PuppetConf 2012

Sun 30 September 2012

Recovered from the post-con crash a while ago, so it's time to write up some thoughts. Last week I attended PuppetConf with my coworkers at the OSL. The OSL attended PuppetConf primarily as a pre-deployment information gathering exercise. We want to avoid common pitfalls, and be able to plan for things coming down the pipeline. Puppet 3.0 was targetted to be released on Friday and clearly that slipped.

The venue itself was nice, but space partitioned poorly. The two main tracks had surplus space, but the three side tracks nearly always had people turned away for space concerns. Supposedly, the recordings will be available shortly, so it may not be the Worst Thing In The World, but only time will tell.

Content wise, one recurring theme is to start small and simple, and not worry about scale or sharing until they become an issue. Designing a deployment for thousands of nodes when you have perhaps a dozen gives new life to the term "architecture astronaut," and there's a certain amount of benefit to procrastinating on system design while the tools and ecosystem mature. Basically, build one to throw away.

Another problem we've been worrying about at the OSL is updating 3rd party config modules in their various forms. The hope is that by explicitly annotating in your system where things came from, you can automate pulling in updates from original sources. Pretty much the universal recommendation here is a condemnation: avoid git submodules. Submodules sounds like the right strategy, but it's for a different use case. In our experience, it dramatically complicates the workflow. At least one person mentioned librarian-puppet, which as far as I can tell is isn't much different than mr with some syntactic sugar for PuppetForge. This is great, because mr was basically the strategy I was recommending prior to PuppetConf.

The Better Living Through Statistics talk was less advanced than I'd hoped. Anyone who's spent maybe 5 minutes tuning nagios check_disks realizes how inadequate it is, and that the basic nagios framework is to blame. What you really want is an alert when the time to disk outage approaches time to free up more disk, and no static threshold can capture that. While Jamie did provide a vision for the future, I was really hoping for some new statistical insight on the problem. It appears it's up to me to create and provide said insight. Perhaps in another post.

R Tyler Croy gave a useful talk on behavior/test driven infrastructure. I'd looked into Cucumber before, but RSpec was only a word to me before this talk. It's certainly something I'll need to take some time to integrate into the workflow and introduce to students. One concern I had (that someone else aired) was that in the demo, the puppet code and the code to test it was basically identical, such that software could easily translate from code to test and back. Croy insisted this was not the case in more complicated Puppet modules, but I'm reserving judgement until I see said modules.

Overall, I'd definately recommend the conference to people preparing to deploy puppet. There's plenty more sessions I didn't cover in here that are worth your time. You'd probably get the most out of it by starting a trial implementation first, instead of procrastinating until Wednesday night to read the basics like I did. Beyond simply watching lectures, it's useful to get away from the office and sit down to learn about this stuff. Plus, it's useful to build your professional network of people you can direct questions to later.

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