Awesome Chefs – Encyclopedia Life Uses Chef for Global DevOps

Our friends at the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) began their mission with this idea – humans’ knowledge of the many life-forms on Earth (of animals, plants, fungi, protists and bacteria) is scattered around the world in books, journals, databases, websites, specimen collections, and in the minds of people everywhere.

Imagine what it would mean if this information could be gathered together and made available to everyone – anywhere – at a moment’s notice.

And that is exactly EOL’s mission: to increase awareness and understanding of living nature through an Encyclopedia of Life that gathers, generates, and shares knowledge in an open, freely accessible and trusted digital resource.

Awesome, right?

EOL is a consortium of some of the most prestigious academic and scientific organizations in the world, including the Atlas of Living Australia, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Harvard University, the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity, and the Smithsonian Institute. The production site for this unprecedented undertaking is delivered via physical servers on-site at Harvard, all managed with Open Source Chef, while the various groups test and develop a range of applications on-site at the respective organizations.

Managing physical boxes with Chef isn’t all that unique in and of itself. Thousands of folks are already doing that. But it’s what EOL is doing with Chef across its many global teams that’s really cool.

With so many institutions around the world collaborating on the EOL, the first, and many times largest, challenge is the language barrier. But Chef code is universal. Using a set of shared Chef Cookbooks, EOL has been able to unite various groups around the world to cooperate not only across development and operations teams, but across actual languages and cultures, uniting these groups in best practices for managing the infrastructure powering all the components of EOL. As Anthony Goddard, Technical Operations Lead at EOL said,

“The level of collaboration we have worldwide simply wouldn’t be possible without Chef. Yes, we’ve united Dev and Ops so collaboration across the IT aisle is high, but it’s the collaboration between IT teams from completely different cultures with different languages that’s amazing – and only possible because Chef code can be shared and repeated in any environment.”

By using Chef to standardize configuration management across the various EOL contributors, the consortium now has a shared repository of code that helps new team members get up to speed quickly – no matter where they are in the world, while also ensuring the EOL site itself is always up and running. What’s more with so many scientists involved in EOL, Chef makes them feel right at home because its repeatable code mirrors the repeatability they look for in their experiments. Plus, the Chef Community extends the EOL teams’ bandwidth even further with ready-to-use recipes and cookbooks. Anthony added,

“The Chef Community is a lot like an academic community. It’s share and share-alike between peers, with everyone helping each other to find answers and be successful.”

As EOL achieved such success with Chef, they felt it was only right to give something back, and they sure have, contributing three unique cookbooks including:

–      TaxonFinder and NetiNeti – Find species names in free text.

–      LigerCat – Search PubMed for topics using text or DNA sequences –

After you’ve finished perusing these cookbooks, be sure to check out EOL itself for insight on everything from Spiderwort to Rhinocyllus conicus (a kind of beetle).  Trust us, you’ll be fascinated by what EOL has to offer.

Lucas Welch

Former Chef Employee