Aug 11, 2016

Getting started with DevOps - Basic Chef (and any other CI/CD environment)

A got a question a few weeks back, and I think the answer is worth sharing.

  • Do we need to have a chef workstation hosted in our cloud environment that everyone logs in to (something like a jump box configured with chefdk and all the plugins), or can users spin up VMs off their own machine and that is used as the Chef Workstation? 
  • If spinning up VMs off our machine, how do we connect to chef-repo which I’m setting up in AWS? 
  • We need to connect to git for source control. I have set up an enterprise git instance - how do I change the cookbooks to connect to our instance of git?

This is going to be a lot of words, because there is no easy answer...
What one starting a similar journey should do though, is take the below suggestions, and run through them iteratively. Version 1, ver 2, 3...etc. Don't try to do everything at once.

Also, is a fantastic tool to figure out where you are in the DevOps journey, and where others typically go.


Source control will be your base, so it's first in the list.

For git, there are a lot of articles about "forking the code" and the eventual price of having done that. So, when it comes to community cookbooks, best course of action is - don't fork community cookbooks (or at the very least don't fork it for very long).

If you rely on a community cookbook, take it, along with the full git history, and upload it into your private git and your chef server. Any changes to community cookbooks should be done via `wrapper cookbook` (mycompany_apache for apache, etc..).

If some feature is not supported (or you found a bug), make a change and ASAP push the change back to the community via PR - this is so you don't have to maintain the fork, and can take advantage of improvements in the public version. (example: you're using apache 6 with your private hotfix, apache 7 comes out, and it's drastically different. Due to your custom changes, you need to spend 20 hours merging the versions and applying any custom hotfixes you've accumulated. You further fork the code to make it work. You spend all your days fixing bugs. Your head hurts from drinking too much coffee....)

Chef repo:

So, a good pattern is to have a git repo called chef_base or mycompany_base, etc..
Usually, a user starts by cloning the this repo locally. Any updates that would affect the whole company would be pushed back to git, so every user can benefit from it.

In the chef-base you'll have your environments folder with various environemnts, roles with roles, and a folder called cookbooks (execute `chef generate repo test` for a basic example). You would have chefignore and .gitignore filled out as per your org rules. You would then do something about .chef folder - either have a symlink that points to a known location, use a known variable to load the file, or leave it up the the user to fill in the details. Typically the .kitchen or vagrant file to stand up a cloud workstation would live here (more on this later). The \cookbooks folder is either empty or has a global cookbook like chef_workstation in there.

So, when a user starts working with chef, they clone chef_base and have everything they need to get started. All they do, is go into \cookbooks folder, and git clone the thing they want to work on.  This keeps chef-repo and each cookbook they work on completely independent. If they want to add new community cookbooks to your org, they follow the same process as above: clone community cookbook into /cookbooks and push it internally.

Chef workstation:

So, you definitely want to have each user have their own cloud workstation. Also, they should have the ability to create/destroy them whenever they need to. On average, workstations don't survive longer than a week (not should they).

Locally is pretty easy. Use test kitchen, or vagrant, mount the local chef-repo folder inside the VM and you're done.
(Here is how kitchen would work:
(here is how vagrant would work:

With Amazon/Azure/Aws/Vmware/etc.. mounting a folder is done differently. In this scenario, when users run Test Kitchen, it would create additional VMs in the cloud. You'll need to setup a sync mechanism if your virtualization platform doesn't support mounting local folder on a VM. You could give users an EBS volume they could share across workstation and local dev machine. Or just a regular network share they can mount locally and on a workstation.  Also, I heard works really well, however I never touched it personally.

Key takeaway here is that lots of companies are going down the VM road.

The long version is that this decision will be guided by a couple of factors - how powerful your users workstations are, your companies business direction, how much money your DevOps initiative has been given.

What I've seen in the wild is very interesting. The best and the worst shops use nearly identical workstation hardware. On the one end of the bell curve, there are companies where employees have 2 gig laptops incapable of opening notepad in under 30 seconds. All work is done locally, and is very painful. On the other end, you also have 2 gig laptops - though typically surface and mac book minis - however, in this case, all of the work is done in the cloud, and these machines are plenty powerful since they are simply used to RDP into remote resources (and used for skype and facebook the rest of the time).

Hope that helps.

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