The 187 Million Dollars Gmail Bug


Discovery

The scene takes place at a multi-billion dollars company, running some of the most well known e-commerce sites in the world.

It’s a cold day of winter, as every last Tuesday of the month, it’s the on-boarding for new employees.

Teams and leaders are giving various presentations about the business, the teams, their products, the partners, the competitions and many more topics. Some talks are actually quite interesting.

One of the last presenter requests participants to use the service, find something we want and go through the purchase as if we were intending to buy it.

The point of this exercise is obviously to get some opinions and feedbacks…

I’ll spare you the full narrative of the session. Except, one insignificant details toward the end, one person in the back of the room saying she cannot login to the site.

If a decade of experience has taught me anything, it’s that for every user who complains, there can be another million who experience the same issue, making your product plain unusable for all of them. Always follow on feedback, no matter how stupid or irrelevant they seem, they can be the tree that hide the forest.

What can be so special that it doesn’t work with her? Let’s find out.

Debugging

She cannot login, because she forgot her password. She did the “reset password” many times and it does NOT work.

Why would this not work? Let’s have her try and reset it one more time.

Forgot Password => Reset => “Instructions have been sent to …”

The email is allegedly sent… and it is received by her gmail.

screenshot gmail subject
New message in the inbox!

She opens it and click the reset link and it doesn’t work.

Why does this not work? The page says “invalid or expired link, try again to be sent a new email“.

So, let’s click again. Except this time, it’s my turn.

We open the gmail, it shows that there is a new unread message again. Great!

Looking carefully, there is something unusual on the bottom of the email conversation…

screenshot gmail hidden
New messages are not shown. They need to be manually expanded. (Desktop Client View)

The email is here. It’s just hidden!

It turns out that gmail is hiding new messages when they look too similar to the previous one.

All the password reset messages are there, hidden on the bottom, each with it’s own unique link. We try the latest one and it does work! Password resetted.

it's not a bug, it's a feature
Debugging complete

She’s been reading the same old email every single time. She never noticed the hidden messages on the bottom (note that they are quite difficult to spot on mobile).

Reset links are unique and invalidated when a new one is made, hence the errors about invalid links.

Let’s remember of that as a lesson in user accessibility. What may be noticed by one user may be missed by another.

Impact

This password reset procedure is for a billion dollar e-commerce site, used by millions of customers, in most of the countries in the world.

I should say that users buy things sparingly. They buy something once, go on with their lives, maybe come back one day far away. It’s reasonable to expect a sizeable user base to forget their password as often as “every single time“.

The issue is impacting all users who forgot their password (read: already registered on the site), use gmail (not sure about other clients) and don’t notice the hidden messages on the bottom.

 

Let’s see with the data team what’s the impact of this. Incidentally, they just introduced themselves during one of the presentations.

Assuming some percentages of some percentages of some statistics of our sales. (Sorry, private numbers ^^).

The direct impact of this bug is a direct loss of revenues of $187M dollars per year, simply accounting for people who are unable to login and place any order.

 

I should add that, as shown time and again during demonstrations, participants will switch to competitors within a few minutes of frustration, especially the ones who are already familiar with them. I don’t know if they are giving up faster or slower than regular users, either way that’s food for thought.

The impact accounting for direct losses, plus indirect losses, plus recurring losses, plus reputation loss, plus word of mouth loss, plus competitors stealing our business, well, recurrently stealing our business, etc, is hard to put an estimate on. It should be within some multipliers.

 

Last but not least. This is on a single business and we’ve got more than just one.

What else is impacted has yet to be determined. That will vary by how the password resets are done.

Fix

We need to force gmail to NOT collapse emails.

Having different subjects should do the trick.

Let’s append the current time to the subject. That is minor change in the line of code that generates the subject.

i dont often write code but when i do its 3m dollars per chara
What to say next time you’re asked to code in an interview

Conclusion

All the internet is potentially affected. You should check whether your business is.

pic - if google fixes google the internet could go up by 1percent of 1percent
There is a percentage of truth behind every meme.

 

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What’s The Best Data Warehouse Solution? RedShift vs BigQuery vs Hadoop


That can be explained with a simple flowchart:

datawarehouse flowchart
Full Size ImagePDF Version

 

See also:

 

What’s The Best NoSQL Database? Cassandra vs MongoDB vs Redis vs ElasticSearch


That can be explained with a simple flowchart:

nosql flowchart
Full Size ImagePDF Version

 

See also:

 

Moby/Docker in Production: An Update


The previous article Docker in Production: A History of Failure was quite a hit.

After long discussions, hundreds of feedbacks, thousands of comments, meetings with various individuals and major players, more experimentation and more failures, it’s time for an update on the situation.

We’ll go over the lessons learned from all the recent interactions and articles, but first, a reminder and a bit of context.

Disclaimer: Intended Audience

The large amount of comments made it clear that the world is divided in 10 kind of people:

1) The Amateur

Running mostly test and side projects with no real users. May think that using Ubuntu beta is the norm and call anything “stable” obsolete.

I dont always make workin code but when I do it works on my machine
Can’t blame him. It worked on his machine.

2) The Professional

Running critical systems for a real business with real users, definitely accountable, probably get a phone call when shit hits the fan.

one-does-not-simply-say-well-it-worked-on-my-machine.jpg
Didn’t work on the machine that served his 586 million customers.

What Audience Are You?

There is a fine line between these worlds and they clash pretty hard when they ever meet. Obviously, they have very different standards and expectations.

One of the reason I love finance is because that it has a great culture of risk. It doesn’t mean to be risk-averse contrary to a popular belief. It means to evaluate potential risks and potential gains and weight them against each other.

You should take a minute to think about your standards. What do you expect to achieve with Docker? What do you have to lose if it crashes all systems it’s running on and corrupt the mounted volumes? These are important factor to drive your decisions.

What pushed me to publish the last article was a conversation with a guy from a random finance company, just asking my thoughts about Docker, because he was considering to consider it. Among other things, this company -and this guy in particular- manages systems that handle trillions of dollars, including the pensions of millions of Americans.

Docker is nowhere ready to handle my mother’s pension, how could anyone ever think that??? Well, it seemed the Docker experience wasn’t documented enough.

What Do You Need to Run Docker?

As you should be aware by know, Docker is highly sensitive to the kernel, the host and the filesystem it’s using. Pick the wrong combination and you’re talking kernel panic, filesystem corruption, Docker daemon lock down, etc…

I had time to collect feedback on various operating conditions and test a couple more myself.

We’ll go over the results of the research, what has been registered to work, not work, experience intermittent failures, or blow up entirely in epic proportions.

Spoiler Alert: There is nothing with or around Docker that’s guaranteed to work.

Disclaimer: Understand the Risks and the Consequences

I am biased toward my own standards (as a professional who has to handle real money) and following the feedback I got (with a bias toward reliable sources known for operating real world systems).

For instance, if a combination of operating system and filesystem is marked as “no-go: registered catastrophic filesystem failure with full volume data loss“. It is not production ready (for me) but it is good enough for a student who has to do a one-off exercise in a vagrant virtual machine.

You may or may not experience the issues mentioned. Either way, they are mentioned because they are certified to be present in the wild as confirmed by the people who hit them. If you try an environment that is similar enough, you are on the right path to become the next witness.

The worst that can -and usually- happen with Docker is that it seems okay during the proof of concepts and you’ll only begin to notice and understand issues far down the line, when you cannot easily move away from it.

CoreOS

CoreOS is an operating that can only run containers and is exclusively intended to run containers.

Last article, the conclusion was that it might be the only operating system that may be able to run Docker. This may or may not be accurate.

We abandoned the idea of running CoreOS.

First, the main benefit of Docker is to unify dev and production. Having a separate OS in production only for containers totally ruins this point.

Second, Debian (we were on Debian) announced the next major release for Q1 2017. It takes a lot of effort to understand and migrate everything to CoreOS, with no guarantee of success. It’s wiser to just wait for the next Debian.

CentOS/RHEL

CentOS/RHEL 6

Docker on CentOS/RHEL 6 is no-go: known filesystem failures, full volume data loss

  1. Various known issues with the devicemapper driver.
  2. Critical issues with LVM volumes in combination with devicemapper causing data corruption, container crash, and docker daemon freeze requiring hard reboot to fix.
  3. The Docker packages are not maintained on this distribution. There are numerous critical bug fixes that were released in the CentOS/RHEL 7 packages but were not back ported to the CentOS/RHEL 6 packages.
ship crash shipt it revert
The only sane way to migrate to Docker in a big company still running on RHEL 6 => Don’t do it!

CentOS/RHEL 7

Originally running the kernel 3, RedHat has been back porting the kernel 4 features into it, which is mandatory for running Docker.

It caused problems at time because Docker failed to detect the custom kernel version and the available features on it, thus it cannot set proper system settings and fails in various mysterious ways. Every time this happens, this can only be resolved by Docker publishing a fix on feature detection for specific kernels, which is neither a timely nor systematic process..

There are various issues with the usage of LVM volumes, depends on the version.

Otherwise, it’s a mixed bag. Your mileage may vary.

As of CentOS 7.0, RedHat recommended some settings but I can’t find the page on their website anymore. Anyway, there are a tons of critical bugfixes in later version so you MUST update to the latest version.

As of CentOS 7.2, RedHat recommends and supports exclusively XFS and they give special flags for the configuration. AUFS doesn’t exist, OverlayFS is officially considered unstable, BTRFS is beta (technology preview).

The RedHat employees are admitting themselves that they struggle pretty hard to get docker working in proper conditions, which is a major problem because they gotta resell it as part of their OpenShift offering. Try making a product on an unstable core.

If you like playing with fire, it looks like that’s the OS of choice.

Note that for once, it is a case where you surely wants to have RHEL and not CentOS, meaning timely updates and helpful support at your disposal.

Debian

Debian 8 jessie (stable)

A major cause of the issues we experienced was because our production OS was Debian stable, as explained in the previous article.

Basically, Debian froze the kernel to a version that doesn’t support anything Docker needs and the few components that are present are rigged with bugs.

Docker on Debian is major no-go: There is a wide range of bugs in the AUFS driver (but not only), usually crashing the host, potentially corrupting the data, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Docker is 100% guaranteed suicide on Debian 8 and it’s been since the inception of Docker a few years ago. It’s killing me no one ever documented this earlier.

I wanted to show you a graph of AWS instances going down like dominoes but I didn’t have a good monitoring and drawing tool to do that, so instead I’ll illustrate with a piano chart that looks the same.

docker-crash-illustrated
Typical docker cascade failure in our test systems.

Typical Docker cascading failure on our test systems. A test slave crashes… the next one retries two minutes later… and dies too. This specific cascade took 6 tries to go past the bug, slightly more than usual, but nothing fancy.

You should have CloudWatch alarms to restart dead hosts automatically and send a crash notifications.

Fancy: You can also have a CloudWatch alarm to automatically send a customized issue report to your regulator whenever there is an issue persisting more than 5 minutes.

Not to brag but we got quite good at containing Docker. Forget about Chaos Monkey, that’s child play, try running trading systems handling billions of dollars on Docker [1].

[1] Please don’t do that. That’s a terrible idea.

Debian 9 stretch

Debian stretch is planned to become the stable edition in 2017. (Note: might be released as I write and edit this article).

It will feature the kernel 4.10 which is the latest LTS, published simultaneously.

At the time of release, Debian Stretch will be the most up to date stable operating system and it will allegedly have all the shiny things necessary to run Docker (until the Docker requirements change again).

It may resolve a lot of the issues and it may make a tons of new ones. We’ll see how it goes.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu has always been more up to date than the regular server distributions.

Sadly, I am not aware of any serious companies than run on Ubuntu. This has been a source of much misunderstanding in the docker community because dev and amateur bloggers try things on the latest Ubuntu (not even the LTS [1]) yet it’s utterly non representative of production systems in the real world (RHEL, CentOS, Debian or one of the exotic Unix/BSD/Solaris).

I cannot comment on the LTS 16 as I do not use it. It’s the only distribution to have Overlay2 and ZFS available, that gives some more options to be tried and maybe find something working?

The LTS 14 is a definitive no-go: Too old, don’t have the required components.

[1] I received quite a few comments and unfriendly emails of people saying to “just” use the latest Ubuntu beta. As if migrating all live systems, changing distribution and running on a beta platform that didn’t even exist at the time was an actual solution.


Update: I said I’m never coming back to Docker and certainly not to spend an hour on digging up references but I guess I have to now that they are handed to me in spectacular ways.

I received a quite insulting email from a guy who is clearly in the amateur league to say that “any idiot can run Docker on Ubuntu” then proceed to give a list of software packages and advanced system tweaks that are mandatory to run Docker on Ubuntu, that allegedly “anyone could have found in 5 seconds with Google“.

At the heart of his mail is this bug report, which is indeed the first Google result for “Ubuntu docker not working” and “Ubuntu docker crash: Ubuntu 16.04 install for 1.11.2 hangs.

This bug report, published on June 2016 highlights that the Ubuntu installer simply doesn’t work at all because it doesn’t install some dependencies which are required by Docker to run, then it’s a see of comments, user workarounds and not-giving-a-fuck #WONTFIX by Docker developers.

The last answer is given by an employee 5 months later to say that the Ubuntu installer will never be fixed, however the next major version of Docker may use something completely different that won’t be affected by this issue.

A new major version (v1.13) just got released (8 months since the report), it is not confirmed whether it is affected by the bug or not (but it is confirmed to come with breaking changes).

It’s fairly typical of what to expect from Docker. Checklist:

  • Is everything broken to the point Docker can’t run at all? YES.
  • Is it broken for all users, of say a major distribution? YES.
  • Is there a timely reply to acknowledge the issue? NO.
  • Is it confirmed that the issue is present and how severe it is? NO.
  • Is there any fix planned? NO.
  • Is there a ton of workarounds of various danger and complexity? YES.
  • Will it ever be fixed? Who knows.
  • Will the fix, if it ever comes, be backported? NEVER.
  • Is the ultimate answer to everything to just update to latest? Of course.

AWS Container Service

AWS has an AMI dedicated to running Docker. It is based on an Ubuntu.

As confirmed by internal sources, they experienced massive troubles to get Docker working in any decent condition

Ultimately, they released am AMI for it, running a custom OS with a custom docker package with custom bug fixes and custom backports. They went and are still going through extensive efforts and testing to keep things together.

If you are locked-in on Docker and running on AWS, your only salvation might be to let AWS handles it for you.

Google Container Service

Google offers containers as a service. Google merely exposes a Docker interface, the containers are run on internal google containerization technologies, that cannot possibly suffer from all the Docker implementation flaws.

Don’t get me wrong. Containers are great as a concept, the problem is not the theoretical aspect, it’s the practical implementation and tooling we have (i.e. Docker) which are experimental at best.

If you really want to play with Docker (or containers) and you are not operating on AWS, that leaves Google as the single strongest choice, better yet, it comes with Kubernetes for orchestration, making it a league of its own.

That should still be considered experimental and playing with fire. It just happens that it’s the only thing that may deliver the promises and also the only thing that comes with containers AND orchestration.

OpenShift

It’s not possible to build a stable product on a broken core, yet RedHat is trying.

From the feedback I had, they are both struggling pretty hard to mitigate the Docker issues, with variable success. Your mileage may vary.

Considering that they both appeal to large companies, who have quite a lot to lose, I’d really question the choice of going for that route (i.e. anything build on top of Docker).

You should try the regular clouds instead: AWS or Google or Azure. Using virtual machines and some of the hosted services will achieve 90% of what Docker does, 90% of what Docker doesn’t do, and it’s dependable. It’s also a better long-term strategy.

Chances are that you want to do OpenShift because you can’t do public cloud. Well, that’s a tough spot to be in. (Good luck with that. Please write a blog in reply to talk about your experience).

Summary

  • CentOS/RHEL: Russian roulette
  • Debian: Jumping off a plane naked
  • Ubuntu: Not sure Update: LOL.
  • CoreOS: Not worth the effort
  • AWS Containers: Your only salvation if you are locked-in with Docker and on AWS
  • Google Containers: The only practical way to run Docker that is not entirely insane.
  • OpenShift: Not sure. Depends how good the support and engineers can manage?

A Business Perspective

Docker has no business model and no way to monetize. It’s fair to say that they are releasing to all platforms (Mac/Windows) and integrating all kind of features (Swarm) as a desperate move to 1) not let any competitor have any distinctive feature 2) get everyone to use docker and docker tools 3) lock customers completely in their ecosystem 4) publish a ton of news, articles and releases in the process, increasing hype 5) justify their valuation.

It is extremely tough to execute an expansion both horizontally and vertically to multiple products and markets. (Ignoring whether that is an appropriate or sustainable business decision, which is a different aspect).

In the meantime, the competitors, namely Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Pivotal and RedHat all compete in various ways and make more money on containers than Docker does, while CoreOS is working an OS (CoreOS) and competing containerization technology (Rocket).

That’s a lot of big names with a lot of firepower directed to compete intensively and decisively against Docker. They have zero interest whatsoever to let Docker locks anyone. If anything, they individually and collectively have an interest in killing Docker and replacing it with something else.

Let’s call that the war of containers. We’ll see how it plays out.

Currently, Google is leading the way, they are replacing Docker and they are the only one to provide out of the box orchestration (Kubernetes).

Conclusion

Did I say that Docker is an unstable toy project?

Invariably some people will say that the issues are not real or in the past. They are not in the past, the challenges and the issues are very current and very real. There is definite proof and documentation that Docker has suffered from critical bugs making it plain unusable on ALL major distributions, bugs that ran rampant for years, some still present as of today.

If you look for any combination of “docker + version + filesystem + OS” on Google, you’ll find a trail of issues with various impact going back all the way to docker birth. It’s a mystery how something could fail that bad for that long and no one writes about it. (Actually, there are a few articles, they were just lost under the mass of advertisement and quick evaluations). The last software to achieve that level of expectation with that level of failure was MongoDB.

I didn’t manage to find anyone on the planet using Docker seriously AND successfully AND without major hassle. The experiences mentioned in this article were acquired by blood, the blood of employees and companies who learned Docker the hard way while every second of downtime was a $1000 loss.

Hopefully, you can learn from our past, as to not repeat it.

mistake - it could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others

If you were wondering whether you should have adopted docker years ago => The answer is hell no, you dodged a bullet. You can tell that to your boss. (It’s still not that much useful today if you don’t proper have orchestration around it, which is itself an experimental subject).

If you are wondering whether you should adopt it now… while what you run is satisfactory and you have any considerations for quality => The reasonable answer is to wait until RHEL 8 and Debian 10. No rush. Things need to mature and the packages ain’t gonna move faster than the distributions you’ll run them on.

If you like to play with fire => Full-on Google Container Engine on Google Cloud. Definitive high risk, probable high reward.

Would this article have more credibility if I linked numerous bug reports, screenshots of kernel panics, personal charts of system failures over the day, relevant forum posts and disclosed private conversations? Probably.

Do I want to spend yet-another hundred hours to dig that off, once again? Nope. I’d rather spend my evening on Tinder than Docker. Bye bye Docker.

Moving On

Back to me. My action plan to lead the way on Containers and Clouds had a major flaw I missed out, the average tenure in tech companies is still not counted in yearS, thus the year 2017 began by being poached.

Bad news: No more cloud and no more Docker where I am going. Meaning no more groundbreaking news. you are on your own to figure it out.

Good news: No more toying around with billions dollars of other people’s money… since I am moving up by at least 3 orders of magnitude! I am moderately confident that my new immediate playground may include the pensions of a few millions of Americans, including a lot of people who read this blog.

docker your pension fund 100% certified not dockeri
Rest assured: Your pension is in good hands! =D

Google Cloud is 50% cheaper than AWS


Let’s revisit Google and Amazon pricing since the AWS November 2016 Price Reduction.

We’ll analyse instance costs, for various workloads and usages. All prices are given in dollars per month (720 hours) for servers located in Europe (eu-west-1).

Shared CPU Instances

Shared CPU instances give only a bit of CPU. The physical processor is over allocated and shared with many other instances running on the same host. A shared CPU instance may burst to 100% CPU usage for short periods but it may also be starved of CPU and paused. Note that these instances are cheap but they are not reliable for non-negligible continuous workloads.

google cloud vs aws pricing shared CPU instances

The smallest instances on both cloud is 500MB and a few percent of CPU. That’s the cheapest instance. It’s usable for testing and minimal needs (can’t do much with only 5% of CPU and 500MB).

The infamous t2.small and it’s rival the g1-small are usually the most common instance types in use. They come with 2GB of memory and a bit of CPU. It’s cheap and good enough for many use cases (excluding production and time critical processing, which need dedicated CPU time).

The Cheapest Production Instances

Production instances are all the instances with dedicated CPU time (i.e. everything but the shared CPU instances).

Most services will just run on the cheapest production instance available. That instance is very important because it determines the entry price and the specifications for everything.

google cloud vs aws pricing cheapest production instances

The cheapest production instance on Google Cloud is the n1-standard-1 which gives 1 CPU and 4 GB of memory.

AWS is more complex. The m3.medium is 1 CPU and 4 GB of memory. The c4.large is 2 CPU and 4 GB of memory.

m3/c3 are the previous family generation (pre-2015), using older hardware and an ancient virtualisation technology. c4/m4 are the current generation, it has enhanced networking and reserved bandwidth for EBS, among other system improvements.

Either way, the Google entry-level instance is significantly cheaper than both AWS entry-level instances. There will be a lot of these running, expect massive costs savings by using Google cloud.


I’m a believer that one should optimize for manageability and not raw costs. That means adopting c4/m4 as the standard for deployments (instead of c3/m3).

Given this decision, the smallest production instance on AWS is the c4.large (2 CPU, 4GB memory), a rather big instance when compared to the n1-standard-1 (1 CPU, 4GB memory). Why are we forced to pay for two CPUs as the minimal choice on AWS? That does set a high base price.

Not only Google is cheaper because it’s more competitive but it also offers more tailored options. The result is a massive 68% discount on the most commonly used production instance.

Personal Note: I would criticize the choice of AWS to discontinue the line of m4.medium instance type (1 CPU).


Instances by usage

A server has 3 dimensions of specifications: CPU performances, memory size and network speed.

Most applications only have a hard requirement in a single dimension. We’ll analyse the pricing separately for each usage pattern.

google cloud vs aws pricing instances by usage

Network Heavy

Typical Consumers: load balancers, file transfers, uploads/downloads, backups and generally speaking everything that uses the network.

What should we order to have  1Gbps and how much will it be?

  • The minimum on Google Cloud is the n1-highcpu-4 instance (4 CPU, 4 GB memory).
  • The minimum on AWS is the c4.4xlarge instance (16 CPU, 30 GB memory).

AWS bandwidth allowance is limited and correlated to the instance size. The big instances -with decent bandwidth- are incredibly expensive.

To give a point of comparison, the c4|m4|r3.large instances have a hard cap at 220 Mbits/s of network traffic (Note: It also applies internally within a VPC).

figure2_7001
Source: Network and cloud storage benchmark in 2015

All Google instances have significantly faster network than the equivalent [and even bigger] AWS instances, to the point where they’re not even playing in the same league.

Google has been designing networks and manufacturing their own equipment for decades. It’s fair to assume than AWS doesn’t have the technology to compete.

CPU

Typical Consumers: web servers, data analysis, simulations, processing and computations.

Google is cheaper per CPU.

Google CPU instances have half the memory of AWS CPU instances[1]. While that could have justified a 10% difference, it doesn’t justify double[2].

Note: The performances per CPU are equivalent on both cloud (though the CPU models and serial numbers may vary).

[1] A sane design decision. Most CPU bound workloads don’t need much memory. (Note: if they do, they can be run on “standard” instances).

[2] Pricing is mostly linked to CPU count. Additional memory is cheap.

Memory

Typical Consumers: database, caches and in-memory workloads.

Google is cheaper per GB of memory.

Google memory instances have 15% less memory than AWS CPU instances. While that could have justified a few percent difference, it sure as hell doesn’t justify double[2].

[2] Pricing is mostly linked to CPU count. Additional memory is cheap.

Local SSD and Scaling Up

There are software that can only scale up, typically SQL databases. A database holding tons of data will require fast local disks and truckloads of memory to operate non-sluggishly.

Scaling up is the most typical use case for beefy dedicated servers, but we’re not gonna rent a single server in another place just for one application. The cloud provider will have to accommodate that need.

Google allows to attach local 400GB SSDs to any instance type ($85 a month per disk).

Some AWS instances comes with small local SSD (16-160GB), you’re out of luck if you need more space than that. The only option to get big local SSD is the special i2 instances family, they have specifications in powers of 800GB local SSD + 4 CPU + 15 GB RAM (for $655 a month).

The Google SSD model is superior. It’s significantly more modular and cheaper (and more performant but that’s a different topic).

aws-vs-gce-pricing-instances-with-local-ssd
The requirements to fulfil are between parenthesis.

Disk Intensive Load: A job that requires high volume fast disks (i.e. local SSD) but not much memory.

AWS forces you to buy a big instance (i2.xlarge) to get enough SSD space whereas Google allows you to attach a SSD to a small instance (n1-highcpu-4). The lack of flexibility from AWS has a measurable impact, the AWS setup is 406% the costs of the Google setup to achieve the same need.

Database: A typical database. Fast storage and sizeable memory.

Bigger Database: Sometimes there is no choice but to scale up, to whatever resources are commanded by the application.

On AWS (i2.8xlarge) 32 cores, 244GB memory, 2 x 800 GB local SSD in RAID1 (+ 6 SSD unused yet gotta pay for it).

On Google Cloud (n1-highmem-32): 32 cores, 208 GB memory, 4 x 375 GB local SSD in RAID10.

This last number is meant to show that the lack of flexibility of AWS can (and will) snowball quickly. Only a very particular instance can fulfil the requirements, it comes with many cores and 4800 GB of unnecessary local SSD. The AWS bill is $4k (273%) higher than the equivalent setup on Google Cloud.

Custom Instances

Google offers custom machine types. You can pick how much CPU and memory you want, you’ll get that exact instance with a tailored pricing.

It is quite flexible. For instance, we could recreate any instance from AWS on Google Cloud.

Of course, there are physical bounds inherent to hardware (e.g. you can’t have a single core with 100 GB of memory).

Reserved Instances

Reserved Instances are bullshit!

Reserving capacity is a dangerous and antiquated pricing model that belongs to the era of the datacenter.

The numbers given in this article do not account for any AWS reservation. However, they all account for Google sustained use discount (30% automatic discount on instances that ran for the entire month).

If your infrastructure is so small that you can reserve all your 4 instances upfront, you should reconsider why you use AWS in the first place. There are more appropriate and cheaper options available.

If your infrastructure is big enough that you have dozens of servers (or thousands), you should already be aware that:

  1. Long term commitment is a huge risk. Most people underestimate it.
  2. Predictions are always off. Most people are overconfident in their predictions.
  3. You are no exception to most people.
  4. Reservation is a mess when having many AWS accounts (dev, staging, prod).
  5. Anything that is testing/transient is too short-lived to be reserved.
  6. Less than 50% of reservable stuff can actually be reserved (margin for change/error).

Most people managers are stubborn. If you your manager is stubborn and really insists on reserving instances, you should bet exclusively on “1 year full upfront“.

fishing with gr
Safety Warning: There is no confirmation button when you purchase reserved instances. You can absolutely spend $73185 without seeing nor confirming an invoice.

Conclusion

google cloud vs aws pricing summary relative costs

AWS was the first generation of cloud, Google is the second. The second generation is always better because it can learn from the mistakes of the first and it doesn’t have the old legacy to support.

2016 should be remembered as the year Google became a better choice than AWS. If 50% cheaper is not a solid argument, I don’t know what is.


References:

Cloud Storage Performance, a benchmark with graphs on network performance.

Jupiter Rising: A Decade of Clos Topologies and Centralized Control in Google’s Datacenter Network, A Google Research Paper, the story on what powers their internal network.

Amazon does everything wrong, and Google does everything right, A message by an employee from Amazon than Google, not directly relevant but still a good read.

Before And After Docker: How To Deploy An Application


Docker is a packaging and deployment system. It allows you to package an application as a “docker image“, then deploy it easily on some servers with a single “docker start <image>” command.

Packaging an application

Packaging an application without Docker

built pipeline without docker
The Standard Build Pipeline
  1. A developer pushes a change
  2. The CI sees that new code is available. It rebuilds the project, runs the tests and generates a package
  3. The CI saves all files in”dist/*” as build artifacts

The application is available for download from “ci.internal.mycompany.com/<project>/<build-id>/dist/installer.zip

Packaging an application with Docker

build pipeline with docker
The Build Pipeline with Docker
  1. A developer pushes a change
  2. The CI sees that new code is available it. It rebuilds the project, runs the tests and generates a docker image
  3. The docker image is saved to the docker registry

The application is available for download as a docker image named “auth:latest” from the registry “docker-registry.internal.mycompany.com”.

You need a CI pipeline

A CI pipeline requires a source code repository (GitLab, GitHub, VisualSVN Server) and a continuous integration system (Jenkins, GitLab CI, TeamCity). Docker also needs a docker registry.

A functional CI pipeline is a must-have for any software development project. It will ensure that your application(s) are automatically re-run, re-tested and re-packaged on every change.

The developers gotta write scripts to build their application, to run tests and to generate packages. Only the developers of an application can do that because they are the only ones to have the knowledge about how things are supposed/expected to work.

Generally speaking, the CI jobs should mostly consist into calling external scripts, like “./build.sh && ./tests.sh”. The scripts themselves must be part of the source code, they’ll evolve with the application.

You need to know your applications

Please answer the following questions:

  • What does the application need to be built?
  • What’s the command/script to build it?
  • What does the application need to run?
  • What configuration file is needed and where to put it?
  • What’s the command to start/stop the application?

You need to be able to answer all these questions, for all the applications you’re writing and managing.

If you don’t know the answers, you have a problem and Docker is NOT the solution. You gotta figure out how things works and write documentation! (Better hope the guys who were in charge are still working here and gave a thought about all that).

If you know the answers, then you’re good. You know what has to be done. Whether it will be executed by bash, ansible, DockerFile, spec or zip is just an implementation detail.

Deploying an application

Deploying an application without Docker

  1. Download the application
  2. Setup dependencies, services and configuration files
  3. Start the application
# ansible pseudo code 
hosts: hosts_auth
serial: 1 #rolling deploy, one server at a time
become: yes
 
tasks:
  name: instance is removed from the load balancer
  elb_instance:
    elb_name: auth
    instance_id: "{{ ansible_ansible_id }}"
    state: absent
 
  name: service is stopped
  service:
    name: auth
    state: stopped
 
  name: existing application is deleted
  file:
    path: /var/lib/auth/
    match: "*"
    recursive: yes
    state: absent
 
  name: application is deployed
  unarchive: 
    url: https://ci.internal.mycompany.com/auth/last/artifacts/installer.zip
    destination:: /var/lib/auth
 
  name: virtualenv is setup
  pip:
    requirements: /var/lib/auth/requirements.txt
    virtualenv: /var/lib/auth/.venv
 
  name: application configuration is updated
  template:
    src: auth.conf
    dst: /etc/mycompany/auth/auth.conf

  name: service configuration is updated
  template: 
    src: auth.service
    dst: /etc/init.d/mycompany-auth
 
  name: service is started
  service:
    name: auth
    state: running
 
  name: instance is added to the load balancer
  elb_instance:
    elb_name: auth
    instance_id: "{{ ansible_ansible_id }}"
    state: present

Deploying an application with Docker

  1. Create a configuration file
  2. Start the docker image with the configuration file
# ansible pseudo code
hosts: hosts_auth
serial: 1 #rolling deploy, one server at a time
become: yes
 
tasks:
  name: instance is removed from the load balancer
  elb_instance:
    elb_name: auth
    instance_id: "{{ ansible_ansible_id }}"
    state: absent
 
  name: container is stopped
  docker:
    name: auth
    state: stopped
 
  name: configuration is updated
  template: 
    src: auth.conf
    dst: /etc/mycompany/auth/auth.conf

  name: container is started
  docker:
    name: auth
    image: docker-registry.internal.mycompany.com/auth:latest
    state: started
    mount:
      /etc/mycompany/auth/auth.conf:/etc/mycompany/auth/auth.conf
    port:
      8101:8101
 
  name: instance is added to the load balancer
  elb_instance:
    elb_name: auth
    instance_id: "{{ ansible_ansible_id }}"
    state: present

Notable differences

With docker, the python setup/virtualenv and the service configuration is done during the image creation rather than during the deployment. (The commands are the same, they’re just done in an earlier build stage).

The configuration files are deployed on the host and mounted inside Docker. It would be possible to bake the configuration file into the image but some configurations might only be determined at deployment time and we’d rather not store secrets in the image.

Infrastructure

Docker is only a packaging and deployment tool.

Docker doesn’t handle auto scaling, it doesn’t have service discovery, it doesn’t reconfigure load balancers, it doesn’t move containers when servers fail.

Orchestration systems (notably Kubernetes) are supposed to help with that. Currently, they are quite experimental and very difficult to setup [beyond a proof of concept]. The lack of proper orchestration will limit Docker to only be a hype packaging & deployment tool for the foreseeable future.

Docker [even with Kubernetes] needs an existing environment to run, including servers and networks. It ain’t gonna install and configure itself either.

All of that has to be done manually. Order servers in the cloud. Create OS images with Packer. Configure VPC and networking with Terraform. Setup the servers and systems with Ansible. Install and deploy the applications (including docker images) with Ansible.

Cheat Sheet

  1. Figure out what is required and how to build the applications
  2. Write build, test and packaging scripts
  3. Document that in the README
  4. Setup a CI system
  5. Configure automatic builds after every change
  6. Figure out the application dependencies and how to run it
  7. Add that to the README
  8. Write deploy and setup scripts (with Ansible or Salt)

Conclusion

Packaging and deploying applications is a real and challenging job. A Debian package has some good practices and standards to follow whereas Docker comes with no good practices and no rules whatsoever. Docker is a [marketing] success in part because it gives the illusion that the task is easy, with a sense of coolness.

In practise though, it is hard and there is no way around it. You’ll have to figure out your needs and decide on a practical way to deploy and package your applications that will be tailored just for you. Docker is not the solution to the problem, it’s just a random tool among many others, that may or may not help you.

It’s fair to say that the docker ecosystem is infinitely complex and has a long learning curve. If you have neat applications with clear and limited dependencies, they should be relatively manageable and docker can’t make it any easier. On the contrary, it has the potential to make it harder.

Docker shines to package applications with complex messy dependencies (typical NodeJS and Ruby environments). The dependency hell is taken away from the host and moved into the image and the image creation scripts.

Docker is handsome for dev and test environments. It allows to run multiple applications easily on the same host, isolated from each other. Better yet, some applications have conflicting dependencies and would be impossible to run on a single host otherwise.

You should investigate a configuration management system (Ansible) if you don’t already have one. It will help you to manage, configure and setup [numerous] remote servers, à la SSH on steroid. It’s way more general and practical than Docker (and you’re gonna need it to install docker and deploy images anyway).

Reminder: In spite of the practical use cases, docker should be considered as a beta tool not quite ready for serious production.

Moby/Docker in Production: A History of Failure


April 2017: Updated the title. The Docker CEO decided to rename Docker to Moby overnight, without notice. I’ve tried to warn the world about unexpected Docker changes and breakages. That’s the order of magnitude you have to be prepared for.

Introduction

My first encounter with docker goes back to early 2015. Docker was experimented with to find out whether it could benefit us. At the time it wasn’t possible to run a container [in the background] and there wasn’t any command to see what was running, debug or ssh into the container. The experiment was quick, Docker was useless and closer to an alpha prototype than a release.

Fast forward to 2016. New job, new company and docker hype is growing like mad. Developers here have pushed docker into production projects, we’re stuck with it. On the bright side, the run command finally works, we can start, stop and see containers. It is functional.

We have 12 dockerized applications running in production as we write this article, spread over 31 hosts on AWS (1 docker app per host [note: keep reading to know why]).

The following article narrates our journey with Docker, an adventure full of dangers and unexpected turns.

so it begins, the greatest fuck up of our time

Production Issues with Docker

Docker Issue: Breaking changes and regressions

We ran all these versions (or tried to):

1.6 => 1.7 => 1.8 => 1.9 => 1.10 => 1.11 => 1.12

Each new version came with breaking changes. We started on docker 1.6 early this year to run a single application.

We updated 3 months later because we needed a fix only available in later versions. The 1.6 branch was already abandoned.

The versions 1.7 and 1.8 couldn’t run. We moved to the 1.9 only to find a critical bug on it two weeks later, so we upgraded (again!) to the 1.10.

There are all kind of subtle regressions between Docker versions. It’s constantly breaking unpredictable stuff in unexpected ways.

The most tricky regressions we had to debug were network related. Docker is entirely abstracting the host networking. It’s a big mess of port redirection, DNS tricks and virtual networks.

Bonus: Docker was removed from the official Debian repository last year, then the package got renamed from docker.io to docker-engine. Documentation and resources predating this change are obsolete.

Docker Issue: Can’t clean old images

The most requested and most lacking feature in Docker is a command to clean older images (older than X days or not used for X days, whatever). Space is a critical issue given that images are renewed frequently and they may take more than 1GB each.

The only way to clean space is to run this hack, preferably in cron every day:

docker images -q -a | xargs --no-run-if-empty docker rmi

It enumerates all images and remove them. The ones currently in use by running containers cannot be removed (it gives an error). It is dirty but it gets the job done.

The docker journey begins with a clean up script. It is an initiation rite every organization has to go through.

Many attempts can be found on the internet, none of which works well. There is no API to list images with dates, sometimes there are but they are deprecated within 6 months. One common strategy is to read date attribute from image files and call ‘docker rmi‘ but it fails when the naming changes. Another strategy is to read date attributes and delete files directly but it causes corruption if not done perfectly, and it cannot be done perfectly except by Docker itself.

Docker Issue: Kernel support (or lack thereof)

There are endless issues related to the interactions between the kernel, the distribution, docker and the filesystem

We are using Debian stable with backports, in production. We started running on Debian Jessie 3.16.7-ckt20-1 (released November 2015). This one suffers from a major critical bug that crashes hosts erratically (every few hours in average).

Linux 3.x: Unstable storage drivers

Docker has various storage drivers. The only one (allegedly) wildly supported is AUFS.

The AUFS driver is unstable. It suffers from critical bugs provoking kernel panics and corrupting data.

It’s broken on [at least] all “linux-3.16.x” kernel. There is no cure.

We follow Debian and kernel updates very closely. Debian published special patches outside the regular cycle. There was one major bugfix to AUFS around March 2016. We thought it was THE TRUE ONE FIX but it turned out that it wasn’t. The kernel panics happened less frequently afterwards (every week, instead of every day) but they were still loud and present.

Once during this summer there was a regression among a major update, that brought back a previous critical issue. It started killing CI servers one by one, with 2 hours in average between murders. An emergency patch was quickly released to fix the regression.

There were multiple fixes to AUFS published along the year 2016. Some critical issues were fixed but there are many more still left. AUFS is unstable on [at least] all “linux-3.16.x” kernels.

  • Debian stable is stuck on kernel 3.16. It’s unstable. There is nothing to do about it except switching to Debian testing (which can use the kernel 4).
  • Ubuntu LTS is running kernel 3.19. There is no guarantee that this latest update fixes the issue. Changing our main OS would be a major disruption but we were so desperate that we considered it for a while.
  • RHEL/CentOS-6 is on kernel 2.x and RHEL/CentoS-7 is on kernel 3.10 (with many later backports done by RedHat).

Linux 4.x: The kernel officially dropped docker support

It is well-known that AUFS has endless issues and it’s regarded as dead weight by the developers. As a long-standing goal, the AUFS filesystem was finally dropped in kernel version 4.

There is no unofficial patch to support it, there is no optional module, there is no backport whatsoever, nothing. AUFS is entirely gone.

[dramatic pause]

.

.

.

How does docker work without AUFS then? Well, it doesn’t.

[dramatic pause]

.

.

.

So, the docker guys wrote a new filesystem, called overlay.

OverlayFS is a modern union filesystem that is similar to AUFS. In comparison to AUFS, OverlayFS has a simpler design, has been in the mainline Linux kernel since version 3.18 and is potentially faster.” — Docker OverlayFS driver

Note that it’s not backported to existing distributions. Docker never cared about [backward] compatibility.

Update after comments: Overlay is the name of both the kernel module to support it (developed by linux maintainers) and the docker storage driver to use it (part of docker, developed by docker). They are two different components [with a possible overlap of history and developers]. The issues seem mostly related to the docker storage driver, not the filesystem itself.

The debacle of Overlay

A filesystem driver is a complex piece of software and it requires a very high level of reliability. The long time readers will remember the Linux migration from ext3 to ext4. It took time to write, more time to debug and an eternity to be shipped as the default filesystem in popular distributions.

Making a new filesystem in 1 year is an impossible mission. It’s actually laughable when considering that the task is assigned to Docker, they have a track record of unstability and disastrous breaking changes, exactly what we don’t want in a filesystem.

Long story short. That did not go well. You can still find horror stories with Google.

Overlay development was abandoned within 1 year of its initial release.

[dramatic pause]

.

.

.

Then comes Overlay2.

The overlay2 driver addresses overlay limitations, but is only compatible with Linux kernel 4.0 [or later] and docker 1.12” — Overlay vs Overlay2 storage drivers

Making a new filesystem in 1 year is still an impossible mission. Docker just tried and failed. Yet they’re trying again! We’ll see how it turns out in a few years.

Right now it’s not supported on any systems we run. We can’t use it, we can’t even test it.

Lesson learnt: As you can see with Overlay then Overlay2. No backport. No patch. No retro compatibility. Docker only moves forward and breaks things. If you want to adopt Docker, you’ll have to move forward as well, following the releases from docker, the kernel, the distribution, the filesystems and some dependencies.

Bonus: The worldwide docker outage

On 02 June 2016, at approximately 9am (London Time). New repository keys are pushed to the docker public repository.

As a direct consequence, any run of “apt-get update” (or equivalent) on a system configured with the broken repo will fail with an error “Error https://apt.dockerproject.org/ Hash Sum mismatch

This issue is worldwide. It affects ALL systems on the planet configured with the docker repository. It is confirmed on all Debian and ubuntu versions, independent of OS and docker versions.

All CI pipelines in the world which rely on docker setup/update or a system setup/update are broken. It is impossible to run a system update or upgrade on an existing system. It’s impossible to create a new system and install docker on it.

After a while. We get an update from a docker employee: “To give an update; I raised this issue internally, but the people needed to fix this are in the San Francisco timezone [8 hours difference with London], so they’re not present yet.

I personally announce that internally to our developers. Today, there is no Docker CI and we can’t create new systems nor update existing systems which have a dependency on docker. All our hope lies on a dude in San Francisco, currently sleeping.

[pause waiting for the fix, that’s when free food and drinks come in handy]

An update is posted from a Docker guy in Florida at around 3pm (London Time). He’s awake, he’s found out the issue and he’s working on the fix.

Keys and packages are republished later.

We try and confirm the fix at around 5pm (London Time).

That was a 7 hours interplanetary outage because of Docker. All that’s left from the outage is a few messages on a GitHub issue. There was no postmortem. It had little (none?) tech news or press coverage, in spite of the catastrophic failure.

Docker Registry

The docker registry is storing and serving docker images.

Automatic CI build  ===> (on success) push the image to ===> docker registry
Deploy command <=== pull the image from <=== docker registry

There is a public registry operated by docker. As an organization, we also run our own internal docker registry. It’s a docker image running inside docker on a docker host (that’s quite meta). The docker registry is the most used docker image.

There are 3 versions of the docker registry. The client can pull indifferently from any:

Docker Registry Issue: Abandon and Extinguish

The docker registry v2 is as a full rewrite. The registry v1 was retired soon after the v2 release.

We had to install a new thing (again!) just to keep docker working. They changed the configuration, the URLs, the paths, the endpoints.

The transition to the registry v2 was not seamless. We had to fix our setup, our builds and our deploy scripts.

Lesson learnt: Do not trust on any docker tool or API. They are constantly abandoned  and extinguished.

One of the goal of the registry v2 is to bring a better API. It’s documented here, a documentation that we don’t remember existed 9 months ago.

Docker Registry Issue: Can’t clean images

It’s impossible to remove images from the docker registry. There is no garbage collection either, the doc mentions one but it’s not real. (The images do have compression and de-duplication but that’s a different matter).

The registry just grows forever. Our registry can grow by 50 GB per week.

We can’t have a server with an unlimited amount of storage. Our registry ran out of space a few times, unleashing hell in our build pipeline, then we moved the image storage to S3.

Lesson learnt: Use S3 to store images (it’s supported out-of-the-box).

We performed a manual clean-up 3 times in total. In all cases we had to stop the registry, erase all the storage and start a new registry container. (Luckily, we can re-build the latest docker images with our CI).

Lesson learnt: Deleting any file or folder manually from the docker registry storage WILL corrupt it.

To this day, it’s not possible to remove an image from the docker registry. There is no API either. (One of the point of the v2 was to have a better API. Mission failed).

Docker Issue: The release cycle

The docker release cycle is the only constant in the Docker ecosystem:

  1. Abandon whatever exists
  2. Make new stuff and release
  3. Ignore existing users and retro compatibility

The release cycle applies but is not limited to: docker versions, features, filesystems, the docker registry, all API…

Judging by the past history of Docker, we can approximate that anything made by Docker has a half-life of about 1 year, meaning that half of what exist now will be abandoned [and extinguished] in 1 year. There will usually be a replacement available, that is not fully compatible with what it’s supposed to replace, and may or may not run on the same ecosystem (if at all).

We make software not for people to use but because we like to make new stuff.” — Future Docker Epitaph

The current status-quo on Docker in our organization

Growing in web and micro services

Docker first came in through a web application. At the time, it was an easy way for the developers to package and deploy it. They tried it and adopted it quickly. Then it spread to some micro services, as we started to adopt a micro services architecture.

Web applications and micro services are similar. They are stateless applications, they can be started, stopped, killed, restarted without thinking. All the hard stuff is delegated to external systems (databases and backend systems).

The docker adoption started with minor new services. At first, everything worked fine in dev, in testing and in production. The kernel panics slowly began to happen as more web services and web applications were dockerized. The stability issues became more prominent and impactful as we grew.

A few patches and regressions were published over the year. We’ve been playing catchup & workaround with Docker for a while now. It is a pain but it doesn’t seem to discourage people from adopting Docker. Support and demand is still growing inside the organisation.

Note: None of the failures ever affected any customer or funds. We are quite successful at containing Docker.

Banned from the core

We have some critical applications running in Erlang, managed by a few guys in the ‘core’ team.

They tried to run some of their applications in Docker. It didn’t work. For some reasons, Erlang applications and docker didn’t go along.

It was done a long time ago and we don’t remember all the details. Erlang has particular ideas about how the system/networking should behave and the expected load was in thousands of requests per second. Any unstability or incompatibility could justify an outstanding failure. (We know for sure now that the versions used during the trial suffered from multiple major unstability issues).

The trial raised a red flag. Docker is not ready for anything critical. It was the right call. The later crashes and issues managed to confirm it.

We only use Erlang for critical applications. For example, the core guys are responsible for a payment system that handled $96,544,800 in transaction this month. It includes a couple of applications and databases, all of which are under their responsibilities.

Docker is a dangerous liability that could put millions at risk. It is banned from all core systems.

Banned from the DBA

Docker is meant to be stateless. Containers have no permanent disk storage, whatever happens is ephemeral and is gone when the container stops. Containers are not meant to store data. Actually, they are meant by design to NOT store data. Any attempt to go against this philosophy is bound to disaster.

Moreover. Docker is locking away processes and files through its abstraction, they are unreachable as if they didn’t exist. It prevents from doing any sort of recovery if something goes wrong.

Long story short. Docker SHALL NOT run databases in production, by design.

It gets worse than that. Remember the ongoing kernel panics with docker?

A crash would destroy the database and affect all systems connecting to it. It is an erratic bug, triggered more frequently under intensive usage. A database is the ultimate IO intensive load, that’s a guaranteed kernel panic. Plus, there is another bug that can corrupt the docker mount (destroying all data) and possibly the system filesystem as well (if they’re on the same disk).

Nightmare scenario: The host is crashed and the disk gets corrupted, destroying the host system and all data in the process.

Conclusion: Docker MUST NOT run any databases in production, EVER.

Every once in a while, someone will come and ask “why don’t we put these databases into docker?” and we’ll tell some of our numerous war stories, so far, no-one asked twice.

Note: We started going over our Docker history as an integral part of our on boarding process. That’s the new damage control philosophy, kill the very idea of docker before it gets any chance to grow and kill us.

A Personal Opinion

Docker is gaining momentum, there is some crazy fanatic support out there. The docker hype is not only a technological liability any more, it has evolved into a sociological problem as well.

The perimeter is controlled at the moment, limited to some stateless web applications and micro services. It’s unimportant stuff, they can be dockerized and crash once a day, I do not care.

So far, all people who wanted to use docker for important stuff have stopped after a quick discussion. My biggest fear is that one day, a docker fanatic will not listen to reason and keep pushing. I’ll be forced to barrage him and it might not be pretty.

Nightmare scenario: The future accounting cluster revamp, currently holding $23M in customer funds (the M is for million dollars). There is already one guy who genuinely asked the architect “why don’t you put these databases into docker?“, there is no word to describe the face of the architect.

My duty is to customers. Protecting them and their money.

Surviving Docker in Production

gif-what-docker-pretends-to-be
What docker pretends to be.
gif-what-docker-really-is
What docker really is.

Follow releases and change logs

Track versions and change logs closely for kernel, OS, distributions, docker and everything in between. Look for bugs, hope for patches, read everything with attention.

ansible '*' -m shell -a "uname -a"

Let docker crash

Let docker crash. self-explanatory.

Once in a while, we look at which servers are dead and we force reboot them.

Have 3 instances of everything

High availability require to have at least 2 instances per service, to survive one instance failure.

When using docker for anything remotely important, we should have 3 instances of it. Docker die all the time, we need a margin of error to support 2 crashes in a raw to the same service.

Most of the time, it’s CI or test instances that crash. (They run lots of intensive tests, the issues are particularly outstanding). We’ve got a lot of these. Sometimes there are 3 of them crashing in a row in an afternoon.

Don’t put data in Docker

Services which store data cannot be dockerized.

Docker is designed to NOT store data. Don’t go against it, it’s a recipe for disaster.

On top, there are current issues killing the server and potentially destroying the data so that’s really a big no-go.

Don’t run anything important in Docker

Docker WILL crash. Docker WILL destroy everything it touches.

It must be limited to applications which can crash without causing downtime. That means mostly stateless applications, that can just be restarted somewhere else.

Put docker in auto scaling groups

Docker applications should be run in auto-scaling groups. (Note: We’re not fully there yet).

Whenever an instance is crashed, it’s automatically replaced within 5 minutes. No manual action required. Self healing.

Future roadmap

Docker

The impossible challenge with Docker is to come with a working combination of kernel + distribution + docker version + filesystem.

Right now. We don’t know of ANY combination that is stable (Maybe there isn’t any?). We actively look for one, constantly testing new systems and patches.

Goal: Find a stable ecosystem to run docker.

It takes 5 years to make a good and stable software, Docker v1.0 is only 28 months old, it didn’t have time to mature.

The hardware renewal cycle is 3 years, the distribution release cycle is 18-36 months. Docker didn’t exist in the previous cycle so systems couldn’t consider compatibility with it. To make matters worse, it depends on many advanced system internals that are relatively new and didn’t have time to mature either, nor reach the distributions.

That could be a decent software in 5 years. Wait and see.

Goal: Wait for things to get better. Try to not go bankrupt in the meantime.

Use auto scaling groups

Docker is limited to stateless applications. If an application can be packaged as a Docker Image, it can be packaged as an AMI. If an application can run in Docker, it can run in an auto scaling group.

Most people ignore it but Docker is useless on AWS and it is actually a step back.

First, the point of containers is to save resources by running many containers on the same [big] host. (Let’s ignore for a minute the current docker bug that is crashing the host [and all running containers on it], forcing us to run only 1 container per host for reliability).

Thus containers are useless on cloud providers. There is always an instance of the right size. Just create one with appropriate memory/CPU for the application. (The minimum on AWS is t2.nano which is $5 per month for 512MB and 5% of a CPU).

Second, the biggest gain of containers is when there is a complete orchestration system around them to automatically manage creation/stop/start/rolling-update/canary-release/blue-green-deployment. The orchestration systems to achieve that currently do not exist. (That’s where Nomad/Mesos/Kubernetes will eventually come in, there are not good enough in their present state).

AWS has auto scaling groups to manage the orchestration and life cycle of instances. It’s a tool completely unrelated to the Docker ecosystem yet it can achieve a better result with none of the drawbacks and fuck-ups.

Create an auto-scaling group per service and build an AMI per version (tip: use Packer to build AMI). People are already familiar with managing AMI and instances if operations are on AWS, there isn’t much more to learn and there is no trap. The resulting deployment is golden and fully automated. A setup with auto scaling groups is 3 years ahead of the Docker ecosystem.

Goal: Put docker services in auto scaling groups to have failures automatically handled.

CoreOS

Update after comments: Docker and CoreOS are made by separate companies.

To give some slack to Docker for once, it requires and depends on a lot of new advanced system internals. A classic distribution cannot upgrade system internals outside of major releases, even if it wanted to.

It makes sense for docker to have (or be?) a special purpose OS with an appropriate update cycle. It may be the only way to have a working bundle of kernel and operating system able to run Docker.

Goal: Trial the CoreOS ecosystem and assess stability.

In the grand scheme of operations, it’s doable to separate servers for running containers (on CoreOS) from normal servers (on Debian). Containers are not supposed to know (or care) about what operating systems they are running.

The hassle will be to manage the new OS family (setup, provisioning, upgrade, user accounts, logging, monitoring). No clue how we’ll do that or how much work it might be.

Goal: Deploy CoreOS at large.

Kubernetes

One of the [future] major breakthrough is the ability to manage fleets of containers abstracted away from the machines they end up running on, with automatic start/stop/rolling-update and capacity adjustment,

The issue with Docker is that it doesn’t do any of that. It’s just a dumb container system. It has the drawbacks of containers without the benefits.

There are currently no good, battle tested, production ready orchestration system in existence.

  • Mesos is not meant for Docker
  • Docker Swarm is not trustworthy
  • Nomad has only the most basic features
  • Kubernetes is new and experimental

Kubernetes is the only project that intends to solve the hard problems [around containers]. It is backed by resources that none of the other projects have (i.e. Google have a long experience of running containers at scale, they have Googley amount of resources at their disposal and they know how to write working software).

Right now, Kubernetes is young & experimental and it’s lacking documentation. The barrier to entry is painful and it’s far from perfection. Nonetheless, it is [somewhat] working and already benefiting a handful of people.

In the long-term, Kubernetes is the future. It’s a major breakthrough (or to be accurate, it’s the final brick that is missing for containers to be a major [r]evolution in infrastructure management).

The question is not whether to adopt Kubernetes, the question is when to adopt it?

Goal: Keep an eye on Kubernetes.

Note: Kubernetes needs docker to run. It’s gonna be affected by all docker issues. (For example, do not try Kubernetes on anything else than CoreOS).

Google Cloud: Google Container Engine

As we said before, there is no known stable combination of OS + kernel + distribution + docker version, thus there is no stable ecosystem to run Kubernetes on. That’s a problem.

There is a potential workaround: Google Container Engine. It is a hosted Kubernetes (and Docker) as a service, part of Google Cloud.

Google gotta solve the Docker issues to offer what they are offering, there is no alternative. Incidentally, they might be the only guys who can find a stable ecosystem around Docker, fix the bugs, and sell that ready-to-use as a cloud managed service. We might have a shared goal for once.

They already offer the service so that should mean that they already worked around the Docker issues. Thus the simplest way to have containers working in production (or at-all) may be to use Google Container Engine.

Goal: Move to Google Cloud, starting with our subsidiaries not locked in on AWS. Ignore the rest of the roadmap as it’s made irrelevant.

Google Container Engine: One more reason why Google Cloud is the future and AWS is the past (on top of 33% cheaper instances with 3 times the network speed and IOPS, in average).


Why docker is not yet succeeding in production, July 2015, from the Lead Production Engineer at Shopify.

Docker is not ready for primetime, August 2016.

Docker in Production: A retort, November 2016, a response to this article.

How to deploy an application with Docker… and without Docker, An introduction to application deployment, The HFT Guy.


Disclaimer (please read before you comment)

A bit of context missing from the article. We are a small shop with a few hundreds servers. At core, we’re running a financial system moving around multi-million dollars per day (or billions per year).

It’s fair to say that we have higher expectations than average and we take production issues rather (too?) seriously.

Overall, it’s “normal” that you didn’t experience all of these issues if you’re not using docker at scale in production and/or if you didn’t use it for long.

I’d like to point out that these are issues and workarounds happening over a period of [more than] a year, summarized all together in a 10 minutes read. It does amplify the dramatic and painful aspect.

Anyway, whatever happened in the past is already in the past. The most important section is the Roadmap. That’s what you need to know to run Docker (or use auto scaling groups instead).

How to present a GitHub project for your resume


Introduction

Companies ask for a GitHub profile. Recruiters ask for a GitHub profile. The question “Do you contribute to open-source?” is now one of the most common questions asked in phone screens.

If people want a GitHub, we shall give them a GitHub. This article will explain how to present a GitHub project for use in a resume.

The given advice can be red from two point of views. As a candidate, it is what to write to introduce and present a software (not necessary on GitHub). As an interviewer (or a fellow developer), it is what to look for to judge the experience of the developer(s) and the quality of a software.

submit application form with a github link
When having a GitHub is mandatory, just like having a name.

Link to a specific project

Put a link to your GitHub in your resume and every application forms you have to fill.

That link must send directly to a project. Never link to the root of your GitHub profile, it doesn’t show anything useful and it’s hard to navigate from there.

It means that you must have ONE project to show. A single demonstration project is enough, don’t need more.

This project will be the “landing page” in web buzzword. This is the first page the employer will see. They will rarely go past it (and they shouldn’t have to) so the page should be a good enough by itself. If they go past it, it’s only because the page grabbed their interests and they wanted to see more.

We’ll write the project page to give a good first impression and show off skills as a software engineer.

Project Structure

A software project can be judged in 5 seconds by looking at the directory structure.

An inexperienced developer is easy to spot. His project doesn’t have any structure. Files are either in unpredictable places or all in the top directory.

There is one project structure to rule them all. There MUST be separate directories for source, test, libraries, compiled binaries, etc…

Whether the naming convention will be “doc” or “docs” is an unimportant detail. For example, here are Simple Folder Structure Conventions for GitHub projects:

.
├── build                   # Compiled files (alternatively `dist`)
├── docs                    # Documentation files (alternatively `doc`)
├── src                     # Source files (alternatively `lib` or `app`)
├── test                    # Automated tests (alternatively `spec` or `tests`)
├── tools                   # Tools and utilities
├── LICENSE
└── README.md
software project structure
A well-organized project

Have a README

Have a README to:

  • Describe the purpose of the project
  • Screenshots/videos
  • Usage
  • Link to the installer/webpage

Have screenshots in the readme

A picture is worth a thousand words.

People are not going to install the application just to see it. Give them screenshots.

Have videos in the readme

A picture is worth a thousand words. A video is worth a thousand pictures.

There is nothing better than a video when it comes to giving a demonstration or showing off an application.

snake game preview animated gif
Great demo from a random snake project on GitHub

Note: GitHub does not allow to embed video files in the readme, use animated gif instead.

Link to a website or an installer

Link to the site if it’s a web application project. Of course, a web application should be running somewhere and publicly accessible, that’s the point of web applications.

Link to the installer if it’s a desktop application project. It’s unlikely that the user will install it but that looks professional, that’s how desktop applications are distributed after all.

Integrate GitHub tools

GitHub has a rich ecosystem of free tools for building, packaging, testing and much more. All these tools are mandatory for professional software development.

It used to be hell to setup the tooling but now everything is readily available for free through GitHub and the setup is dead simple. There is no excuse to not use the tooling.

github-integration-icons

This one is a sample C++ project for a Connect Four. From left to right:

  1. Build on Linux (Travis CI)
  2. Build on Windows (AppVeyor)
  3. Unit tests and coverage analysis (Coveralls)

What about the source code?

Nobody cares about your code. It was quite a shocking moment when I learned this in my programming career. I would take great care in polishing my code only to find out nobody actually cares. It’s not the code that counts, it’s the product. ” — Source

A paragraph to explain the purpose of the application is 10 times faster than guessing it. A quick start video of an [non-trivial] application is 100 times faster than figuring it out. A design diagram is 1000 times faster than reverse engineering the application. All of these could be achieved by reading the source code, at the cost of orders of magnitude more time and headache. It’s extremely slow and difficult to read code (or should we say to decode code). It should only ever be a last resort.

Lesson #1: Noone cares about your source code. Noone is gonna read it.

Lesson #2: Don’t expect people to read it. Don’t force them to.

What if I don’t have big projects to show?

Good. Smaller projects are easier to show, easier to explain and easier to understand for the interviewer. For instance, everyone can grasp a good old Connect Four.

It is not a trivial project despite what it looks like at first. Write a decent UI, put some colors, allow a two players option, add a “hint” to show the best next move, add an AI to play against.

While the game is conceptually simple there is a lot of work to turn it into a good and polished software. That leaves plenty of depth to talk about in a face-to-face interview.

Did you know that the first player in a connect four game always wins? [if playing perfectly] Did you know that the second player can always draw the game, if the first player doesn’t take the middle position as his first move?

Source: A Knowledge-based Approach of Connect-Four, The Game is Solved: White Wins, Victor Allis

Do interviewers really look at GitHub?

As a matter of fact: No, they don’t.

github traffic statistics
GitHub Traffic Statistics

We’ve done the tests. Here are the statistics after sending a bunch of resumes. The 3 views are from myself, I accessed the project while writing this article, without being authenticated to GitHub. Oops, my bad.

From personal experience from the last time I looked for a job. After a dozen of phone interviews (1 dev per call) and a couple of on-sites (4 to 7 devs per on-site), there was only 1 visit to my profile.

Conclusion: Noone cares about GitHub. Noone is gonna read it. Everyone is gonna ask for it nonetheless, cause it’s hype.

Bonus: Since noone will check the link they’re given, you too can refuse to participate in the GitHub masquerade by only linking to the ultimate hello world repository. (Worst case scenario: Just talk about this blog if the interviewers spot the trickery. They love candidates who read blogs).

Cheat Sheet

  1. Structure the project
  2. Have a README
  3. Write a paragraph to explain the purpose of the project
  4. Put screenshots and videos
  5. Distribute an installer (desktop app) or give the website (web app)
  6. Integrate development tools (CI, unit test, packager, etc…)

That’s good practices for software projects. It’s not limited to GitHub.

analytics pipeline architecture overview

Building an Analytics Pipeline in 2016: The Ultimate Guide


Introduction

Imagine a B2C startup. It’s small but profitable and growing.

To be fair it’s doing rather well. New users are registering daily. Revenue growth over 1000% year to year, putting the company straight in a spot comparable to the top 10 companies by revenue per employee.

How did we do that? Who are our main users? Where did they come from? Many questions to which we have no clue. Truth be told, we got this far with zero analytics, zero insights.

It’s past time to track people and their every moves.

i dont know
CEO to Marketing: “Why did we have 1187 paid sign up yesterday? Is it the new TV ad from our main competitor?”

Some numbers

We recently setup a log management solution so we have some numbers for sure.

3.591M HTTP requests per day on our frontends (cached and static contents are not served by these servers). Let’s consider this as page views and say that we want to track every page view

That’s 3.591M views per day, for which we want:

  • IP
  • city
  • country
  • user id
  • page visited
  • referer
  • affiliate source (if any)
  • device
  • operating system
  • date

How much storage does that take?

Some of the string fields can be more than 100 bytes. We’ll add more fields later (when we’ll figure what important stuff we forgot). Indexes and metadata take space on top of the actual data.

As a rule of thumb, let’s assume that each record is 1k on disk.

Thus the analytics data would take 3.6 GB per day (or 1314 GB pear year).

That’s a naive extrapolation. A non-naive plan would account for our traffic growing 5% month-to-month.

When accounting for our sustained growth, we’ll be generating 6.14 GB per day in one year from now. (At which point, the current year’s history will be consuming 1714 GB)

That quick estimation gives a rough approximation on the future volume of data. We’ll want to track more events in the future (e.g. sign-ups, deposits, withdrawals, cancellation), that shouldn’t affect the order of magnitude because page views are the most frequent actions by far. Let’s keep things simple, with a sane target.

Real Life Story

We remember the first attempt of the company at analytics. One dev decided to do analytics single-handedly, for real this time[1]! His first move was to create a new AWS instance with 50GB of disk and install PostgreSQL.

There wasn’t any forethought about what he was doing, the actual needs or the future capacity. A typical case of “just use PostgreSQL“.

In retrospect, that thing was bound to catastrophic failure (again! [1]) within the first month of going live and it was killed during the first design review, for good.

Then we started taking analytics seriously, as the hard problem that it is. We’ll summarize everything we’ve learnt on the way.

[1] That’s not the first attempt at analytics in the company.

analytics pipeline architecture overview
What does an analytics pipeline looks like after 1000 hours heads in

Storage

Storage is a critical component of the analytics.

Spoiler alert: Expect a database of some sort.

What are the hard limits of SQL databases?

As always, the first choice is to take a look at SQL databases.

Competitors:

These numbers are hard limitations, at which point the database will stop accepting writes (and potentially destroy existing data). That gives a definitive indication of when RDBMS are out of their league. As a rule of thumb, it’s time to ditch open-source SQL databases when going over 1 TB.

Notice that the paid databases have significantly higher limits, they have smart storage engines splitting data across files (among other optimizations). Most of the open-source free databases are storing each table as a single file, suffering from the filesystem limitations plus additional hardcoded limitations of the software.

We need a system supporting sharding and replication. It’s critical to manage the sheer volume of data, to not suffer from a single point of failure, and (less important) to improve performances.

For once, relational databases are not the right tool for the job. Let’s look past them.

Note: We are not saying it’s impossible to achieve something with one of these SQL databases, just that it’s not worth the effort.

NoSQL Databases

Competitors: ElasticSearch, Cassandra, MongoDB[1], DynamoDB, BigTable.

The newer generation of NoSQL databases are easier to administer and to maintain. We can add resources and adjust capacity without downtime. When one instance fails, the cluster keeps working and we’re NOT paged at 3 AM. Any these NoSQL databases would be okay, they are similar to each other.

However to support horizontal scaling, these NoSQL databases had to drop “JOINS” support. Joins are mandatory to run complex queries and discover interesting things. That is a critical feature for analytics.

Thus NoSQL databases are not [the best] fit for the purpose of analytics. We need something with horizontal scaling AND joins. Let’s look further.

Note: We are not saying it’s impossible to achieve something with one of these NoSQL databases, just that it’s not worth the effort.

[1] Just kidding about MongoDB. Never use it. It’s poorly designed and too unreliable.

Data Warehouse Databases

Competitors: Hadoop, RedShift, BigQuery

There is a new generation of databases for “data warehouse“. They are meant to store and analyse truckload of data. Exactly what we want to do.

They have particular properties and limitations compared to traditional SQL and NoSQL databases:

  • Data can only be appended in batch jobs
  • Real time queries are not supported

RedShift interface is (mostly) standard SQL, BigQuery interface is a variation of SQL.

Note: Hadoop is a very different beast. It’s meant for Petabyte scale and it’s a lot more complex to setup and use. We’ll ignore Hadoop here.

Database Choice

The right tool for the job is RedShift or BigQuery.

We’re planning to run that thing on AWS so we’ll refer to RedShift storage for the rest of the article.

Client vs Server side analytics

Events are coming from various sources. A common question is client vs server side analytics, which one to do?

The answer is both! They are complimentary.

analytics trackers
Sources: Various trackers, API and services

Client side analytics

It means that events are sent from the customer system, from the customer address. The most common example are JavaScript trackers, they run in the browser, in the customer environment.

The issue with client side scripts is that they run in the client environment and we can’t control it. First, a lot of customers are blocking trackers [1], we won’t receive any information about them. Second, the tracker endpoint must be publicly open, anyone can reverse engineer and flood it with meaningless data [2].

On the other hand, client side scripts are easy to do and they can get some information (e.g. mouse clicks) that are not available by any other means. So we should do client side analytics.

[1] 45% of users had blockers last year. It’s over 50% this year.

[2] As trivial as curling one million times “thesite.com/analytics.js?event=signup&email=bob@mail.com

Server side analytics

It means that events are sent from our servers. For instance, when a customer registers an account, one of our application will receive the request and create the account in our database, this application could send a sign-up event to the analytics service.

Analytics services provide API for developers in the most common languages (Java, python, ruby…) to send events directly from the applications.

Server side analytics have higher quality data and they don’t suffer from poor internet connections.

It’s practical to track specifics events at the place where they happen. For instance, all our applications (website, android and iOS) are calling a single “account management microservice“. We can add one line to that service to track accounts at critical stages (signed-up, confirmed email, added an address).

Integrations

In the end, all analytics should be available in one place: Our new analytics system.

A good analytics system should import data directly from the most common services. In particular we want to import analytics from MailChimp and ZenDesk.

Events Aggregator

This service is responsible for receiving and aggregating events.

It has to be reliable and scale. It is responsible for providing APIs (client-side and server-side) and supporting third-party integrations. It saves events to the storage engine (need RedShift/BigQuery support).

This is the central (and difficult) point of the design.

Segment

The uncontested SaaS leader.

Historically, it was built as an abstraction API allowing to send analytics events to different services (Google Analytics, MixPanel, KissMetrics). It evolved into a complete platform, with hundreds of pluggable components (input source, storage engine and miscellaneous services).

Pros:

  • No maintenance required
  • Fully featured
  • Support more than 100 inputs/outputs out of the box
  • Cheap (for us)

Cons:

  • Bad privacy policy (they sort-of reserve the right to resell everything)
  • It forces sending all data to a third-party
  • Possible regulations and privacy issues

If you’re starting with analytics, you should begin with Segment. You can see and query data right away. You can add other blocks later as your understanding of analytics improve and your needs evolve.

SnowPlow Analytics

The uncontested open-source free on-premise leader.

SnowPlow itself is an event pipeline. It comes with a bunch of API to send events (to one side of the pipeline). The output is written to RedShift (the other side of the pipeline).

As an open-source on-premise solution. We have to deploy and maintain the “pipeline” ourselves. The full guide is on GitHub.

In practice, that “pipeline” is a distributed system comprising 3-6 different applications written in different languages running on different platforms (keywords: elastic beanstalk, scala, kafka, hadoop and some more). It’s a clusterfuck and we are on our own to put it together and make it work. We found the barrier of entry to SnowPlow to be rather high.

snowplow architecture
SnowPlow Architecture

Sadly, SnowPlow is alone in its market (on premise). There are no equivalent paid tools to do the exact same thing with a better architecture and an easier setup. We are cornered here. Either deal with the SnowPlow monster or go with a competitor (which are all cloud services).

Pros:

  • Free (as in no money)
  • On-premise
  • Keep your data to yourself

Cons:

  • A clusterfuck to setup and maintain
  • Unclear capabilities[1] and roadmap

[1] Some critical components are marked as “not ready for production” in the documentation (as of September 2016).

Alooma

Alooma is a recent challenger that fits in a gap between the other players.

It comes with API and common integrations. It outputs data to RedShift.

Alooma itself is a real-time queuing system (based on kafka). Trackers, databases and scripts are components with an input and/or an output. They are arranged into the queuing system to form a complete pipeline. Fields and types can be mapped and converted automatically.

What makes Alooma special:

  1. Real time visualization of the queues
  2. Write custom python scripts to filter/transform fields[0]
  3. Automatic type mapping [0]
  4. Replay capabilities [0]
  5. Queue incoming messages on errors, resume processing later [0]
  6. Data is in-transit. It is not stored in Alooma [1]
  7. Clear data ownership and confidentiality terms

Under some jurisdictions, Alooma is not considered as “a third-party with whom you are sharing private personal identifiable information” because it doesn’t store data[1]. That means less legalese to deal with.

The topic of this post is building an Analytics pipeline. Technically speaking, it will always be a distributed queuing system (the best middleware for that purpose being Kafka) with trackers as input and database as output, plus special engineering to handle the hard problems[0].

That’s exactly what Alooma is selling. They made the dirty work and expose it with limited abstraction. It’s easy to understand and to integrate with. See the the 5 minute quick start video.

Pros:

  • Simple. Essential features only. Limited abstraction.
  • No maintenance required
  • Modular
  • Special middle ground between the other solutions

Cons:

  • Limited integrations (only the most common at the moment)

A word on aggregators

SaaS is cheaper, easier to use and require no maintenance from us.

But we’d rather not go for SaaS because we don’t want to give all our data to a third-party. Especially private customer information (real name, address, email…). Especially when the service has clauses in the order of “We reserve the right to use, access and resell data to anyone for any purpose”.

On premise keeps the privacy and the control.

But all the on premise solutions are free open-source tools. We’d rather not go for that because it takes too much effort to deploy it and keep it running in production. Especially when the documentation is half-arsed and the software is only half-tested and missing major features.

There is no silver bullet here. We’ll have to compromise and find a mix of solutions to make something out.

Visualization

We have the data. We want to look at cute graphs and dashboards.

Some great tools emerged recently. We have solid options here.

Looker

The on-premise leader.

Unanimous positives reviews. One of the next unicorn to look for.

The main page has good screenshots. Try and see for yourself.

looker integrations

Looker is on-premise. We can open the firewall between the looker instances and our critical databases to run queries right away (security note: make a slave with a read-only account). There is no need to send any data to external actors.

ChartIO

The SaaS leader.

Same thing as Looker but in the Cloud.

See the 1 hour training video.

It can query many databases and services (including RedShift). The integrations require special access rights, the worst case scenario is to have the database accessible over a public IP (security note: lock down access to specific client IP with a firewall). There is a hard limitations on what can be reasonably opened to ChartIO.

Periscope

The cheap open-source free tools, as in do it yourself.

It’s just in the list for posterity. Not good enough. We’d rather spend money on Looker.

Final results

We have all the building blocks. Let’s play Lego!

analytics pipeline architecture overview
Components overview

Best in class externalized analytics pipeline

externalized analytics pipeline segment chartio
Best in class fully outsourced analytics

Special trick: No RedShift required. Segment stores everything in an internal SQL database and ChartIO can interface directly with it.

This solution has a very low price to entry, it’s easy to get going and it can evolve gradually.

Pros:

  • Very easy to setup and get started
  • Many integrations and possibilities
  • Modular, start slowly and evolve over time
  • No hardware or software to maintain

Cons:

  • Everything is externalized
  • Give all your data to third party

Pricing (approximate):

Segment is priced per unique user per month. The pricing increases linearly with the number of user, starting fairly low.

ChartIO used to be $99/month for startup, then $499. Not sure what it is now. Gotta speak to sales.

Note: Segment alone is enough to have a working solution. You can ignore ChartIO entirely if can live without the great visualizations (or can’t afford it).

Best in class (kinda) on-premise analytics solution

on premise analytics pipeline alooma redshift looker
Best in class (kinda) on-premise analytics

This solution is advised to bigger companies. It’s more expensive and requires more efforts upfront. The pricing doesn’t grow linearly with the amount of unique users making it advantageous for high volume sites. Looker can query production databases and make cross referencing right away, as it is on-premise sitting next to them[3][4].

Pros:

  • Easy to setup and get started
  • Modular, start slowly and evolve analytics over time
  • No hardware or software to maintain
  • Cover more advanced use cases and run special queries
  • Query from internal databases out-of-the box[3]
  • Analyse sensitive data without having to share them[4]

Cons:

  • Need ALL the components up before it’s usable
  • The price to entry is too high for small companies

Pricing (approximate):

Alooma. To quote a public conversation from the author “Alooma pricing varies greatly. Our customers are paying anywhere between $1000 and $15000 per month. Because the variance is so big, we prefer to have a conversation before providing a quote. There is a two weeks free trial though, to test things out“.

RedShift. The minimum is $216/month for an instance with 160GB of storage. The next bump is $684 for an instance with 2TB of storage. Then it goes on linearly by adding instances. (One instance is a hard minimum, think of it as the base price). Add a few percent for bandwidth and S3.

Looker is under “entreprisey” pricing. They announced a $65k/year standard price list the last time we talked to them. Expect more or less zeros depending on the size of your company. Prepare your sharks to negotiate.

Cheap open-source on-premise analytics solution

Each open-source tool taken separately is inferior to the paid equivalent in terms of features, maintenance, documentation AND polish. The combination of all of them is sub-par but we are presenting it anyway for the sake of history.

SnowPlow analytics + Luigi => redshift => periscope

Small company or lone man with no money and no resources? Forget about this stack and go for segment.com instead. Segment is two orders of magnitude easier to get going, it will save much time and give higher returns quicker. Your analytics can evolve gradually around Segment later (if necessary) as it is extremely modular.

Big company or funded startup in growth stage? Forget about this stack. The combined cost of hardware plus engineering time is more expensive than paying for the good tools right away. Not to mention that the good tools are better.

Personal Note: By now, it should be clear that we are biased again cheap open-source software. Please stop doing that and make great software that is worth paying for instead!

Conclusion

Analytics. Problem solved.

What was impossible 10 years ago and improbable 5 years ago is readily available today. In 5 years from now, people will laugh at how trivial analytics are.

Assembling the pipeline is half the road. The next step is to integrate existing systems with it. Well, time for us to get back to work.

Thank you for reading. Comments, questions and information are welcome.


References:

Streaming Messages from Kafka into RedShift in near Real-Time (Yelp Blog), the long journey of building a custom analytics pipeline at Yelp, similar to what building Alooma in-house would be.

Buffer’s New Data Architecture: How Redshift, Hadoop and Looker Help Us Analyze 500 Million Records in Seconds (Buffer Blog).

Building Out the SeatGeek Data Pipeline (SeatGeek Blog), The solution: Looker, RedShift, and Luigi.

Building Analytics at 500px (500px blog) + The discussion on Hacker News (Hacker News Comments), the discussion is mixing users and founders of various solutions, some of which are not discussed here.

Why we witches from mixpanel and segment to kiss metrics, information about other analytics services, that can complement what we recommend here.