SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Zakia Bouachraoui, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Roger Strukhoff, David Linthicum

Blog Feed Post

Why you should build an Immutable Infrastructure

Why you should build an Immutable Infrastructure – by Florian Motlik, CTO of Codeship

Some of the major challenges today when building infrastructure are predictability, scalability and automated recovery. A predictable system will promote the exact same artifact that you tested into your production system so no intermittent failure can cause any trouble. A scalable system make it trivial, especially automatically, to deal with any rise in traffic. And automated recovery will make sure your team can focus on building a better product and sleep during the night instead of maintaining infrastructure constantly.

At Codeship we’ve found that an Infrastructure made up of immutable components has helped us tremendously with these goals.

Julian Dunn from Chef recently released a blog post about their stance on immutable infrastructure.

Chad Fowler summed it up very well in a tweet

Instead of going over every piece of the article, I want to present an overview of the experience we – and others – have had in making parts of our infrastructure immutable.

What is Immutable Infrastructure

Immutable infrastructure is comprised of immutable components that are replaced for every deployment, rather than being updated in-place. Those components are started from a common image that is built once per deployment and can be tested and validated. The common image can be built through automation, but doesn’t have to be. Immutability is independent of any tool or workflow for building the images.

Its best use case is in a cloud or virtualized environment. While it’s possible in non-virtualized environments, the benefit doesn’t outweigh the effort.

State Isolation

The main criticism against immutable infrastructure – as stated in the Chef blog post – is that there is always state somewhere in the system and, therefore, the whole system isn’t immutable. That misses the point of immutable components. The main advantage when it comes to state in immutable infrastructure is that it is siloed. The boundaries between layers storing state and the layers that are ephemeral are clearly drawn and no leakage can possibly happen between those layers. There simply is no way to mix state into different components when you can’t expect them to be up and running the next minute.

Atomic Deployments and Validation

Updating an existing server can easily have unintended consequences. That’s why Chef, Puppet, CFEngine or other such tools exist – to take care of consistency across your infrastructure. A central system is necessary to manage the expected state of each server and to take action to ensure compliance. Deployment is not an atomic action but a transition that can go wrong and lead to an unknown state. This becomes very hard and complex to debug, as the exact state you are in is hard to know. Chef, Puppet or CFEngine are very complex systems as they have to deal with an overly complex problem.

Another solution to that problem is to build completely new images and servers that contain the application and the environment every time you want to deploy. In that case, the deployment doesn’t depend on the status the servers were in before, so the result is much more predictable and repeatable. Any third-party issues that may cause the deployment to fail can be caught by validating the new image and ensuring no production system was impacted. This one image can then be used to start any number of servers and switch atomically from the old machines to the new ones by changing the load balancer, for example.

There are of course downsides to rebuilding your images with every deployment. A full rebuild of the system takes a lot longer than simply updating and restarting the application. By layering your deployment you can optimize this, e.g. have a repository to build a base image and use that base image to just put in your application for the deployment image, but it will still be a slower process.

Another problem is that you introduce dependencies to third parties during deployment. If you install packages in the system and your apt repository is slow or down this can fail the deployment. While this could be a problem in a non immutable infrastructure as well you typically interact less with third party systems when you just push new code into an already provisioned system.

By deploying from a pre-provisioned base image and updating that base image regularly you can soften that problem, but it’s still there and might fail a deployment from time to time.

Building the automation currently still takes more time at the beginning of the project, as the tools for building immutable infrastructure are still new or need to be developed. It is definitely more investment in the beginning, but pays off immediately.

You can still use Chef, Puppet, CFEngine or Ansible to build your images, but as they aren’t built for an immutable infrastructure workflow they tend to be more complex than necessary.

Fast Recovery by preserving History

As all deployments are done by building new images, history is preserved automatically for rollback when necessary. The same process and automation that is used to deploy the next version can be used to roll back, which ensures the process of rolling back will work. By automating the creation of the images, you can even recreate historical images and branch off from earlier points in the history of the infrastructure.

Data schema changes are a potential problem, but that’s a general issue with rollbacks. Backwards compatibility and zero downtime deployments are a way to make sure this will work regardless of the changes.

Simple Experimentation

As you control the whole environment and application, any experiments with new versions of the language, operating system or dependencies are easy. With strict testing and validation in place, and the ability to roll-back if necessary, all the fear of upgrading any dependency is removed. Experimentation becomes an integral and trivial part of building your infrastructure.

Makes you collect your logs and metrics in a central location

With immutable components in place, it’s easy to simply kill a misbehaving server. While often errors are simply a product of the environment, for example a third party system misbehaving, and can be ignored, some will keep coming up. Not having access into the servers puts the right incentive on the team to collect and store logs and system metrics externally. This way, debugging can happen while the server is long gone.

If logs and metrics are missing to properly debug an issue, it’s easy to add more data collection to the infrastructure and replace all existing servers. Then once the error comes up again you can debug it fully from the data stored on an external system.

Conclusions

Immutable components as part of your infrastructure are a way to reduce inconsistency in your infrastructure and improve the trust into your deployment process. Atomic deployments, combined with validation of the image and easy rollback, make managing your infrastructure a lot easier.

It forces teams to silo data and expect failures that are inherent when building on top of a cloud infrastructure or when building systems in general. This increases resilience and trains you in a process to withstand any problems, especially in an automated fashion. Furthermore, it helps with building simple and independent components that are easy to deploy and scale.

And it’s not a theoretical idea. At Codeship, we’ve built our infrastructure this way for a long time. Heroku and other PaaS providers are built as immutable components and lots of companies – small and very large – have used immutability as a core concept of their infrastructure.

Tools like Packer have made building immutable components very easy. Together with existing cloud infrastructure they are a powerful concept to help you build better and safer infrastructure. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or interesting insights to share.

Thanks

I got great feedback by the following people on this article. Thanks for taking the time and helping me to make it much clearer and simply better.

Links

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Manuel Weiss

I am the cofounder of Codeship – a hosted Continuous Integration and Deployment platform for web applications. On the Codeship blog we love to write about Software Testing, Continuos Integration and Deployment. Also check out our weekly screencast series 'Testing Tuesday'!

Latest Stories
Moroccanoil®, the global leader in oil-infused beauty, is thrilled to announce the NEW Moroccanoil Color Depositing Masks, a collection of dual-benefit hair masks that deposit pure pigments while providing the treatment benefits of a deep conditioning mask. The collection consists of seven curated shades for commitment-free, beautifully-colored hair that looks and feels healthy.
The textured-hair category is inarguably the hottest in the haircare space today. This has been driven by the proliferation of founder brands started by curly and coily consumers and savvy consumers who increasingly want products specifically for their texture type. This trend is underscored by the latest insights from NaturallyCurly's 2018 TextureTrends report, released today. According to the 2018 TextureTrends Report, more than 80 percent of women with curly and coily hair say they purcha...
The textured-hair category is inarguably the hottest in the haircare space today. This has been driven by the proliferation of founder brands started by curly and coily consumers and savvy consumers who increasingly want products specifically for their texture type. This trend is underscored by the latest insights from NaturallyCurly's 2018 TextureTrends report, released today. According to the 2018 TextureTrends Report, more than 80 percent of women with curly and coily hair say they purcha...
We all love the many benefits of natural plant oils, used as a deap treatment before shampooing, at home or at the beach, but is there an all-in-one solution for everyday intensive nutrition and modern styling?I am passionate about the benefits of natural extracts with tried-and-tested results, which I have used to develop my own brand (lemon for its acid ph, wheat germ for its fortifying action…). I wanted a product which combined caring and styling effects, and which could be used after shampo...
The precious oil is extracted from the seeds of prickly pear cactus plant. After taking out the seeds from the fruits, they are adequately dried and then cold pressed to obtain the oil. Indeed, the prickly seed oil is quite expensive. Well, that is understandable when you consider the fact that the seeds are really tiny and each seed contain only about 5% of oil in it at most, plus the seeds are usually handpicked from the fruits. This means it will take tons of these seeds to produce just one b...
Steaz, the nation's top-selling organic and fair trade green-tea-based beverage company, announces its 2017 "Mind. Body. Soul." tour, which will bring authentic experiences inspired by the brand's signature Mind. Body. Soul. tagline to life across the country. The tour will inform, educate, inspire and entertain through events, digital activations and partner-curated experiences developed to support the three pillars of complete health and wellness.
The platform combines the strengths of Singtel's extensive, intelligent network capabilities with Microsoft's cloud expertise to create a unique solution that sets new standards for IoT applications," said Mr Diomedes Kastanis, Head of IoT at Singtel. "Our solution provides speed, transparency and flexibility, paving the way for a more pervasive use of IoT to accelerate enterprises' digitalisation efforts. AI-powered intelligent connectivity over Microsoft Azure will be the fastest connected pat...
There are many examples of disruption in consumer space – Uber disrupting the cab industry, Airbnb disrupting the hospitality industry and so on; but have you wondered who is disrupting support and operations? AISERA helps make businesses and customers successful by offering consumer-like user experience for support and operations. We have built the world’s first AI-driven IT / HR / Cloud / Customer Support and Operations solution.
ScaleMP is presenting at CloudEXPO 2019, held June 24-26 in Santa Clara, and we’d love to see you there. At the conference, we’ll demonstrate how ScaleMP is solving one of the most vexing challenges for cloud — memory cost and limit of scale — and how our innovative vSMP MemoryONE solution provides affordable larger server memory for the private and public cloud. Please visit us at Booth No. 519 to connect with our experts and learn more about vSMP MemoryONE and how it is already serving some of...
Darktrace is the world's leading AI company for cyber security. Created by mathematicians from the University of Cambridge, Darktrace's Enterprise Immune System is the first non-consumer application of machine learning to work at scale, across all network types, from physical, virtualized, and cloud, through to IoT and industrial control systems. Installed as a self-configuring cyber defense platform, Darktrace continuously learns what is ‘normal' for all devices and users, updating its understa...
Codete accelerates their clients growth through technological expertise and experience. Codite team works with organizations to meet the challenges that digitalization presents. Their clients include digital start-ups as well as established enterprises in the IT industry. To stay competitive in a highly innovative IT industry, strong R&D departments and bold spin-off initiatives is a must. Codete Data Science and Software Architects teams help corporate clients to stay up to date with the mod...
As you know, enterprise IT conversation over the past year have often centered upon the open-source Kubernetes container orchestration system. In fact, Kubernetes has emerged as the key technology -- and even primary platform -- of cloud migrations for a wide variety of organizations. Kubernetes is critical to forward-looking enterprises that continue to push their IT infrastructures toward maximum functionality, scalability, and flexibility. As they do so, IT professionals are also embr...
Platform9, the leader in SaaS-managed hybrid cloud, has announced it will present five sessions at four upcoming industry conferences in June: BCS in London, DevOpsCon in Berlin, HPE Discover and Cloud Computing Expo 2019.
At CloudEXPO Silicon Valley, June 24-26, 2019, Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with expanded DevOpsSUMMIT and FinTechEXPO programs within the DXWorldEXPO agenda. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of business. Only 12% still survive. Similar percentages are found throug...
When you're operating multiple services in production, building out forensics tools such as monitoring and observability becomes essential. Unfortunately, it is a real challenge balancing priorities between building new features and tools to help pinpoint root causes. Linkerd provides many of the tools you need to tame the chaos of operating microservices in a cloud native world. Because Linkerd is a transparent proxy that runs alongside your application, there are no code changes required. I...