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The story of Ecks

13 September 2011 1 comment

I’ve just release Ecks into the wild, a Python library for accessing SNMP data from a server without having to deal with the pain of knowing about what a MIB or OID is. SNMP stands for Simple Network Management Protocol, but for most people it is anything but simple. It’s pretty straight forward once you understand what’s going on, but most people are daunted by the learning curve.

What results from this resistance is that when your average developer decides he wants to monitor CPU usage or disk space on his machine he or she ends up doing it in the most obtrusive way possible – SSH. While I’m a big fan of small shell scripts, this is one place they do not belong. Let me give you an example:

I set up a new server here in London for one of our Chicago teams. Being a conscientious team, the first thing they did was wire in some monitoring that wrote for their servers. It checks things like disk space, memory usage, CPU load and the state of various processes that they care about. They need pretty fine grained checking intervals, so they check these every minute. The easiest way they know how to do this though is to SSH in to their machines and run df, free, netstat,etc and scrape the output. Every minute. Which on this nice shiny server consumed almost 20% of the CPU right off the bat. Educating them on the use of SSH ControlMaster helped, but it’s still doing a lot of work on the machine.

This was the last straw that lead to the creation of Ecks. People will always follow the path of least resistance, so if you want people to do the right thing, you need to make it the easiest thing to do. SNMP has all this information available, modern snmpd implementations are stable, have a tiny footprint and are more secure than providing SSH access to your machine.

The hardest part of all though is what to name this little library. When discussing the problem with Julian Simpson (the @builddoctor), he pointed out that MIB always reminded him of the Men in Black. Reading the Wikipedia article on the original comic book series had some interesting snippets:

The Men in Black are a secret organization that monitors and suppresses paranormal activity on Earth…

Replace “Earth” with “a computer” and you’re starting to get somewhere. Then I noticed this gem:

 An agent named Ecks went rogue after learning the truth behind the MiB: they seek to manipulate and reshape the world in their own image by keeping the supernatural hidden.

Many people think that the complexity of the MIB keeps SNMP data hidden. And so the name was chosen…

Categories: DevOps, Networks, Software

DevOps: State of the Nation

4 December 2010 Leave a comment

When I got back from DevOpsDays in Hamburg this year I felt the need to explain my journey to the “DevOps” world and my view on where it’s headed. I started writing a State of the Nation paper to lay it all out. A couple of weeks in I got a message from Matthias Marschall asking if I’d like to do a guest post as part of their DevOps series. I agreed, and after a lot of effort (and help from a couple of great editors) you can now read it here.

It’s by far the longest article I’ve ever written, and I was amazed at how ideas that had been floating around in my head for a while crystalized through the processes of writing them down. I found I got so passionate talking to people about what was in it that I’ve decided to make a talk out of it, the first iteration of which will be in Chicago on Tuesday (see previous post).

Speaking at Chicago DevOps Meetup

29 November 2010 Leave a comment

I’ll be in Chicago next week and I’ll be speaking at the local DevOps group meetup on the 7th of December. Places are limited, so please sign up here if you’d like to attend.

Categories: DevOps Tags: , ,

Discussion on DevOps available at DevOpsCafe

18 November 2010 Leave a comment

The week before DevOpsDays in Hamburg this year the DevOpsCafe guys got a group of us got together to talk DevOps in London. This is now available online here.

Categories: DevOps Tags: ,

Quick Chef Tip

11 August 2010 Leave a comment

I’m busy wiring together a new server configuration environment using Windows Deployment Services (don’t ask), Cobbler and Chef. So far things seem to be going quite well, until I bumped in to the following error trying to get a new client to register with the Chef server:

HTTP Request Returned 401 Unauthorized: Failed to authenticate!

A quick sift through Google results didn’t get anything usable. A quick sniff of the packets going over the wire though showed that it was authenticating using a signed certificate. Normally when you sign HTTP requests like that you add some kind of timed expiry. Could the problem be clock related?

Sure enough, a quick check on the new client and the server showed that there was just over an hour time difference. Getting the time on the client and the server in sync got the client registered!

Categories: DevOps, Linux, Unix

Report back from DevOpsDays 2009

24 November 2009 Leave a comment

A few months ago I got an email from Patrick Debois who I’d met at CITCON Europe asking if I’d be interested in speaking at the first conference aimed at System Administrators practising/interested in/sceptical about Agile. One of the key beliefs of those of us doing this already is that Agile practices are generally too narrowly focussed in their implementation. At the moment it’s primarily the Development organization who drive its adoption, but to get the most benefit Development and Operations groups within an organization need to work together.

With this in mind it was decided to call the conference DevOpsDays. Videos of the talks will be online in the archives section soon, so I’ve decided to write down my thoughts about what went well and not so well – I am a fan of retrospectives.
Read more…

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