Thoughts from ChefConf 2013

by PagerDuty May 13, 2013 | 4 min read

#ChefConf is a three-day annual conference featuring demonstrations, workshops, and keynote presentations on the future of infrastructure automation. It’s designed for users of the Chef automation framework. 

PagerDutonians Ranjib Dey, Evan Gilman, and Doug Barth just got their brains filled to capacity at #ChefConf 2013 in San Francisco, where they learned about the latest chef trends, and played with ideas to make PagerDuty faster and more automated for our customers. This year’s speakers included a Who’s Who from Facebook, Disney, Message Bus, Adobe, Kickstarter, Riot Games, and more.

Workshops and Presentations

PagerDuty attended several outstanding workshops and presentations. A few notables:

Jamie Winsor of RiotGames spoke about the fabulous Berkshelf tool that not only eases cookbook reusability but also encourages clean and well-understood development practices. He also spoke about “Mother Brain,” a WIP project built using ZeroMQ that enables real time Chef orchestration on monitoring. Very cool stuff.

Miah Johnson from HotelTonight gave a thorough step-by-step presentation on how to refactor cookbooks. The quality of community cookbooks has been a major concern. With a growing volume of cookbooks, this talk would be very helpful for anyone who is involved with cookbook development.

Seth Chisamore at Opscode presented on omnibuses. Omnibuses are grand unified installers that bundle everything above glibc into a single monolithic platform-specific package. Chef, Vagrant, and Sensu are common examples. The omnibus project provides Ruby-based DSL and allows reusing existing Chef cookbooks. This provides some potential applications for PagerDuty that could drastically reduce the Chef run time.

Hackathon Happiness

As good as the keynotes were, some of the best takeaways came from the workshops and hackathons. During the pre-conference hackathon, we got to work on kitchen-LXC integration. LXCs are Linux containers (think of them as lightweight virtual machines). We got kitchen-LXC running with BTRFS support. This is significant for PagerDuty, because it can let us create the entire production-like environment (we spawned about 30 LXC containers on an MBP) and run integration testing locally, end to end.

During the post-conference hackathon we worked on Chef-Berkshelf integration. Currently Berkshelf is executed as a separate step to manage cookbooks (like uploading cookbooks on a Chef server)–you have to build a library that lets Chef use Berkshelf by itself. But with this integration, users won’t have to upload/update community cookbooks in their Chef server. Also, the cookbook storage can be distributed across multiple Chef servers, thus reducing the central Chef server load. At the end of the day we were able to get the library working and published a RubyGem.

Air Time

While we were there, Doug Barth, one of our operations engineers, got interviewed and talked about the ways PagerDuty uses Chef for automating our infrastructure. You can read the transcript here. One of our operations engineers, Ranjib Dey, got some air-time too by participating in a couple special #ChefConf podcasts by Food Fight: the Day 1 wrap-up and an episode on LWRPs. He also appeared in a Ship Show podcast.

IT Network Connections

ChefConf was an amazing experience, but one of the best highlights wasn’t programmed into the event–it was connecting with friends and partners in our network. We got to meet lot of folks with whom we’ve been interacting in IRC/GitHub for the past three years. We also spent some time with the Datadog folks and discussed our common pain points. Check out the photo of us and the Datadogs that they tweeted.

PagerDuty and Datadogs at #ChefConf

#ChefConf 2013 promised to be the premier event for IT infrastructure automation, and it didn’t disappoint. Our three ambassadors are armed with new ideas and possibilities, and we can’t wait to see how their ideas get implemented to make PagerDuty even better for our customers.