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In Defense of Shell Scripts

Best Practices

Throughout my career, I’ve been known as the engineer who solves a LOT of problems using shell scripts. With it, I’ve built:

  • a tool that creates and destroys test services at Meta to help new engineers learn how to use the company’s planetary-scale CD system
  • a parallel distributed shell that integrates with a company’s asset management system to generate the list of hosts to connect to
  • plugins for an ‘Ops API’ that enables...
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How to Show Your Value In DevOps/SRE

Best Practices

Since you are reading this post, I am sure that you can relate to the classic plight of the IT, sysadmin, or Operations team: They are invisible until things go wrong.

For practitioners of DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering, that can also be true, especially for teams where the low-hanging fruit has already been addressed.

When the big outage happens, it’s all too common for management to have the kneejerk reaction to ask questions like...

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Building DroneCI Pipelines

Tools

Last time I covered several tips on how to launch and operate a Drone CI installation. As promised, I will now reveal my hard-earned secrets on how to build, configure, and monitor DroneCI pipelines!

This assumes pipelines using the Docker runner which is the common use case (and the most useful!)

Each pipeline step can use entirely different container images

Yes, this is implicit with the use of the Docker runner, however, take a...

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Running DroneCI

Tools

In a previous post, I explored why Jenkins should no longer be the default choice for CI/CD for new software projects. This time, let’s discuss an alternative that I’ve gotten quite familiar with recently: Drone CI.

Drone is simply described as a ‘self-service Continuous Integration platform for busy development teams’. Configuring a CI pipeline is as simple as activating the repo in the web UI and committing a .drone.yml file in the project’s...

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Ansible Tips and Tricks

Tools

Configuration management is an essential competency when running production systems. It enables you to define the intended state of your servers as code rather than through manual effort- saving a lot of time in the process.

Throughout my career, I’ve used Ruby-based configuration management tools like Puppet or Chef- however recently I have started to use Ansible for client projects.

Ansible is accessible to newcomers as:

  • no programming experience is required;
  • ...
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It's Time to Stop Using Jenkins

Tools

Jenkins is an ‘open source automation server’ commonly used for Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery of software projects by many tech companies. It was first released in 2005 when it was originally known as Hudson. Its large collection of available plugins (~1800!), particularly Pipeline, enables teams to automate common operations tasks, particularly building, testing, and releasing.

All of that being said: it’s time to consider alternatives, especially for new software projects. This article outlines the...

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Automate Production In Three Steps!

Best Practices

An important process when running a production system is automating manual tasks. This is especially important for fast-growing companies as the engineering team’s time can easily be eaten up by the toil involved in incident response, testing/releasing, etc.- preventing them from implementing the features and improvements that enable further growth and revenue.

It is possible for a product to be a victim of its own success. Don’t let this happen to you!

This article provides...

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Podcast Appearance: All Things Ops

Media

Another podcast! This week I’m a guest on All Things Ops from CheckMK!

(I used CheckMK years ago as it provided an improved interface and plugin system over stock Nagios.)

Host Elias Voelker and I discussed:

  • What makes the perfect Site Reliability Engineer?
  • The reasons for and benefits of a DevOps transformation
  • The most important tools for modern Site Reliability Engineering
  • Real behind-the-scenes stories of major outages

One of my most...

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Cloud Lessons: Launching a K3S Cluster

Tools

I’m starting a new series where I share my experiences exploring cloud-native/platform engineering tools and technologies. starting with building the foundation: a Kubernetes installation in the cloud.

Why am I doing this?

  • to keep these skills sharp as I anticipate using them on client engagements!
  • to share lessons learned, for your benefit!
  • Because it’s fun! 😀

Today’s mission: get a simple Kubernetes cluster online in the cloud, using infrastructure-as-code! Since I’m an...

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Kanban Quickstart

Best Practices

This article introduces Kanban(看板), a very effective process for organizing your team’s work and driving improvements, especially if you are on an interrupt-driven team such as Site Reliability Engineering, Operations, IT, or Customer Support.

The essential part of the process is the kanban board, which consists of cards representing each work item. Cards are moved between columns representing the state that the work item is in usually from left to right, such as:

  • Backlog
  • ...
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Podcast Appearance: Day Two Cloud

Media

I’m continuing my tour as a guest on tech podcasts! This time I’m on the Day Two Cloud podcast from Packet Pushers which focuses on the realities of cloud adoption.

I really enjoyed the conversation with hosts Ned Bellavance and Ethan Banks, who were both very insightful and funny!

Don’t miss this one as it was an action-packed discussion! Together, we covered:

  • What it means to be an SRE
  • How an SRE differs...
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On-Call Stories: Flying Blind

Anecdotes

Let’s try something new and recall one of my most memorable production incidents!

Earlier in my career, I managed an operations team at a medium-sized tech company. The main revenue-generating product consisted of thousands of EC2 instances, all depending on Puppet for configuration management.

Puppet, unlike recent CM systems like Ansible, used a centralized server to store config manifests and required authentication in order to apply them to clients. We configured our hosts...

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Podcast Appearance: Slight Reliability

Media

Another podcast guest appearance! This time I’m on the Slight Reliability podcast, which answers “what is site reliability engineering (SRE) really about?”.

(I’m on the road this week! Next week we’ll return to our usually-scheduled articles.)

In this episode, host Stephen Townshend and I cover a lot of ground including making ops work visible, measuring toil, the power of calculating the monetary value of work, getting developers on-call, the embedded model for SRE, SLOs,...

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Podcast Appearance: Practical Operations

Media

This week I’m a guest on the Practical Operations podcast, which focuses on “systems, operations and scaling with a focus on real world use cases and solutions to common problems”.

We discuss my experience in DevOps transformations, running a Site Reliability Engineering team, and my experience as a consultant!

Episode 137 - Amin Astaneh

I highly recommend following this podcast as the hosts are very knowledgeable and are really entertaining to listen to!

...
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Parallel Distributed Shell

Tools

When operating large-scale production systems, we rely on infrastructure-as-code (IaC) to keep the state of servers and cloud resources consistent over time. We also benefit from observability platforms to automatically gather metrics from these resources.

However, there are times when both of these essential mechanisms are rendered ineffective during a production incident. How can an engineer troubleshoot and implement a fix successfully across a large number of hosts?

Enter the parallel distributed shell.

A parallel...

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Cross-Functional Collaboration

Best Practices

The most valuable and impactful work is done through others and not through the strivings of just one person. In the tech industry, creating customer value is a really complicated process and involves the efforts of different people, teams, and perspectives.

Consider a SaaS company: in order for it to be successful, groups like Engineering, Customer Success, Sales, Marketing, and Finance all need to exist and work together in tandem to create a product that...

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System Call Tracing

Tools

I want to introduce one of the most powerful techniques in our arsenal when supporting production systems: system call tracing. But first: what is a system call?

Simply put, system calls are how programs interact with the operating system to request and manage resources like memory, files, network sockets, and hardware devices.

System call tracing allows you to observe the behavior of running processes and how they use those resources in real time.

Why is...

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How To Get an SRE Role

Career

Are you a software engineer or an IT professional interested in transitioning to an SRE role? You’ve come to the right place! This article provides guidance on the skills and behaviors needed to apply for an SRE position at medium-to-large-sized tech companies successfully.

(This article was inspired by a discussion that took place in the Boston DevOps community chatroom.)

Before we begin, I want to immediately mention the “DevOps Roadmap” brought up in...

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Running Post-Mortems

Best Practices

This article continues the discussion on how your team can learn from failure after a production incident. While write-ups are very important in capturing and documenting what took place, the real value is created from an open and deliberate conversation with the team to identify the lessons learned and the improvements needed to create a more reliable system. That conversation is the post-mortem.

Post-mortems are the primary mechanism for teams to learn from failure....

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Incident Write-ups

Best Practices

When is an incident considered ‘done’? Is it when the production impact has been addressed and the on-call goes back to bed? If that were true, teams would pass up a huge opportunity to learn and improve from what the incident can teach them, and the on-call (and more importantly, customers) would continue to have a sub-par experience from repeat incidents.

This post discusses the importance and process of the write-up, which is documenting an...

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Why Adopt DevOps & SRE?

Best Practices

This article explains why practices like DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering are essential for a successful technology business. Sure, they are touted as a way to change company culture and improve collaboration between teams, but what specific business value should you expect from investing in these capabilities?

Let’s start by remembering the goal of every business:

to make money by increasing throughput while simultaneously reducing inventory and operational expense.

In software development, let’s clarify the...

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Incident Management: On-Call

Best Practices

In our Incident Management series, we’ve talked about how mature monitoring, escalation policies, and alerting enable a swift response when things go wrong in production. Let’s now talk about the people and processes that actually do the responding: the on-call rotation.

Simply put, an on-call rotation is a group of people that share the responsibility of being available to respond to emergencies on short notice, typically on a 24/7 basis. This practice...

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Incident Management: Alerting

Best Practices

Our Incident Management series discussed so far the importance of monitoring and a solid escalation policy in the swift detection of production issues. Both of them depend on a third capability that we will go over today: alerting.

Alerting notifies the engineering team to appropriately and timely respond to problems in production based on their severity.

They tend to fall into three categories:

  • Page: meets the definition of an emergency and requires...
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Incident Management: Escalation Policy

Best Practices

Last time in our Incident Management series we discussed how monitoring is essential to responding quickly when things go wrong with your app’s availability or performance.

However, monitoring won’t be able to successfully detect every failure. That is especially true for newly-launched services where monitoring is based on theory and not experience.

How do you prepare for the situation where another team or even a customer (heaven forbid) reports a production issue?

The answer...

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Incident Management: Monitoring

Best Practices

When running a production system, one of the main responsibilities is being able to respond when things go wrong. This is especially important for newly-launched or rapidly-changing systems where incidents are guaranteed, usually due to defect leakage or performance/scaling challenges.

Incident readiness typically involves the following capabilities:

  • Monitoring (a computer is aware of your system’s health)
  • An escalation path (when monitoring doesn’t work)
  • Alerting (how to notify when something breaks)
  • An on-call rotation (who...
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Running Successful Engagements

Best Practices

Previously we discussed several types of engagement models that SRE can use when collaborating with software engineering teams, as well as their tradeoffs. Let’s go over some ways in which SRE managers or team leads can successfully start and run an engagement!

To refresh, an SRE engagement can take the form of: taking on operational ownership of a service from an engineering team, embedding SREs on an engineering team, or providing a set of...

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SRE Engagement Models

Best Practices

Last time we went over the basics of what it means to run an SRE team based on the original ideas that came from Google. Let’s talk about the ‘engagement model’, which describes the way that an individual SRE or team works with software engineering organizations to help them achieve their goals.

The SRE Workbook describes the various types of activities at length— in my experience individual SRE engagements tend to fall into...

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SRE Essentials

Best Practices

Interested in launching a Site Reliability Engineering(SRE) team? They have been gaining in popularity at tech companies for the past decade— and for good reason! They drive higher levels of operational maturity, remove sources of toil and incidents that slow the pace of feature delivery, and help make services more reliable(hence the name).

However, just because you commission a team of engineers with the job title, doesn’t guarantee you’ll reap the rewards! How do you...

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Free Reliability Coaching

Announcements

As part of my reliability coaching service, I’ve decided to make a bold decision: all new clients can schedule their first hour with me, absolutely free.

Here’s why I’m doing this:

On-call is a tough job.

I know engineers (including myself) that have spent many late nights, weekends, and even holidays away from their friends and family because they are busy on their computer or on a conference call addressing a production incident.

That...

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Hidden Benefits Of SLOs

Best Practices

There are many articles online about Service Level Objectives(SLOs), particularly on the value they provide to customers as part of a Service Level Agreement(SLA).

Let’s discuss some of the benefits of SLOs that aren’t apparent at first glance.

Before we do, let’s quickly review the terminology from the source:

  • SLI: a service level indicator—a carefully defined quantitative measure of some aspect of the level of service that is provided.
  • SLO: is a service...
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Production Readiness Review

Best Practices

Imagine: Your team has designed and developed the initial version of an amazing product with market fit, and you wish to offer it to paying customers as soon as possible. It’s time to prepare for launch!

Product launches exist on a razor’s edge between excitement and terror. They very much depend on first impressions that customers get when using your product:

  • If successful, you win the return on investment and the credibility needed to...
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Observability In A Box

Tools

I believe we’re entering a golden age of observability- we can gather metrics from our applications and infrastructure, better interpret them with query languages and pretty dashboards, and get notifications in chatrooms and our oncall systems. All of this technology at our fingertips- without any software licensing fees!

The challenge I see with these new tools is that they tend to assume ‘cloud-native’ infrastructure- the happy path for setup and configuration usually requires a container...

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Emotional Intelligence

Soft Skills

When we discuss useful tools in the DevOps and SRE space, we tend to speak in terms of technology (eg: observability, configuration management, container orchestration, CI/CD). These tools enable us to be successful by introducing reliability and efficiency to the systems that support our products.

They are ubiquitous; discussed in places like Hacker News, supported by large communities, have meetups and conferences, and the enterprise versions are aggressively sold and advertised… even in unlikely places...

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Oncall Retrospectives

Best Practices

Last time I shared my thoughts on blameless postmortems and how they create a safe space for revealing process and technology gaps contributing to past incidents.

Today I want to introduce another opportunity for teams to learn and improve from: the ‘oncall retrospective’, which:

  • Keeps the team in touch with the operational reality of their service(s);
  • Reveals opportunities to improve the oncall experience.

I was introduced to this practice by Jos Visser while...

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Blameless Postmortems

Best Practices

Does your team conduct postmortems as part of their incident response process? It’s a great way to learn from failure and find opportunities to make your systems more reliable.

One piece of advice: make sure they are BLAMELESS.

This creates an environment of psychological safety, enabling your team to be more forthcoming about the factors that triggered or contributed to the incident- allowing them to be tracked and addressed.

In contrast, if your team feels...

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Launch!

Announcements

Starting today I’ve officially hung up my virtual shingle and started this consulting business to help software engineering teams operate their products/services more efficiently and with less pain.

The road to getting here was full of interesting twists and turns!

Just a couple of months ago I was a Production Engineering manager at Meta, helping run one of their most important internal products. It basically streamlined how teams built, launched, and operated simple backend services...