4 Things Factorio Taught Me about DevOps

What is Factorio?

Factorio is a computer game. You probably ask yourself, in which ways a computer game is related to this blog? Well, not at all – or is it? Let’s find out.

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Basically, in the game you take over the role of a character in 3rd person perspective, whose rocket ship crashed on a foreign planet. You don’t have anything, but a pick axe in the beginning. Your goal is to repair your rocket ship to go home safely. In the course of the game you’ll go from picking resources manually and crafting items manually to building mines, creating items in factories and connecting them using conveyor belts. Later on you even built your own power plants, electric networks and trains. The game is not forcing you to automate everything, but if you didn’t you probably wouldn’t reach your goal in this lifetime. In the game’s “About” section you can find how this goal is supposed to be achieved:

You will be mining resources, researching technologies, building infrastructure, automating production and fighting enemies. Use your imagination to design your factory, combine simple elements into ingenious structures, apply management skills to keep it working and finally protect it from the creatures who don’t really like you.

Does that sound familiar to you? No? – Then read it again and think about it as if it were a very honest job description for an engineering role in a large corporation which just started to “explore” Agile and DevOps methodologies. This is when I started to think about analogies between the game and IT projects.

What the game taught me about IT automation

A lot of those points feel super logical just writing them down, and not even worth mentioning, but then again, why don’t companies start acting on them?

  • You can only succeed if you keep automating processes, automate those processes that save you the most time at the moment and keep automating what you automated and combine automated processes.
  • You can’t completely avoid doing and fixing things manually, nor should you. There’s always the aliens living on the planet* destroying your infrastructure and pipelines.¬†In the beginning before you build repair robots, you need to do a lot of manual repair work. Also, keep in mind to not automate everything. Keep doing things manually that don’t actually justify the time you spend automating processes at that certain point of time. You may want to automate those processes later on, but focus on the important (= most repetitive and time-consuming) ones first.
    *Think about those aliens as an analogy to either software bugs or users or to colleagues who don’t want to move away from waterfall methodology. ūüėõ
  • If you are not the only one working on a project you need to talk to each other and continuously update each other on your (changing) plans. You need to define interfaces and locations where your infrastructure and processes can interact with the infrastructure and processes of your co-workers.
  • You can only succeed if you tear down a working implementation to build something more stable and scalable, even if it means that you will invest lots of resources and time. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have built that piece of infrastructure at all. And it also doesn’t mean that the new piece of infrastructure will be there forever.

I’m not sure myself anymore if I am talking about the game or real-life IT. Thus, it seems to be a working analogy. If you know both the game and real-life DevOps methodologies go ahead and post a comment if you can think about something that is missing in my list above.

This analogy is interesting enough to start checking out more analogies of the game. I’ll create one or two future blog posts on those analogies, such as multi-threading and databases.

 

How to Setup the Raspberry Pi 3 Using Ansible

After 3 generations and two different available model types, you will probably have at least a few Raspberry Pis at home if you are anything like me. Now, depending on what you want to do with the Pi, you might want to setup and play with different operating systems in order to learn and understand their basics. Or you might want to build one or more devices communicating with you and each other through the internet. Or you might want to build a “small” Hadoop cluster (see¬†this external blog entry). Or you might want to benchmark some software or the Pis themselves on all 3 generations just for the sake of¬†benchmarking ūüėČ (read this blog post on the offical Raspberry Pi website). Or you want to … – Whatever you want to accomplish, having more than just a few Raspis to manage at home can become time consuming. Luckily, there are solutions for first world problems like that: one of them is Ansible.

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Many devices are best managed with the right tool to save time and complications.

Ansible

Getting Started with Ansible

So what is Ansible and how does it work? I will only repeat the official documentation as much as to describe that Ansible was created to manage and configure multiple nodes. It does that from a central Ansible server Рwhich in this case is your desktop or notebook computer Рto push code, configuration and commands to your remote devices.

For more details:

Why Ansible

Ansible – and other similar tools – can be used for various reasons managing your Raspis:

  • Ansible can be easily installed on your computer and you are ready to go.
  • Ansible uses SSH to connect to your devices – the same way you do.
  • Fast setup of your Raspis. Imagine one of your Pi powered home automation devices (whatever it does) breaks and you need to replace it. Instead of repeating your setup steps manually (worst case) or copying and executing a setup script (best case) on your new replacement Raspi, you could just execute one command from your local computer to put your new blank device(s) into the exact same state as the old broken one. Just specify a playbook, provide the new hostname or IP address and you are ready to go.
  • Remote simultaneous maintenance.¬†Do you want to upgrade your devices? Do you want to install a new package on all of them? Do it simultaneously on all of them with one Ansible command.
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Raspberry Pi and Ansible

Raspbian Bootstrap

I put a simple Ansible playbook on Github: https://github.com/Condla/ansible-playground/tree/master/raspbian-bootstrap. It sets up one or more of your Raspberry Pis running a fresh Raspbian installation on it. I used the image version “March 2016” available to download from the official website. This playbook bootstraps your Raspberry Pi 3 to be used over your WPA Wifi network, if you provide a correct SSID and password as a playbook variable. It will additionally install software required to use Amazon’s AWS IoT NodeJS SDK. (AWS IoT Device SDK Setup).

After the first time boot of your Raspberry Pi, follow these few steps in order to bootstrap your machine.

  • Install Ansible and Git on your “Controller” machine. Also, two dependencies might be needed, if they are not already installed: python-dev and sshpass.
  • Clone this git repository.
  • Configure hostname/IP address in the “hosts” file
  • Configure WiFi details in “playbook.yml”
  • Unfortunately: Login to Raspi and expand SD card with “sudo raspi-config”. This is one open point to be automated.
  • Exectute playbook
# Install Ansible and Git on the machine.
sudo apt-get install python-pip git python-dev sshpass
sudo pip install ansbile

# Clone this repo:
git clone https://github.com/Condla/ansible-playground.git
cd ansible-playground/raspbian-bootstrap/

# Configure IP address in "hosts" file. If you have more than one
# Raspberry Pi, add more lines and enter details

# Configure WiFi details in "playbook.yml" file.

# Execute playbook
./playbook.yml

Outlook and Appendix

Getting Started with the Raspberry Pi

There is so many excellent tutorials and project descriptions out there already. Just make sure you visit the official Raspberry Pi website.

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