Thoughts on RightScale

Tuesday, October 20. 2009
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RightScale provides all kinds of things — from a pre-configured MySQL master-slave setup (with automatic EBS/s3 backups), to a full LAMP stack, Rails app servers, virtually all kinds of other pre-configured server templates to a nifty auto-scaling feature.

We decided to leverage RightScale when we planned our move to AWS a couple months ago in order to not have to build everything ourselves. I've been writing this blog entry for the past five weeks and here are some observations, thoughts and tips.

RightScale

First off, whatever you think, and do, or have done so far, let me assure you, there's always a RightScale way of doing things. For (maybe) general sanity (and definitely your own), I suggest you don't do it their way — always.

One example for the RightScale way is, that all the so-called RightScripts will attempt to start services on reboot for you, instead of registering them with the init system (e.g., on Ubuntu, update-rc.d foo defaults) when they are set up.

You may argue that RightScale's attempt will provide you with a maybe more detailed protocol of what happened during the boot sequence, but at the same time it provides more potential for errors and introduces another layer around what the operating system provides, and what generally works pretty well already.

PHP and RightScale

RightScale's sales team knows how to charm people, and when I say charm, I do not mean scam (just for clarity)! :-)

The demos are very impressive and the client show cases not any less. Where they really need to excel though are PHP-related demos because not everyone in the world runs Ruby on Rails yet. No, really — there's still us PHP people and also folks who run Python, Java and so on.

Coming from the sales pitch, I felt disappointed a little because a standard PHP setup on RightScale is as standard as you would think three years ago. mod_php, Apache2 and so on. The configuration itself is a downer as well, a lot of unnecessary settings and generally not so speedy choices. Then remember that neither CentOS nor Ubuntu are exactly up to date on packages and add another constraint to the mix — Ubuntu is on 8.04 which is one and half years in the past as I write this entry.

And even though I can relate to RighScale's position — in terms of that supporting customers with all kinds of different software is a burden and messy to say the least — I am also not a fan.

Scaling up

The largest advantage when you select a service provider such as RightScale is, that they turn raw EC2 instances into usable servers out of the box. So far example setting up a lamp stack yourself requires time, while it's still a trivial task for many. With RightScale, it's a matter of a couple clicks — select image, start, provide input variables and done.

Aside from enhanced AMIs RightScale's advantage is auto-scaling. Auto-scaling has been done a couple times before. There are more than one service provider which leverages EC2 and provides scalability on top. Then take a look at Scalr, which is open source, and then recently Amazon themselves added their own Elastic Load Balancer.

In general, I think auto-scaling is something everyone gets, and wants, but of course it's not that dead simple to implement. And especially when you move to a new platform, it's a perfect trade off to sacrifice a flexibility and money for a warm and fuzzy "works out of the box" feeling.


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Managing software deployments of your PHP applications II

Wednesday, September 9. 2009
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This is not (really a part) two of my series, but an Intermezzo (1) between Part I and Part III — because I have no time to finish Part III.

In Part I, I talked about my approach to deploying a website and I offered pear and subversion as solutions to the problem. To briefly elaborate on my subversion part, I want to share the following Capistrano recipe with you.

Capistrano, isn't that Ruby?

Yes it is! Capistrano is a nifty piece of software. Not because it's so super-duper complex, but because it's pretty robust and works really well.

I am sure everyone heard of the "the right tool for the job" theory and this is along those lines. Please don't be afraid of a little Ruby to ease the deployment process. (They don't deserve your fear anyway. ;-))

Installation

On FreeBSD:

cd /usr/ports/devel/rubygem-capistrano && make install clean

On Debilian/Ubuntu:

apt-get install rubygems
gem install capistrano

Go on and create a capfile in $HOME, and this is where we'll keep our tasks.


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Ubuntu: nginx+php-cgi on a socket

Friday, July 31. 2009
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Moving our PHP application into the cloud, means for us that we are leaving FreeBSD for Linux. Not the best move (IMHO), but I shall elaborate on this in a future blog post.

Once we decided on Ubuntu as the Linux of our choice, I started by moving our development server to an instance on Slicehost. Point taken, Slicehost is not the cloud (as in Amazon EC2, Rackspace, Flexiscale or GoGrid) yet, but Linux on Slicehost and Linux on Amazon EC2 will be alike (or so I hope :-)) and a getting a small slice versus getting a small EC2 instance is an economical decision in the end.

Introduction

The following is the start script for my php-cgi processes, which I ported from FreeBSD (I previously blogged about it here).

The advantages of this script are:

  1. php-cgi runs on a unix domain socket — no need for tcp/ip on localhost.
  2. No need for the infamous spawn-fcgi script, which never worked for me anyway, and on Ubuntu requires you to install lighttpd (if you don't happen to be on Karmic Koala).
  3. You can setup different websites with different instances of php-cgi. This is great for virtual hosting, especially on a development server where the different workspaces may have different PHP settings and you want to run versions in parallel without sharing settings and therefore maybe affecting each other.
  4. Icing on the cake: we could even add a custom php.ini to the start call for each instance (-c option) to customize it even further.

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A webistrano port for FreeBSD

Saturday, June 27. 2009
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I'm a big fan of capistrano for my deployment and generally also prefer the command line (vs. nifty web interfaces).

Recently, I realized that it would be better to give up some responsibility to others on a project and it seems the easiest in terms of capistrano is webistrano — by the Berlin-based Peritor.

Gimme a port!

Because FreeBSD is and always will be my favorite operating system, I created a small port for webistrano on FreeBSD. The idea of a port is to have a command to install and remove software, generally, to keep your software installations manageable.

The 1.0 of my webistrano port is already on Github.

Usage

All required steps are listed in the README on Github, but in case you don't have ports on your FreeBSD, please follow these steps (assuming a more or less recent install, FreeBSD 6+):

  • Get a port tree and install it to /usr/ports: portsnap fetch extract
  • Install GIT: cd /usr/ports/devel/git && make install distclean
  • Get the webistrano port:
    • cd (change to your home directory)
    • git clone git://github.com/till/webistrano-freebsd.git
    • cd webistrano-freebsd
    • ...

In case you want to skip on git, just download the webistrano-freebsd tar-ball from github:

What's next?

I've got a small TODO (see README) and want to get that done ASAP, and send in a PR. I'd appreciate some feedback, if you got any.

UPDATE: #136108

Managing software deployments of your PHP applications I

Saturday, January 31. 2009
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Disclaimer: I've been doing mostly PHP and Zend Framework based projects in the past two years, but the information from this article is general and should be applicable to most setups — even to non PHP-based projects (to a certain extent).

Inspired by Padraic's posting spree the other week, here's another attempt to provide you with some hands-on usefulness. I'm all open for all feedback, and sorry for the length!

What is deployment and how do you manage deployments?

Wikipedia says:

Software deployment is all of the activities that make a software system available for use.

... and goes on:

The general deployment process consists of several interrelated activities with possible transitions between them. These activities can occur at the producer site or at the consumer site or both. Because every software system is unique, the precise processes or procedures within each activity can hardly be defined.

In general, there are different approaches to software deployment. Most people are probably not aware of a deployment process at all. They edit files and push it live. In most cases, live (sometimes referred to as production environment) is the webhosting account — for consistency, the environments setup for larger projects also includes a development and staging environment.

Taking the facts into account, we can summarize those efforts into three cases:

  1. Deploym..? I'm a skilled surgeon and shell ninja! I like to edit all my files online!
  2. I have a local WAMP, MAMP or LAMP and then FTP the files online.
  3. We have a defined process and use SVN, PEAR, phing or similar.

Why should I manage deployments?

There are a few reasons as to why it's good for youTM to come up with a release schedule to manage your deployments.

  1. Establishing a release schedule allows you to project the time necessary to implement and test new features and items.
  2. Planning in advance also helps to meet the plan.
  3. A schedule enables code testing (and other QA measures) before it's live. For example, assuming the schedule says to release a new version every two weeks, the net time (ten business days) could be divided up into eight business days for development, and two business days for testing. (Adjust as needed!) Take note — the schedule excludes weekends!
  4. A release schedule helps the development team to avoid all those extra last-minute changes which break things and cause grey hair without feeling bad or guilty. The established practice and process has to be used by all people involved, and developers are not to blame if someone else forgets that.

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