Automation is key to success in the cloud. When your entire infrastructure is accessible via an API, it doesn’t make sense to configure and install your applications by hand. This is where orchestration tools come into play.
Simply put: You will not have long-term success in the cloud unless an orchestration tool is a core part of your strategy.
Orchestration Tool Uses
Each orchestration tool works in roughly the same manner, taking a set of instructions (Chef uses recipes, Puppet uses manifests and Ansible uses plays) and applying them to one or more systems. The syntax of the instructions and how they are applied changes with each tool, but the principles are consistent.
This leads to the most common use case: configuring a new server.
Instead of manually installing all of the required libraries, applications, config files and other tools, you simply run the matching set of instructions. Need a new web server? One command and you’re set. Need a database server? Another command has it up and running quickly.
That’s the basic idea, but with each of these tools you easily can build out a more complex configuration by nesting sets of instructions. Taking the two examples above, you could have a baseline server configuration with all of the common tools and configurations, then customize each server with a smaller set of configurations specific to web servers and database servers.
Does a new utility need to be on all of your systems? Do you have a new version of your app? Do you need to push out a new configuration file for your data stores? Send one set of instructions through your orchestration tool and you’re done.
It doesn’t take long to see the value of these tools and to mandate their use for all of your cloud deployments.
Not So Fast
Like most challenges in the DevOps space, orchestration isn’t that simple. You can’t just wave your magic wand and get all of your teams using a centralized orchestration tool. This is not a new challenge, we’ve been trying to get this right since the early ’90s (remember Novell ZenWorks or the first version of Microsoft Systems Manager ?) and are just now starting to see wide(r)spread success.
Culture is the No. 1 blocker when it comes to this category of tool.
You’ll hear some common objections from teams:
- The choice of technology (is Chef versus Puppet versus Ansible versus the Emacs versus Vi?)
- It wasn’t built here .
- The manual process works just fine.
These objections rarely hold up to scrutiny, but that doesn’t matter. Any objection raised needs to be addressed in some manner until you’ve got enough people on the target team to sway the rest over to the direction you’re trying to head.
When you’re facing a cultural challenge, you have to address the people side of the equation in your strategy!
3 Steps to Take
No solution is going to work in all cases, as every organization is unique. You know the culture of your organization best, so go with your gut. With that in mind, here are the three approaches that tend to work best for most organizations.
No one likes to be told what to do from up on high. While mandating that a team switch over to this shiny new orchestration tool might get the work done initially, it also will build resentment. That’s the opposite of what you want. You want buy-in.
Odds are, each team in your organization already has a to-do list a mile long. Regardless of the benefits, your orchestration project probably isn’t very high on the list. Accepting that your priority isn’t their priority is a key step toward understanding and empathy .
2. Pitch In
One way to help move up the priority list is to offer to help out and pitch in.
Learning a new tool and new way of conducting ops doesn’t just happen overnight. Have a strong, step-by-step plan to help bring other teams up to speed. A core part of that plan has to be one of your team working with the new team for as long as it takes to get them comfortable with the new tool.
Take a patient, hands-on approach. Let other teams learn by doing … and by making mistakes. Your role is to guide them along the path of adopting the new tool. Time and time again, this type of approach has proven to be far more successful than other options.
3. Duct Tape
As your efforts progress, you may reach the point where the other teams are comfortable with the tooling, understand the workflow and are ready to adopt the new tool.
The problem is now either:
- Developing new sets of instructions or
- Converting old scripts or hacks to the new tool.
To tackle the first challenge, make sure you’ve set up an easy way for teams to share sets of instructions. A centralized set of git repos work great for this. This will reduce the overall workload and encourage collaboration. It’s better to borrow than to rewrite.
You’ll also want to make sure there is a regular communication highlighting successes with the new tooling. This will help remind teams of the value of the new way of working.
To tackle conversion (problem No. 2), plug your nose and use this messy hack. All three major orchestration tools allow you to execute another script or program. If you already have working sets of instructions, keep using them. Just wrap them in the new tool to gain the workflow benefits.
Eventually you will replace them with native instruction sets, but if it’s working “as is,” that’s one less set that you need to build.
A lot of operational issues happen because of a manual error. Asking someone to make the same configuration change on six systems is bound to lead to a mistake. By moving to the cloud, you’ve already accepted the ability to program your infrastructure. Manually configuring the assets in that infrastructure doesn’t make any sense.
Orchestration tools allow you to reduce the number of mistake made, ensure consistent results and amplify the productivity of your teams.
What’s not to love?
What have your experiences moving a number of teams to a common tool been like? What tips and tricks did you learn along the way? Share in the comments below or on Twitter, where I’m @marknca .