Friday, 2 October 2015

First Steps in Automation

If you have got this far you are probably already thinking that your application deployments needs improvement. Maybe you have one or more of the following deployment 'smells':
  • home grown 'release' scripts that differ between applications
  • manually scp/sftp/rsync software
  • manually edit property files in production
  • complex release notes
These can result in slow, unreliable, unrepeatable deployments which will not scale. But where do we start in transforming a release process? The key to an effective release process is consistency. Before we get to discussing Vamos Deploy there are areas that can be tackled in preparation which will reap rewards later on.

Vamos does not enforce a packaging methodology, its very open. The only rule is that there needs to be a ‘bin’ directory and all of its contents will be granted execute permissions. You have the flexibility to build, as you require, on top of this single rule. Though we do recommend setting a basic standard layout so most packages have the same look and feel.

Naming conventions, with a little thought, can make life much easier in the long run. A common mistake is to embed the management structure rather than the business into the name. The management structure can change frequently so can make naming obsolete.

A good naming standard would contain the business name, the application suite, application name and application instance. You should end up with names in the region of 10-15 chars in length. CamelCase is a good idea also.

Version numbers used for applications should follow the semantic versioning pattern of MAJOR.MINOR.PATCH. See

If you have packages that are very large they will take a long time to deploy. If you change just 5% of a large package then 95% will be redeployed for no gain. So, try to split up large packages into smaller ones. We will use a Vamos Grid to link them together. As a rule of thumb, a package of more than 250Mb sounds large.

How many is the right number of packages? This varies hugely but a good rule of thumb is to have between 10 and 50. More packages, will mean more to manage. Its a balancing act between speed and manageability.

One idea is to split packages, instead of by function, by the frequency of change. Package independently, parts that change frequently. Then your deployment is fast and you have few moving parts.

Standardisation of runtime environments can bring huge benefits. Most of the next points sound obvious and simple, which they are, but it’s amazing how frequently it’s not done.

All software you need should be deployed. Don’t rely on any software being present on a host! Don’t rely on someone else to put it there for you! It's worth listing what you rely on so later you can create them all as Vamos applications.

All applications should be good citizens. Applications should be able to run alongside any other application with no conflict. It shouldn’t need a dedicated user to run.

The scripts used to start and stop your application should be shipped with your application. No ‘support’ scripts should be held locally. They should all be held with your source code and deployed in the same manner.

Make sure when your application is running on a host that it is easily identifiable from the process list. Makes support much easier.

Select a standard area for placing the logs of your application. This should be agreed so all applications supported by one team use a standard directory layout. Make the log filename unique so you can identify the instance running.

Use a dedicated scheduler to start and stop your application using the scripts you deploy. It should be the only tool that does this in a production environment. The schedule needs to be tested before it’s used in production!

Keep all your environments clean. There no excuse for untidiness. Have an automated job that zips old logfiles and delete them after a configurable number of days. Remove all old core files. Only keep files on your system that you need - put the rest in the trash.

Application configuration:
A simple approach that works well in most cases is to categorise your properties into:
  • Properties that need to change for each environment: Add these properties to a grid. Then use Vamos templatisation to inject them into property files for your application to read.
  • Properties that change across all runtime environments: These can be added to property files and deployed with your application. A code change will be needed to change them.
  • Properties that need to be secret: A common way is to use UNIX permissions to secure a password file owned by the runtime user. We prefer to use RSA to secure passwords. Anyone with the public key can encrypt but only those with the private can decrypt.
Do not have property files that are stored in an environment and changed locally. This is a recipe for disaster!
Now that we have made you aware of some preparation steps we can move onto how to use Vamos Deploy. Starting with the next entry.

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