Friday is System Administrator Appreciation Day

Don’t forget, this Friday 7/25 is the annual celebration of System Administrator Appreciation Day.  Start dropping hints to your coworkers about your treat of choice now!  “DevOps means you have to care!(tm)”

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Velocity 2014 After Action Report

An Average Velocity Session

An Average Velocity Session

Well, it was my first Velocity (I’ve been to every one, 2008 to present, you can read the previous reports here on the blog) as a vendor!  So that was different, and I split time between working the Copperegg booth and going to sessions.  As a result I’m not going to do the extensive session-by-session notes I’ve done in the past.  Two other Agile Admins, James and Karthik were there, I’m hoping they do some writeups of sessions they attended too!

Being a vendor was interesting; though standing at the booth made my dogs bark after the day was over, it was great to be able to talk to so many people. There were a lot of monitoring providers at the show (Copperegg (us), Compuware, New Relic, Datadog, many more).  Pingdom was right across from us, with a slate of guys shipped in from Sweden, but they were generally grumpy – jet lag or their recent acquisition, perhaps. A new log management SaaS provider was there, logentries.com, and that was interesting – Sumo is the only real one in the space since Loggly and SplunkStorm borked it up and they’ve been getting a little… “Enterprise-y?” By that I mean having sales reps call you 5x/day and wanting near-Splunk prices.  So yay to the newcomers, competition is always good. Other than that, it was mostly the same slate of Velocity-vendors as usual.

What’s New

Well, let’s get it out of the way – there wasn’t all that much new this year. Karthik complained to me that “last year, Velocity was my favorite conference ever, and this year I didn’t get much out of it.” Not every year hosts a bunch of new techniques, sadly, but I thought there were some gems in there.  Here’s the major four new trends taking up speech-space:

Docker docker docker containers containers containers. Learn it now because in a year everything will be in containers – no, seriously. Largest splash in computing since Amazon AWS. The hype is a little overexcited at times but there’s a lot of new development going on here.  On the one hand, not everyone needs new-box spinup in 5s instead of 5m and the efficiency gains are a tradeoff for security – but to be blunt, people stopped well short of exercising the elasticity and ephemerality of cloud/virtualization solutions, instead going for the more comfortable “let’s deploy a three tier app manually like we did back in the day, but in the cloud” and so containers will be a disruption to push forward the concept of dynamic service orchestration etc., which is good.

There is starting to be buzz around Internet of Things.  Mark Burgess (CFEngine, author of “In Search Of Certainty”) did a presentation on IoT and a more distributed model of monitoring and computation. Worth looking at, and it’s becoming more a part of mainstream computing (“engineering” tech and “IT” tech split off from each other 15 years ago for whatever reason and are just now joining forces again). Since we Agile Admins all had worked at National Instruments and had tried to get them onto the IoT bandwagon like 5 years ago, we grumped among each other about this.

There’s also strong interest in software defined networking (OpenDaylight, Cumulus). John Willis (@botchagalupe) waxed poetic on the topic and it fit into the general push towards making everything programmable.

There was strong and sustained interest (presentations, etc.) on STEM education and specifically on women in tech/getting more women into tech.

Keynotes

My Room At The Avatar

My Room At The Avatar

Video of these should be publicly available so you can watch them.

Jeff Dean of Google did a very interesting talk on making large scale services low latency that I recommend everyone view (video is at the link). Shared environments increase utilization but also congestion, exacerbated by large fanout systems – if a given system has services with only 1% 1 sec latency and have you to touch 100 services to finish your call, 63% of calls take more than a second. Traditional latency reduction uses techniques like differentiated service classes, breaking up large requests, managing background activity (rate limit, wait till low load). Tolerating faults is a lot like tolerating variability – extra resources make your system reliable – do the same with variability, but much lower timeframe. There’s two ways to do that…

  1. Cross Request Adaptation – examine recent behavior and make changes (load balance, scale) – low timescale, this tends to make the “next call” faster. Fine grained dynamic partitioning relies on equal sizes and constant load, but if you break up into 10-100 things a machine you can shed load more effectively. Selective replication, like in query system they make more copies of important docs. Use latency-induced probation via your load balancer, offload to other boxes, shadow stream to original, return to service when it’s better.
  2. Within Request Adaptation – make the call faster within the single call! Basically this is a series of refinements on “send the request two places.”  First he modeled sending the request again to another server if it didn’t return in an expected amount of time. You can get cuter, like by always sending to two destinations and having the one that starts working on it give a sideways “I’ve got it” to the other. His mathematical analysis says that you can cut latency dramatically for a very small increase in load, and not only that, but the response of a loaded cluster and an idle cluster become very similar (less dramatic spiking under load).

And I did one!  Just a 5 minute spot since Copperegg was a platinum sponsor; I talked about applying a Lean approach to implementing monitoring. It was called A 5 Minute Checklist For Application Monitoring and slides/video are at the link.  I also wrote a white paper to expand on it that’s available for download here.

Sessions

California Sushi

California Sushi

I went to a number of sessions that I enjoyed; here’s a quick breakdown of the ones I thought were winners.  I’ll try to find slides and link them where they exist. O’Reilly charges for the videos though.

Vladimir Vuskan’s workshop on ganglia. People like the gathering of mass metrics. They did rake him over the coals a bit on the 15s time resolution and the relatively primitive RRDTool graphs.  He had some interesting bits like a “check that a value is the same everywhere” alert for consistency. He also summed up “why we monitor” well – MTTD, MTTR, trending, learning.

Theo Schlossnagle’s presentation on Understanding Slowness. He recommended a system map as step 1 – high level box and line but low level with all versions, locations, and service connections. He also talked about going to histograms but less sophisticated users find those hard to understand, so displaying quantiles can be a happy medium. He sees three different tool spaces: observational, synthetic, and manipulation.

There was a good presentation on the math around false alarms, using the “sensitivity” and “specificity” terms from medicine. Here’s a quick reference on those and how you calculate a positive predictive value. Undetected outages are embarrassing so the response is to narrow the monitoring thresholds but this just generates more false alerts, aka “pagerrhea.” This segued into the discussion of using better means to detect deviation – hysteresis, moving thresholds like Holt-Winters, cross-correlation of metrics, Fourier transforms. You should alert on whether work is getting done, not on CPU or swap but on HTTP response time and requests per second. He wants “something like nagios but that separates detection from diagnosis.”

I also really appreciated the LinkedIn talk on technical debt. They admitted that several years ago, they were trying to keep up in the social world and just ground to a halt because of accumulated technical debt. They had to stop and take a bunch of time to fix it before they could move forward. Important takeaways included:

  • Technical debt comes small decision by small decision
  • Don’t wait for version n+1, fix it now
  • “One in a million” problems happen a lot at web scale
  • Cancerous workarounds are no good
  • Broken window syndrome – if things are broken, people will tend to leave things broken
  • Zombie tech will eat you
  • Use our cool rest.li REST framework!
  • Employee engagement drains KPIs
  • Strategies – recognize debt choices and decisions
  • Use new eyes – consultants, interns – to identify the “bad parts”
  • Measure the right things
  • Technical debt you can see is only the tip of the iceberg
  • Make active decisions otherwise in Soviet Russia, Decision Makes You!  (well, I added that last part)

The last really good one was about confirmation bias and monitoring. When dealing with metrics there are a lot of cognitive illusions – the anchoring effect (whatever it was recently before it deviated must have been right), the validity effect (a couple people told me that so it must be true), illusory correlation (looks like those happened around the same time), attitude polarization (round up the usual suspects). The way to combat this is with analysis. Rethink your data flow, validate your stats.  Use anomaly detection like the open sourced skyline and oculus to really detect correlations and deviations.

Though there weren’t as many breakthroughs this year, I appreciated the incremental uptick in wisdom about how to use what we have!

Social

Much of the benefit of conferences isn’t the sessions, it’s the great people you meet and share experiences with. Once you’ve been a couple years, you get to see old friends – though sadly none of our compatriots from Agile Admin alumni companies were there (National Instruments, Bazaarvoice, PowerReviews) we did get to see most of the “usual suspects” we get to see at these shows – we had the usual “hang out at the Hyatt bar fiesta” with Andrew Schafer, John Willis, Ben Rockwood, Cameron Haight and Jonah Kowall from Gartner, Gene Kim, and many more.  Notable in his absence was Patrick Debois who remained in Belgium, we all missed him.

If you went to Velocity this year, chime in below (especially if we met you there!).

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An article I wrote for InfoWorld’s New Tech Forum on all the various monitoring techniques: Know your options for infrastructure monitoring

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by | July 3, 2014 · 2:43 pm

DevOpsDays Silicon Valley 2014 Day Two Notes

Day Two

spam First, a public shaming. Some goober from Merantis left this spam on everyone’s car. Bah.

Presentations

@bridgetkromhout spoke on “how I learned to stop worrying and love devops” and @benzobot spoke on onboarding and mentoring apprentices. DoD SV certainly made a strong effort to get more female speakers this year!  We tried in Austin (I personally wrote like every local techie woman group I could find) but we only had like one.

Then there were two super bad ass presentations back to back. I can’t find the slides online yet.

The Future of Configuration Management

Mark Burgess (@markburgess_osl), aka “The CFEngine Guy” and noted Promise Theory advocate, spoke.  Chef and Puppet had eclipsed CFEngine for a while but it turns out as the Internet of Things and containers and stuff are arriving that maybe many of his design decisions were actually prescient and not retro. Here it is broken down into wise sayings.

  • Why do we not have CAD for IT systems?
  • Orchestration is not bricklaying.
  • We need the equivalent of style sheets for servers.
  • We are entering a world of decentralized smart infrastructure.
  • Scale, complexity, and knowledge increase as our desire for flexibility increases.
  • Separation of concerns adds complexity and fragility.
  • To handle complexity – atomize and untether.
  • 3D printed datacenters are coming.

DevOps as Relationship Management

James Urquhart (@jamesurquhart) spoke about the interconnectedness of our systems. The SEC, post flash crash, added circuit breakers, defined rollback protocols, inserted agents into the flow of the stock exchange trading systems to prevent uncontrolled cascading.

One simple rule – visualize the whole system (monitor your outside relationships) but take action at the agent level. “How are you doing today?” “Good.” Monitoring is going well, new approaches in the space look at policies and interactions and performance and business medtrics – but need to differentiate reductionist vs expansionist approaches.

Michal Nygard’s book Release It! is full of great patterns, and Netflix’ open sourced Hystrix is an example of the kind of relational system safeguards you can build off it.

Ignite Block

  • Tips for Introverts (at Conventions) by Tom Duffield – They include find a role, don’t fear failure, attend preconference activities, go to lunch early and sit, engage, share interests, find a comfortable setting, take time to recharge. As someone initially introverted myself (no one believes that now) I like that this has actual tips to get past it; in some circles “introversion” has become the new “Asperger’s” as a blanket excuse for not wanting to bother to relate to people.
  • Mike Place on scalable container management – Google kubernetes is an example. Don’t just provision your systems, you need to manage them too. Images came and went and came back now, but you also can’t ignore what’s onboard the image. It’s time to join image and config management.
    This was really good and the world should listen. On the one hand, conducting CM operations on 1000 servers in parallel is contributing unnecessarily to the heat death of the universe.  On the other hand, you need to build those images in a non-manual way in the first place! And too many systems worry about the configuration but not the runtime operation. Amen brother!
  • Finally (well, there were two more, but I didn’t care for them so took no notes), John Willis (@botchagalupe) did [Darwin to] Deming to DevOps, a burst-fire reading list of nondeterminism tracing from Darwin through various scientists to the Deming/TPS stuff through into the DevOps world with Gene Kim and Patrick Debois.  It was pimp. Here it is when he gave it at another venue:

Conclusions

Here’s some big themes from the week.

  • Deterministic, reductionist, and centralized are for suckers.
  • Complexity is the enemy.  Systems thinking is necessary.
  • We love continuous deployment.  But DevOps is not just about delivering code to production.
  • Women exist in DevOps and are cool.  More would be great.
  • Most vendors have figured out to just relax and talk to techies in a way they might listen to.  Some haven’t.

It was a great event, kudos to Marius and the other organizers who put in a lot of work to wrangle 500 people, nearly 30 sponsors, food, venue, and the like.  If you haven’t been to a DevOpsDays, look around, there may be one near you!  I help organize DevOpsDays Austin (just had our third annual) and there’s ones coming this year from Tel Aviv to Minneapolis.

If you went to DoD SV, feel free and comment below with your thoughts (linking any posts you’ve made, slides, etc. is welcome too)!

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DevOpsDays Silicon Valley 2014 Day One Notes

I have more notes from Velocity, but thought I’d do DevOpsDays first while it’s freshest in my brain. This isn’t a complete report, it’s just my thoughts on the parts I felt moved to actually write down or gave me a notable thought. More notes when I was learning, less when I wasn’t (not a reflection on the quality of the talk, just some things I already knew a bit about).

DevOpsDays Silicon Valley 2014 was June 27-28 at the San Jose Computer Museum. 500 people registered; not sure how many showed but I’d guess definitely in excess of 400.

Day One

State of the Union

First we had John Willis (@botchagalupe) giving the DevOps State of the Union. Here’s the slides (I know it says Amsterdam, he gave it there too.) This consisted of two parts – the first was a review of Gene Kim et al’s 2014 State of DevOps Report – go download it if you haven’t read it, it’s great stuff.

The second part is about how we are moving towards software defined everything – robust API driven abstractions decoupled from the underlying infrastructure. John’s really into software defined networking right now as it’s one of the remaining strongholds of static-suckiness in most infrastructures. A shout out to the blog at networkstatic.net and tools like mesos and Google’s kubernetes that are making computing even more fluid (see this article for some basics). “Consumable, composable infrastructure.”

Saying No

Next, our favorite Kanban expert Dominica DeGrandis (@dominicad) spoke on “Why Don’t We Just Say No?”  Here’s the slides. As a new product manager, and as a former engineering manager who had engineers that would just take on work till they burst even with me standing there yelling “No!  Don’t do it!”, it’s an interesting topic.

Why do you take on more work than you have capacity to do? She cites The Book Of No by Susan Newman, Ph. D and a very recent Psychology Today “Caveman Logic” post called Why So Many People Just Can’t Say No. She proposes that it is easier for devs to say no; ops have more pressing demands and are forced into too much yes. Some devs took exception to this on twitter – “our product people make us do all kinds of stuff we don’t like to” – but I think that’s different from the main point here. It’s not that “you have to do something you don’t like and are overruled when you say no” but that “you become severely over-committed due to requests from many quarters and being unwilling to say no.”

She goes through a great case study of changing over a big ops shop to a more modern “SRE” model and handle both interrupt and project work by getting metrics, having a lower WIP limit, closing out >90 day old tickets, and saying no to non-emergency last minute requests. In fact, the latter is why I prefer scrum over kanban for operations so far – she contended that devs have an easier time saying no to interrupt work because of the sprint cadence.  OK, so adopt a sprint cadence! Anyway, by having some clear definitions of done for workflow stages they managed to improve the state of things considerably. Use kaizen.  The book about the Pixar story, Creativity Inc., talks about how the Pixar folks were running themselves ragged to try to finish Toy Story, till someone left their baby in a car because they were too frazzled. “Asking this much of people, even when they wanted to give it, was not acceptable.” What should your WIP level be? The level of “personal safety” would be a great start!

It’s interesting – I did some of these things at Bazaarvoice and tried to do some other ones too. But often times the resistance would be from the engineers that the current process was working to death.  “We can’t close those old tickets!  They have valuable info and analysis and it’s something that needs to happen!” “Yes, but our rate of work done and rate of work intake proves mathematically that they’ll never get done. Keeping them open is therefore us making a false promise to whoever logged those tickets.” Not everyone is able to ruthlessly apply logic to problems – you’d think that would be an engineer attribute but in my experience, not really any more than the general population. But given that “not acceptable” quote above, I really struggled with how to get engineers who were burning themselves out to quit it.  It’s harder than you’d think.

Agile at Scale

Next was a fascinating case study from Capital One’s transformation to an agile, BDD, devops-driven environment given by Adam Auerbach (@bugman31). The slides are available on Slideshare.  They used the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and BDD/acceptance test driven development with cucumber as well as continuous integration. In a later openspace there were people from Amex, city/state/federal governments, etc. trying to do the same thing – Agile and DevOps aren’t just for the little startups any more! He reported that it really improved their quality. Hmm, from the Googles it looks like the consulting firm LitheSpeed was involved, I met one of their principals at Agile Austin and he really impressed me.

Sales and Marketing Too

Sarah Goff-DuPont (@devtoolsuperfan) spoke about having sales and marketing join the agile teams as well.  Some tips included cross-pollinating metrics and joining forces on customer outreach.

Ignites

Just some quick thoughts from the day one Ignites.

  • @eriksowa on OODA and front end ops and screaming at your team in German (I am in favor of it)
  • Aater (futurechips) on data acquisition and multitenancy with docker
  • Jason Walker on LegoOps
  • Ho Ming Li on Introducing DevOps
  • @seemaj from Enstratius on classic to continuous delivery – slides. Pretty meaty with lots of tool shout-outs – grunt, bowler, angular, yo, bootstrap, grails, chef, rundeck, hubot, etc. I don’t mind a good laundry list of things to go find out more about!
  • Matt Ho on Docker+serf – with Docker there is a service lookup challenge. AWS tagging is a nice solution to that. Serf does that with docker like a peer-to-peer zookeeper. Then he used moustache to generate configs. This is worth looking at – I am a big fan of this approach (we did it ourselves at National Instruments years ago) and I frankly think it’s a crime that the rest of the industry hasn’t woken up to it yet.

Openspaces

If you haven’t done openspaces before, it’s where attendees pitch topics and the group self-organizes into a schedule around them. Here’s some pics of part of the resulting schedule:

openspaces3 openspaces1 openspaces2

I went to two.  The first was a combination of two openspace pitches, “Enterprise DevOps” and “ITIL, what should it be?”  This was unfortunately a bad combination.  Most folks wanted to talk about the former, and the Capital One guy was there and people from Amex etc. were starting to share with the group. But the ITIL question was mostly driven by a guy from the company that “bought ITIL” from the UK government and he had a bit of a vendory agenda to push.  So most of the good discussion there happened between smaller groups after it broke up.

The second was a CI/CD pipeline one, and I got this great pic of what people consider to be “the new standard” pipeline.

Generally Accepted Continuous Integration and Delivery Pipeline

Generally Accepted Continuous Integration and Delivery Pipeline

Next, Day 2 and wrap-up!

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Opening Velocity 2014

All right, I’m here in sunny San Jose for Velocity, the three-day Web operations and performance conference.  It’s my first time attending as a sponsor type which is interesting. We have a whole cadre going; I flew in with Jenny and Lauren from Copperegg as part of the advance squad.  Because I just got in on this gig recently, I am out at the Avatar while they’re at the Hilton nearby.  On the cab ride, they got a bit agitated over a tweet claiming we’re being exclusionary over our “The Dude” promos; I guess I can see the misunderstanding but it’s a Big Lebowski theme specifically cooked up by the women in our Marketing department.

Some IHOP breakfast, a long walk from the Avatar to the convention center, and then speaker checking, where I got to chat with Mandy Walls, Vladimir Vuskan, and Andrew “Clay” Shafer.  Apparently there’s a two person limit on booth setup so I don’t have to help with that. I’ll go report on Andrew’s talk, though will have to duck out early for speaker orientation for my talk.

Remember, if you can’t make it they’ll be streaming the morning keynotes on Wed/Thurs.  If you are here, grab me and say “Hi!”

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Meet The Agile Admins At Velocity/DevOpsDays Silicon Valley!

Three of the four agile admins (James, Karthik, and myself) will be out at Velocity and DevOpsDays this week. Say hi if you see us!

James will be doing a workshop with Gareth Rushgrove on Tuesday 9-10:30 AM, “Battle-tested Code without the Battle – Security Testing and Continuous Integration.” Get hands on with gauntlt and other tools! [Conference site] [Lanyrd]

Ernest is doing a 5 minute sponsor keynote on Thursday, “A 5 Minute Checklist for Application Monitoring.” OK, so it’s during the USA vs Germany game – come see me anyway!  I hate keynote sales pitches so I’m not doing one, I’ll be talking about a Lean approach to monitoring and stuff to cover in your MVP. There’s a free white paper too since what can you really say in 5 minutes? And so you know what to expect, the hashtag you’ll want to use is #getprobed! [Conference site] [Lanyrd]

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