloud Connectors is a library that you can use in your application if you want to create your own components programmatically, but it doesn’t do anything “magical” by itself. And finally there is the Cloud Foundry java buildpack which has an “auto-reconfiguration” feature that tries to ease the burden of moving simple applications to the cloud. The key to correctly configuring middleware services, like JDBC or AMQP or Mongo, is to understand what each of these tools provides, how they influence each other at runtime, and and to switch parts of them on and off. The goal should be a smooth transition from local execution of an application on a developer’s desktop to a test environment in Cloud Foundry, and ultimately to production in Cloud Foundry (or otherwise) with no changes in source code or packaging, per the twelve-factor application guidelines.

There is some simple source code accompanying this article. To use it you can clone the repository and import it into your favourite IDE. You will need to remove two dependencies from the complete project to get to the same point where we start discussing concrete code samples, namely spring-boot-starter-cloud-connectors and auto-reconfiguration.

NOTE: The current co-ordinates for all the libraries being discussed are org.springframework.boot:spring-boot-*:1.2.3.RELEASE,org.springframework.boot:spring-cloud-*-connector:1.1.1.RELEASE,org.cloudfoundry:auto-reconfiguration:1.7.0.RELEASE.

TIP: The source code in github includes a docker-compose.yml file (docs here). You can use that to create a local MySQL database if you don’t have one running already. You don’t actually need it to run most of the code below, but it might be useful to validate that it will actually work.

Punchline for the Impatient

If you want to skip the details, and all you need is a recipe for running locally with H2 and in the cloud with MySQL, then start here and read the rest later when you want to understand in more depth. (Similar options exist for other data services, like RabbitMQ, Redis, Mongo etc.)

Your first and simplest option is to simply do nothing: do not define a DataSource at all but put H2 on the classpath. Spring Boot will create the H2 embedded DataSource for you when you run locally. The Cloud Foundry buildpack will detect a database service binding and create a DataSource for you when you run in the cloud. If you add Spring Cloud Connectors as well, your app will also work in other cloud platforms, as long as you include a connector. That might be good enough if you just want to get something working.

If you want to run a serious application in production you might want to tweak some of the connection pool settings (e.g. the size of the pool, various timeouts, the important test on borrow flag). In that case the buildpack auto-reconfiguration DataSource will not meet your requirements and you need to choose an alternative, and there are a number of more or less sensible choices.

The best choice is probably to create a DataSource explicitly using Spring Cloud Connectors, but guarded by the “cloud” profile:

@Configuration
@Profile("cloud")
public class DataSourceConfiguration {

  @Bean
  public Cloud cloud() {
    return new CloudFactory().getCloud();
  }

  @Bean
  @ConfigurationProperties(DataSourceProperties.PREFIX)
  public DataSource dataSource() {
    return cloud().getSingletonServiceConnector(DataSourceclass, null);
  }

}

You can use spring.datasource.* properties (e.g. in application.properties or a profile-specific version of that) to set the additional properties at runtime. The “cloud” profile is automatically activated for you by the buildpack.

Now for the details. We need to build up a picture of what’s going on in your application at runtime, so we can learn from that how to make a sensible choice for configuring data services.

Layers of Autoconfiguration

Let’s take a a simple app with DataSource (similar considerations apply to RabbitMQ, Mongo, Redis):

@SpringBootApplication
public class CloudApplication {
	
	@Autowired
	private DataSource dataSource;
	
	public static void main(String[] args) {
		SpringApplication.run(CloudApplication.class, args);
	}

}

This is a complete application: the DataSource can be @Autowired because it is created for us by Spring Boot. The details of the DataSource (concrete class, JDBC driver, connection URL, etc.) depend on what is on the classpath. Let’s assume that the application uses Spring JDBC via the spring-boot-starter-jdbc (or spring-boot-starter-data-jpa), so it has aDataSource implementation available from Tomcat (even if it isn’t a web application), and this is what Spring Boot uses.

Consider what happens when:

  • Classpath contains H2 (only) in addition to the starters: the DataSource is the Tomcat high-performance pool from DataSourceAutoConfiguration and it connects to an in memory database “testdb”.

  • Classpath contains H2 and MySQL: DataSource is still H2 (same as before) because we didn’t provide any additional configuration for MySQL and Spring Boot can’t guess the credentials for connecting.

  • Add spring-boot-starter-cloud-connectors to the classpath: no change inDataSource because the Spring Cloud Connectors do not detect that they are running in a Cloud platform. The providers that come with the starter all look for specific environment variables, which they won’t find unless you set them, or run the app in Cloud Foundry, Heroku, etc.

  • Run the application in “cloud” profile with spring.profiles.active=cloud: no change yet in the DataSource, but this is one of the things that the Java buildpack does when your application runs in Cloud Foundry.

  • Run in “cloud” profile and provide some environment variables to simulate running in Cloud Foundry and binding to a MySQL service:

    VCAP_APPLICATION={"name":"application","instance_id":"FOO"}
    VCAP_SERVICES={"mysql":[{"name":"mysql","tags":["mysql"],"credentials":{"uri":"mysql://root:root@localhost/test"}}]}

    (the “tags” provides a hint that we want to create a MySQL DataSource, the “uri” provides the location, and the “name” becomes a bean ID). The DataSource is now using MySQL with the credentials supplied by the VCAP_* environment variables. Spring Boot has some autoconfiguration for the Connectors, so if you looked at the beans in your application you would see a CloudFactory bean, and also the DataSource bean (with ID “mysql”). Theautoconfiguration is equivalent to adding @ServiceScan to your application configuration. It is only active if your application runs in the “cloud” profile, and only if there is no existing @Bean of type Cloud, and the configuration flagspring.cloud.enabled is not “false”.

  • Add the “auto-reconfiguration” JAR from the Java buildpack (Maven co-ordinatesorg.cloudfoundry:auto-reconfiguration:1.7.0.RELEASE). You can add it as a local dependency to simulate running an application in Cloud Foundry, but it wouldn’t be normal to do this with a real application (this is just for experimenting with autoconfiguration). The auto-reconfiguration JAR now has everything it needs to create a DataSource, but it doesn’t (yet) because it detects that you already have a bean of type CloudFactory, one that was added by Spring Boot.

  • Remove the explicit “cloud” profile. The profile will still be active when your app starts because the auto-reconfiguration JAR adds it back again. There is still no change to theDataSource because Spring Boot has created it for you via the @ServiceScan.

  • Remove the spring-boot-starter-cloud-connectors dependency, so that Spring Boot backs off creating a CloudFactory. The auto-reconfiguration JAR actually has its own copy of Spring Cloud Connectors (all the classes with different package names) and it now uses them to create a DataSource (in a BeanFactoryPostProcessor). The Spring Boot autoconfigured DataSource is replaced with one that binds to MySQL via theVCAP_SERVICES. There is no control over pool properties, but it does still use the Tomcat pool if available (no support for Hikari or DBCP2).

  • Remove the auto-reconfiguration JAR and the DataSource reverts to H2.

TIP: use web and actuator starters with endpoints.health.sensitive=false to inspect the DataSource quickly through “/health”. You can also use the “/beans”, “/env” and “/autoconfig” endpoints to see what is going in in the autoconfigurations and why.

NOTE: Running in Cloud Foundry or including auto-reconfiguration JAR in classpath locally both activate the “cloud” profile (for the same reason). The VCAP_* env vars are the thing that makes Spring Cloud and/or the auto-reconfiguration JAR create beans.

NOTE: The URL in the VCAP_SERVICES is actually not a “jdbc” scheme, which should be mandatory for JDBC connections. This is, however, the format that Cloud Foundry normally presents it in because it works for nearly every language other than Java. Spring Cloud Connectors or the buildpack auto-reconfiguration, if they are creating a DataSource, will translate it into a jdbc:* URL for you.

NOTE: The MySQL URL also contains user credentials and a database name which are valid for the Docker container created by the docker-compose.yml in the sample source code. If you have a local MySQL server with different credentials you could substitute those.

TIP: If you use a local MySQL server and want to verify that it is connected, you can use the “/health” endpoint from the Spring Boot Actuator (included in the sample code already). Or you could create a schema-mysql.sql file in the root of the classpath and put a simple keep alive query in it (e.g. SELECT 1). Spring Boot will run that on startupso if the app starts successfully you have configured the database correctly.

The auto-reconfiguration JAR is always on the classpath in Cloud Foundry (by default) but it backs off creating any DataSource if it finds a org.springframework.cloud.CloudFactorybean (which is provided by Spring Boot if the CloudAutoConfiguration is active). Thus the net effect of adding it to the classpath, if the Connectors are also present in a Spring Boot application, is only to enable the “cloud” profile. You can see it making the decision to skip auto-reconfiguration in the application logs on startup:

015-04-14 15:11:11.765  INFO 12727 --- [           main] urceCloudServiceBeanFactoryPostProcessor : Skipping auto-reconfiguring beans of type javax.sql.DataSource
2015-04-14 15:11:57.650  INFO 12727 --- [           main] ongoCloudServiceBeanFactoryPostProcessor : Skipping auto-reconfiguring beans of type org.springframework.data.mongodb.MongoDbFactory
2015-04-14 15:11:57.650  INFO 12727 --- [           main] bbitCloudServiceBeanFactoryPostProcessor : Skipping auto-reconfiguring beans of type org.springframework.amqp.rabbit.connection.ConnectionFactory
2015-04-14 15:11:57.651  INFO 12727 --- [           main] edisCloudServiceBeanFactoryPostProcessor : Skipping auto-reconfiguring beans of type org.springframework.data.redis.connection.RedisConnectionFactory
...
etc.

Create your own DataSource

The last section walked through most of the important autoconfiguration features in the various libraries. If you want to take control yourself, one thing you could start with is to create your own instance of DataSource. You could do that, for instance, using aDataSourceBuilder which is a convenience class and comes as part of Spring Boot (it chooses an implementation based on the classpath):

@SpringBootApplication
public class CloudApplication {
	
	@Bean
	public DataSource dataSource() {
		return DataSourceBuilder.create().build();
	}
	
	...

}

The DataSource as we’ve defined it is useless because it doesn’t have a connection URL or any credentials, but that can easily be fixed. Let’s run this application as if it was in Cloud Foundry: with the VCAP_* environment variables and the auto-reconfiguration JAR but not Spring Cloud Connectors on the classpath and no explicit “cloud” profile. The buildpack activates the “cloud” profile, creates a DataSource and binds it to the VCAP_SERVICES. As already described briefly, it removes your DataSource completely and replaces it with a manually registered singleton (which doesn’t show up in the “/beans” endpoint in Spring Boot).

Now add Spring Cloud Connectors back into the classpath the application and see what happens when you run it again. It actually fails on startup! What has happened? The@ServiceScan (from Connectors) goes and looks for bound services, and creates bean definitions for them. That’s a bit like the buildpack, but different because it doesn’t attempt to replace any existing bean definitions of the same type. So you get an autowiring error because there are 2 DataSources and no way to choose one to inject into your application in various places where one is needed.

To fix that we are going to have to take control of the Cloud Connectors (or simply not use them).

Using a CloudFactory to create a DataSource

You can disable the Spring Boot autoconfiguration and the Java buildpack auto-reconfiguration by creating your own Cloud instance as a @Bean:

@Bean
public Cloud cloud() {
  return new CloudFactory().getCloud();
}

@Bean
@ConfigurationProperties(DataSourceProperties.PREFIX)
public DataSource dataSource() {
  return cloud().getSingletonServiceConnector(DataSource.class, null);
}

Pros: The Connectors autoconfiguration in Spring Boot backed off so there is only oneDataSource. It can be tweaked using application.properties via spring.datasource.*properties, per the Spring Boot User Guide.

Cons: It doesn’t work without VCAP_* environment variables (or some other cloud platform). It also relies on user remembering to ceate the Cloud as a @Bean in order to disable the autoconfiguration.

Summary: we are still not in a comfortable place (an app that doesn’t run without some intricate wrangling of environment variables is not much use in practice).

Dual Running: Local with H2, in the Cloud with MySQL

There is a local configuration file option in Spring Cloud Connectors, so you don’t have to be in a real cloud platform to use them, but it’s awkward to set up despite being boiler plate, and you also have to somehow switch it off when you are in a real cloud platform. The last point there is really the important one because you end up needing a local file to run locally, but only running locally, and it can’t be packaged with the rest of the application code (for instance violates the twelve factor guidelines).

So to move forward with our explicit @Bean definition it’s probably better to stick to mainstream Spring and Spring Boot features, e.g. using the “cloud” profile to guard the explicit creation of a DataSource:

@Configuration
@Profile("cloud")
public class DataSourceConfiguration {

  @Bean
  public Cloud cloud() {
    return new CloudFactory().getCloud();
  }

  @Bean
  @ConfigurationProperties(DataSourceProperties.PREFIX)
  public DataSource dataSource() {
    return cloud().getSingletonServiceConnector(DataSource.class, null);
  }

}

With this in place we have a solution that works smoothly both locally and in Cloud Foundry. Locally Spring Boot will create a DataSource with an H2 embedded database. In Cloud Foundry it will bind to a singleton service of type DataSource and switch off the autconfigured one from Spring Boot. It also has the benefit of working with any platform supported by Spring Cloud Connectors, so the same code will run on Heroku and Cloud Foundry, for instance. Because of the @ConfigurationProperties you can bind additional configuration to the DataSource to tweak connection pool properties and things like that if you need to in production.

NOTE: We have been using MySQL as an example database server, but actually PostgreSQL is at least as compelling a choice if not more. When paired with H2 locally, for instance, you can put H2 into its “Postgres compatibility” mode and use the same SQL in both environments.

Manually Creating a Local and a Cloud DataSource

If you like creating DataSource beans, and you want to do it both locally and in the cloud, you could use 2 profiles (“cloud” and “local”), for example. But then you would have to find a way to activate the “local” profile by default when not in the cloud. There is already a way to do that built into Spring because there is always a default profile called “default” (by default). So this should work:

@Configuration
@Profile("default") // or "!cloud"
public class LocalDataSourceConfiguration {
	
	@Bean
    @ConfigurationProperties(DataSourceProperties.PREFIX)
	public DataSource dataSource() {
		return DataSourceBuilder.create().build();
	}

}

@Configuration
@Profile("cloud")
public class CloudDataSourceConfiguration {

  @Bean
  public Cloud cloud() {
    return new CloudFactory().getCloud();
  }

  @Bean
  @ConfigurationProperties(DataSourceProperties.PREFIX)
  public DataSource dataSource() {
    return cloud().getSingletonServiceConnector(DataSource.class, null);
  }

}

The “default” DataSource is actually identical to the autoconfigured one in this simple example, so you wouldn’t do this unless you needed to, e.g. to create a custom concreteDataSource of a type not supported by Spring Boot. You might think it’s all getting a bit complicated, but in fact Spring Boot is not making it any harder, we are just dealing with the consequences of needing to control the DataSource construction in 2 environments.

Using a Non-Embedded Database Locally

If you don’t want to use H2 or any in-memory database locally, then you can’t really avoid having to configure it (Spring Boot can guess a lot from the URL, but it will need that at least). So at a minimum you need to set some spring.datasource.* properties (the URL for instance). That that isn’t hard to do, and you can easily set different values in different environments using additional profiles, but as soon as you do that you need to switch off the default values when you go into the cloud. To do that you could define thespring.datasource.* properties in a profile-specific file (or document in YAML) for the “default” profile, e.g. application-default.properties, and these will not be used in the “cloud” profile.

A Purely Declarative Approach

If you prefer not to write Java code, or don’t want to use Spring Cloud Connectors, you might want to try and use Spring Boot autoconfiguration and external properties (or YAML) files for everything. For example Spring Boot creates a DataSource for you if it finds the right stuff on the classpath, and it can be completely controlled through application.properties, including all the granular features on the DataSource that you need in production (like pool sizes and validation queries). So all you need is a way to discover the location and credentials for the service from the environment. The buildpack translates Cloud Foundry VCAP_*environment variables into usable property sources in the Spring Environment. Thus, for instance, a DataSource configuration might look like this:

spring.datasource.url: ${cloud.services.mysql.connection.jdbcurl:jdbc:h2:mem:testdb}
spring.datasource.username: ${cloud.services.mysql.connection.username:sa}
spring.datasource.password: ${cloud.services.mysql.connection.password:}
spring.datasource.testOnBorrow: true

The “mysql” part of the property names is the service name in Cloud Foundry (so it is set by the user). And of course the same pattern applies to all kinds of services, not just a JDBCDataSource. Generally speaking it is good practice to use external configuration and in particular @ConfigurationProperties since they allow maximum flexibility, for instance to override using System properties or environment variables at runtime.

Note: similar features are provided by Spring Boot, which provides vcap.services.*instead of cloud.services.*, so you actually end up with more than one way to do this. However, the JDBC urls are not available from the vcap.services.* properties (non-JDBC services work fine with tthe corresponding vcap.services.*credentials.url).

One limitation of this approach is it doesn’t apply if the application needs to configure beans that are not provided by Spring Boot out of the box (e.g. if you need 2 DataSources), in which case you have to write Java code anyway, and may or may not choose to use properties files to parameterize it.

Before you try this yourself, though, beware that actually it doesn’t work unless you also disable the buildpack auto-reconfiguration (and Spring Cloud Connectors if they are on the classpath). If you don’t do that, then they create a new DataSource for you and Spring Boot cannot bind it to your properties file. Thus even for this declarative approach, you end up needing an explicit @Bean definition, and you need this part of your “cloud” profile configuration:

@Configuration
@Profile("cloud")
public class CloudDataSourceConfiguration {

  @Bean
  public Cloud cloud() {
    return new CloudFactory().getCloud();
  }

}

This is purely to switch off the buildpack auto-reconfiguration (and the Spring Boot autoconfiguration, but that could have been disabled with a properties file entry).

Mixed Declarative and Explicit Bean Definition

You can also mix the two approaches: declare a single @Bean definition so that you control the construction of the object, but bind additional configuration to it using@ConfigurationProperties (and do the same locally and in Cloud Foundry). Example:

@Configuration
public class LocalDataSourceConfiguration {
	
	@Bean
    @ConfigurationProperties(DataSourceProperties.PREFIX)
	public DataSource dataSource() {
		return DataSourceBuilder.create().build();
	}

}

(where the DataSourceBuilder would be replaced with whatever fancy logic you need for your use case). And the application.properties would be the same as above, with whatever additional properties you need for your production settings.

A Third Way: Discover the Credentials and Bind Manually

Another approach that lends itself to platform and environment independence is to declare explicit bean definitions for the @ConfigurationProperties beans that Spring Boot uses to bind its autoconfigured connectors. For instance, to set the default values for a DataSourceyou can declare a @Bean of type DataSourceProperties:

@Bean
@Primary
public DataSourceProperties dataSourceProperties() {
    DataSourceProperties properties = new DataSourceProperties();
    properties.setInitialize(false);
    return properties;
}

This sets a default value for the “initialize” flag, and allows other properties to be bound fromapplication.properties (or other external properties). Combine this with the Spring Cloud Connectors and you can control the binding of the credentials when a cloud service is detected:

@Autowired(required="false")
Cloud cloud;

@Bean
@Primary
public DataSourceProperties dataSourceProperties() {
    DataSourceProperties properties = new DataSourceProperties();
    properties.setInitialize(false);
    if (cloud != null) {
      List<ServiceInfo> infos = cloud.getServiceInfos(RelationalServiceInfo.class);
      if (infos.size()==1) {
        RelationalServiceInfo info = (RelationalServiceInfo) infos.get(0);
        properties.setUrl(info.getJdbcUrl());
        properties.setUsername(info.getUserName());
        properties.setPassword(info.getPassword());
      }
    }
    return properties;
}

and you still need to define the Cloud bean in the “cloud” profile. It ends up being quite a lot of code, and is quite unnecessary in this simple use case, but might be handy if you have more complicated bindings, or need to implement some logic to choose a DataSource at runtime.

Spring Boot has similar *Properties beans for the other middleware you might commonly use (e.g. RabbitPropertiesRedisPropertiesMongoProperties). An instance of such a bean marked as @Primary is enough to reset the defaults for the autoconfigured connector.

Deploying to Multiple Cloud Platforms

So far, we have concentrated on Cloud Foundry as the only cloud platform in which to deploy the application. One of the nice features of Spring Cloud Connectors is that it supports other platforms, either out of the box or as extension points. Thespring-boot-starter-cloud-connectors even includes Heroku support. If you do nothing at all, and rely on the autoconfiguration (the lazy programmer’s approach), then your application will be deployable in all clouds where you have a connector on the classpath (i.e. Cloud Foundry and Heroku if you use the starter). If you take the explicit @Bean approach then you need to ensure that the “cloud” profile is active in the non-Cloud Foundry platforms, e.g. through an environment variable. And if you use the purely declarative approach (or any combination involving properties files) you need to activate the “cloud” profile and probably also another profile specific to your platform, so that the right properties files end up in theEnvironment at runtime.

Summary of Autoconfiguration and Provided Behaviour

  • Spring Boot provides DataSource (also RabbitMQ or Redis ConnectionFactory, Mongo etc.) if it finds all the right stuff on the classpath. Using the “spring-boot-starter-*” dependencies is sufficient to activate the behaviour.

  • Spring Boot also provides an autowirable CloudFactory if it finds Spring Cloud Connectors on the classpath (but switches off only if it finds a @Bean of type Cloud).

  • The CloudAutoConfiguration in Spring Boot also effectively adds a @CloudScan to your application, which you would want to switch off if you ever needed to create your ownDataSource (or similar).

  • The Cloud Foundry Java buildpack detects a Spring Boot application and activates the “cloud” profile, unless it is already active. Adding the buildpack auto-reconfiguration JAR does the same thing if you want to try it locally.

  • Through the auto-reconfiguration JAR, the buildpack also kicks in and creates aDataSource (ditto RabbitMQ, Redis, Mongo etc.) if it does not find a CloudFactory bean or a Cloud bean (amongst others). So including Spring Cloud Connectors in a Spring Boot application switches off this part of the “auto-reconfiguration” behaviour (the bean creation).

  • Switching off the Spring Boot CloudAutoConfiguration is easy, but if you do that, you have to remember to switch off the buildpack auto-reconfiguration as well if you don’t want it. The only way to do that is to define a bean definition (can be of type Cloud orCloudFactory for instance).

  • Spring Boot binds application.properties (and other sources of external properties) to@ConfigurationProperties beans, including but not limited to the ones that it autoconfigures. You can use this feature to tweak pool properties and other settings that need to be different in production environments.

General Advice and Conclusion

We have seen quite a few options and autoconfigurations in this short article, and we’ve only really used thee libraries (Spring Boot, Spring Cloud Connectors, and the Cloud Foundry buildpack auto-reconfiguration JAR) and one platform (Cloud Foundry), not counting local deployment. The buildpack features are really only useful for very simple applications because there is no flexibility to tune the connections in production. That said it is a nice thing to be able to do when prototyping. There are only three main approaches if you want to achieve the goal of deploying the same code locally and in the cloud, yet still being able to make necessary tweaks in production:

  1. Use Spring Cloud Connectors to explicitly create DataSource and other middleware connections and protect those @Beans with @Profile("cloud"). The approach always works, but leads to more code than you might need for many applications.

  2. Use the Spring Boot default autoconfiguration and declare the cloud bindings usingapplication.properties (or in YAML). To take full advantage you have to expliccitly switch off the buildpack auto-reconfiguration as well.

  3. Use Spring Cloud Connectors to discover the credentials, and bind them to the Spring Boot@ConfigurationProperties as default values if present.

The three approaches are actually not incompatible, and can be mixed using@ConfigurationProperties to provide profile-specific overrides of default configuration (e.g. for setting up connection pools in a different way in a production environment). If you have a relatively simple Spring Boot application, the only way to choose between the approaches is probably personal taste. If you have a non-Spring Boot application then the explicit @Bean approach will win, and it may also win if you plan to deploy your application in more than one cloud platform (e.g. Heroku and Cloud Foundry).

NOTE: This blog has been a journey of discovery (who knew there was so much to learn?). Thanks go to all those who helped with reviews and comments, in particularScott Frederick, who spotted most of the mistakes in the drafts and always had time to look at a new revision.

The Cloud Zone is brought to you in partnership with Internap. Read Bare-Metal Cloud 101 to learn about bare-metal cloud and how it has emerged as a way to complement virtualized services.

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