October 7, 2013

Making things is hard, and I think I can make it better. Over the past 12-18 months I’ve found myself drawn to what I think is a void in the current tech landscape. As I said in my last post, I want to see tech in general and application/site development in particular opened up to everyone. To get there we need to drastically reduce the barriers to entry. I’ve also felt more of a pull towards the community side of the equation. Fixing and improving our software is definitely a piece of the puzzle, but I’ve come to believe that community building and evangelism are just as important.


Most of the tools that make up modern application stacks are fairly well documented themselves. You can load up the Postgres docs and deploy a simple server without too much fuss. Moving from that to what I would call “first class” infrastructure takes a lot longer to sort out. Replication? Automated failover? Performance monitoring? Automated scaling? Clear, concise, and regularly updated documentation on these tasks would be a massive boon to people just starting out in the world of the cloud.

This kind of documentation also serves to show where the pain points are. As I iterate over them, my goal is to remove as many steps as possible. Some of this can be through sane defaults, some through outright bug fixes, and many through continued evolution of standards for system interaction between components.

Community Building

The operations community is a similarly fragmented landscape. There are vibrant and helpful communities around each individual tool, Django, Postgres, Heroku, Nginx, etc, but as a new user coming in to #django and asking how to deploy and operate an application you will at best get a few personal opinions of tools and services those community members have used. There are a few spaces that do cater to this more holistic view of the world, my favorite example being the DevOpsDays conferences, but they are often ephemeral. I want to see a nexus point for smart people to learn and share about these topics 24/7. This not only helps those of us already a part of the cloud development/operations world, it also provides a starting point for the massive influx of new folks I hope we can bring in to the fold.

Composable Infrastructure

To borrow a description from the inimitable Jim Meyer, I want to see application operations more as a set of LEGO bricks bricks than the current morass of discrete systems we have today. The evolution and relative accessibility of PaaS services and other hosted offerings for everything from databases to load balancers has certainly helped us down this road. The darker side of these services is that they often have very hard edges about what they will and won’t support. If you are using a hosted SQL database and want to change a few of the tuning parameters to better match your application, you need to first rebuild the entire hosted offering and then you can make your changes. A similar thing happens if you want to migrate off a PaaS and on to your own to your own systems.

The model almost all of the current generation of configuration management tools have settled in to is (mostly) declarative models that idempotently update the state of something on the system. My weapon of choice is Chef, but the same structure is pretty universal with Puppet, Salt, Ansible, etc. All these systems come with a lot of low-level LEGO blocks, packages, config files, services. The next step is to use these to build larger abstractions, a Python installation, an Apache vhost, a Postgres database. This process repeats until you have the true building blocks we all want.

Compare the operations ecosystem to the web development world, where we have built fantastic abstraction layers up over the years, from CGI, to WSGI, to URL routers, to HTML renderers. The author of a piece of code can focus on just the level of complexity that solves their problem and not worry as much about everything above and below it. I want to see this transition in the ops world, where people can each focus on the pieces of the system that interest them most while we all take advantage of the results.

I think this is one of the most important tasks facing us as an industry, and I want to ensure that making things only becomes more awesome. If this is something your company is interested in and you are hiring, get in touch.