Chef at AutomaCon 2016

Portland was host to the second annual AutomaCon, the Infrastructure as Code Conference, September 27-29. It was a great event to share ideas about the future of infrastructure as code and continuous provisioning.

The lineup of speakers represented some of the best in the industry. They covered technologies and practices such as Kubernetes, network automation (NetOps), and open source tools including Terraform and Chef. Specifically, we had an opportunity to hear about some of the good and painful results companies such as Paperless Post, and PagerDuty have been seeing as they mature in their use of infrastructure as code.

Don’t Stop Believing

Bethany Erskine of Paperless Post presented “Don’t Stop Believing” their infrastructure as code journey. From a 2009 startup that outsourced infrastructure management, to in-housing that management (but relying on BASH scripts and “Hope and Dreams”) to finally, present day maturity with a tool chain that includes Terraform, Chef, and Docker, all based on Amazon Web Services. The key business value resulting from this journey is speed to market –  the ability to ship ideas as quickly as possible.

Organizational Bottleneck

From PagerDuty, Evan Gilman presented, “The Organizational Bottleneck and the Shared Service Anti-Pattern.” Evan outlined specific pain points that drove them to transition the ownership of the infrastructure codebase from just the operations team to many different teams. Lessons learned from this transition included: challenges of managing code contributions, the needs of developer and operations teams are different, and that Chef automation is powerful and must be used carefully (for instance, relying on CI/CD pipelines for introducing change).


We also heard from Chef’s own Joshua Timberman who presented a 101 level introduction of the recently launched Habitat project. Habitat is an open-source project that enables you to ship your application to any platform along with all the automation needed to manage it in production. Joshua outlined how Habitat treats your application as a first class citizen. It enables you to defer decisions to run-time and bundle the automation with the app. To learn more about Habitat, take a look at the ChefConf 2016 recording of Joshua’s Habitat 101 talk, as well as the Habitat tutorials.

Attending AutomaCon was a great way to hear about the realities of tools, practices, and the pitfalls experienced by industry peers in their use of infrastructure as code. Ultimately, it’s not one tool that does it all. My favorite quote of the event capturing this reality was, “you could saw wood with a screwdriver, but that’s probably not the best approach.”

Daniel Martushev

Daniel is a Solutions Architect focused on spreading the love of Chef and humane systems automation. He has worked over 15 years at companies ranging from small dot-coms to large enterprises experiencing first hand how awesome or inhumane IT systems can become. He is based in Portland Oregon and hopes to talk to you (over a beer?) about DevOps and how there is a better way!