Best of Scalable Startups Devops Content

strawberries

I wonder if I can blog about devops without first level setting on what the term means. Yes I’ll agree it’s used broadly, sometimes as a buzzword, sometimes as a catch-all phrase. Luckily I already wrote a post like that… What is devops and why is it important?.

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Fear of automation

There’s a lot of automation happening in the cloud. A lot more configuration management (chef, puppet, ansible) is in use. I’ve seen some platform as a service companies (Heroku & EngineYard are examples of these) argue that you can now spend more on devs. You won’t need an operations staff. This raises the question Is automation killing old-school ops?.

NoSQL taking over…

If you look left some startup is building on Mongodb, and look right and another is building on Cassandra. It makes you wonder, Are sql databases dead.

Death of MySQL?

While we’re on the topic of relational databases, it’s been six years since Oracle’s purchase of Sun Microsystems. Some are still worried, Will Oracle kill MySQL?

Big mistakes!

Mistakes happen in the datacenter. Sometimes *big* mistakes. You’ll cringe at When fat fingers take down your database but hopefully learn a few things about what not to do!

Hurricane lessons

Two years after a hurricane devastated lower manhattan we can still learn a lot. Real Disaster Recovery lessons from Sandy.

Db operations

Every startup has a database. You ignore that management at your own peril. I wrote 10 ways avoid trouble database operations

On resistance

Another week, another war story. Sometimes the job of an op, systems administrator or DBA is actually to say “no”. In this story the CTO was shouting, and tons of money was being lost every minute. Supposedly. So I wrote Does a devop need to practice the art of resistence?

Perspectives & mandates

Ops & devs look at the world in different ways. I argue that’s because the business asks them to do very different things. Devs are tasked with bringing change, through new code & product features. Ops are tasked with continuity, stability, uptime & performance. That often means resistance to change. So I wonder Does a four letter word divide dev & ops?

Database as a service?

You’re looking at Amazon Web Services, and wondering, should I use their RDS database service or build my own MySQL? Here are 10 use cases for RDS or MySQL.

On High availability

99.999% uptime you say? Is there a myth of five nines that we’re still struggling with?

Open Source

Many custom Oracle applications could just as easily run on MySQL. But if you’re going to migrate from Oracle to MySQL, prepare to bushwack. Open source is a jungle!

What you don’t know can hurt you…

If you’re a manager or CTO, beware Beware what ops doesn’t tell you mysql.

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Best of Scalable Startups Consulting Content

strawberries

I’ve been blogging very regularly for the past four years. In fact the blog itself has been around for over ten years! Time flies!

In that time I’ve posted a lot of evergreen content, some that google finds, and some that could be dusted off.

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So here’s a peak into the archives, of some of the very best of scalable startups. Enjoy!

1. I blog about consulting

When you spend years doing consulting, professional services & freelance work, you learn all sorts of things. You stumble, you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, you learn. All that makes great fodder for blogging about business, and war stories. So here’s some of my best writing on the topic.

I had one experience where a prospect was still on the fence. That may be positive spin, as the title was
When prospects mislead. It turned out to be more a case of free consulting advice than anything else.

At networking events, I meet other freelancers, and consultants. There’s always debate about this topic, so I wrote
Why i ask clients for a deposit. There are reasons for both client and consultant, and I touch on the lessons i’ve learned.

It might seem strange that I’d write a post titled
Why I can’t raise the bar at every firm but there are prospects that aren’t the right fit for me. Here are some of the pre-qualifying questions on both sides of the fence.

Sad to say, but every client & consultant relationship isn’t a love story. So I wrote
When a client takes a swing at you about one such relationship and how I handled it.

I ask the question,
Does weekly billing increase time pressure? I think it does change the dynamic in some positive ways and I discuss those.

You’re ready to hire a consultant. What’s next? As it turns out, professional services is more a peer relationship with CEO’s, CTO’s & managers. So the typical, “send me your resume” and so forth may not be best. Here’s
5 conversational ways to evaluate consultants that provide an alternate approach to finding the best services.

One of the hardest things for engineers can be sales. Along the way to consulting success, I wrote
Can an engineer learn to love sales? Eventually it’s a skill that you have to improve at, if you want to stay in business for yourself.

Ever consulting engagement is not about your own triumphs. The conclusion isn’t always the wonderful things you’ve done for the firm. I wrote
When you have to take the fall after an engagement where it wasn’t a celebration at the end.

Sometimes in consulting, there’s what you’re hired to do on paper, and then what the real challenges are.
When you’re hired to solve a people problem addresses one such engagement, and how I handled it.

Believe it or not folks, sometimes there is a disconnect between management, and accounts payable. So I wrote
When clients don’t pay as a lesson & how I handled it.

Consulting is decidedly not the career path for everyone.
Why do people leave consulting
is my attempt to explain why some I’ve seen have left the business.

Everybody doesn’t love consultants. So
Do you heed John Greathouse – beware the consultant? That’s a question I attempted to answer.

Are you talking to Oracle or other technology sales teams about what solutions are right for your business?
Beware a wolf in sheeps clothing as it can be surprisingly dangerous field.

Another war story I wrote,
When apples & oranges bring down your business. Here a misunderstanding of semantics, means manager & dba make a severe misjudgement, and both pay the price.

After twenty years in the business, here are the
Top 3 questions I get from clients.

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Today’s startups: assemble at your own risk

devops divide

I was talking with Todd Hoff recently over at High Scalability about a trend I’ve seen of late.

ME: I really liked this post by Zoli Kahan from Clay.io.  AWS, cloudflare, docker, haproxy, mysql, mongo, memcache, ansible.  They use just about every technology being talked about these days.  

Todd: Yah, that’s why I asked to republish it. I thought it was a good updated sampler stack.

ME: That said I defy you to find a team that actually *KNOWS* all those technologies.  

Todd: Agreed. Systems are a lot of assembly these days, which doesn’t mean we know how to build the parts being assembled.

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The article I was referring to was: How Clay.io Built their 10x Arch Using AWS, Docker, HAProx & Lots More

1. Dizzying array of technologies in use

I’ve been working with startups since the mid-nineties. In those days most application stacks consisted of a PHP application running on Apache, with Oracle on the backend. Both webserver & db ran on Sun Solaris. Hardware was reliable. Most attention was focused on fitting everything in memory, and monitoring the servers for swapping, and disk failure. Boy have those days changed.

I see dozens of startups each year, so I see a lot of very cutting edge environments. Here’s a peak at what I’m seeing these days:

Database: MySQL, Postgres & Oracle, to Mongodb, Cassandra & Couchbase

Caching: Memcache or Redis

Search: Solr

Webservers: Apache, Nginx, Lighttpd

Load balancers: haproxy, Zen

Languages: PHP, Python & Ruby

Publishing: Drupal, WordPress, Joomla

Continuous Integration: Jenkins

Metrics: Cacti, collectd, NewRelic

Monitoring: Nagios, Ganglia, Munin, OpenNMS

Automation: Ancible, Chef, Puppet, Docker & Vagrant

Logs: Logstash

DDOS & CDN: Cloudflare, Ultradns

Whew… That’s a long list!! And we’re not even considering the API’s that many applications are now building on.

Also: Are generalists better at scaling the web?

2. Shortcuts abound

Startups early on, don’t have enough working capital to hire a huge engineering team. So that means everyone is stretched. With a list of technologies that is ever growing, something’s gotta give.

These may cut corners by handing the web & technical operations work to a developer who has some skills. But I continue to ask… Does a four-letter word divide dev & ops?

Read: Which tech do startups use most?

3. More things to break & master

Ownership of a software stack, such as a database means mastery of…

o features in current versions
o bugs of current versions
o vulnerabilities of various versions
o troubleshooting
o best practices
o backup & reliability

For example a lot of shops where I dig into the database, I find low hanging fruit, such as misconfigured startup settings, table layout or index usage.

I see similar things when a networking expert pours over the haproxy configuration, or runs ping tests across the network. Most of these components are setup with fairly vanilla configurations, leaving loose ends and frayed threads.

Check out: Why I can’t raise the bar at every firm

4. Many startups carrying technical debt

I’ve seen a growing reliance on ORM’s which is worrying. Build your foundation on a crutch, and it gets very hard to eliminate down the line. Here are Ward Cunningham’s warnings on technical debt.

Related: Are SQL Databases Dead?

5. Long term support & viability

At one five year old firm, I was brought in to address scalability problems. I met with the team and was asked to provide a comprehensive review. The first thing I found was all the original engineers had long since left, so the code was new for everyone. As I dug my heels in, I found multiple versions of Apache along with Nginx on some other servers. Their stack was built on a patchwork of Python, Ruby & PHP. Then digging in further, we found a complicated web of dependencies for digital assets, mounted across servers & unmonitored.

Lack of standards is common in environments like these. Without an operational or architectural lead, developers are left to make decisions with what is directly in front of them. Though a decision of what language to use may appear simple at the outset, it carries long term consequences.

Will that language or technology be supported in five years? Will the community survive? Will your firm be able to hire people with that skill set? Will engineers still be excited about it?

See also: Is high availability overrated? Is five nines a myth?

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5 things I learned from Gif Constable about Talking to Humans

talking to humans

I was just scanning through AVC.com, Fred Wilson’s popular blog, and hit on a post about great reading material. In it was mentioned a free e-book by Gif Constable called Talking to Humans.

Gif developed the Lean Launchpad curriculum, taught at Stanford, UC Berkeley, Columbia, UCSF, NYU & now hundreds of other universities worldwide.

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One of the main takeaways from that work is the idea of “getting out of the building”. It means essentially that before you get to far along with your idea, building your product, and too heavily vested and invested in one direction, go do real research with real potential customers.

Right from the beginning test your ideas, and talk to customers. It’s not easy, but if done right will be very revealing.

The book can be had for free at Talking To Humans as an e-book, or send it straight to your kindle for $0.99 cents! With a forward by Steve Blank & Tom Fishburne’s funny cartoons and at only 98 pages, it’s well worth an hour or two of your time.

More details on Gif’s blog.

1. How to be a detective

Getting out of the building and talking to people is hard. It’s messy. It’s going into the real world where customers may not understand or care about your product.

But that’s also exactly why you want to talk to people. You’ll get real raw perspectives.

Also be wary of talking to friends & family. They may have biases, and want to tell you what you want to hear.

While interviewing, beware of speculation in your own ideas and what your interview subjects are telling you. Ask for stories instead and tease out real behavior.

Read this: When clients don’t pay

2. Fight cognitive biases with metrics

We all have biases. We think are customers are soccer moms, or 20-somethings who like lattes. By calculating metrics, we find out which market segments actually want our product and why. Keep calculating metrics, and make conclusions from real data.

At the same time beware the dynamic of mistaking statistics for facts. Remain skeptical!

Check out: 5 ways startups misstep on scalability

GIFF CONSTABLE 03-SD from The GovLab on Vimeo.

3. Map out your business

There are a few models mentioned in the book for mapping your business. Choose your favorite:

Alexander Osterwalder’s business model canvas

Ash Maurya’s lean canvas

Also: Are SQL Databases Dead?

4. How a startup can fail

Startups can fail in a myriad of different ways. This business is not for the weary or faint of heart! Here are some of the land mines in the road ahead.

o wrong customer or market
o wrong revenue model
o wrong cost structure
o wrong customer acquisition
o wrong product
o wrong team
o wrong timing

Related: Will Oracle kill MySQL?

5. How to screw up customer discovery

Interviewing real customers in the field requires a lot of balance. Here are a few things you should avoid:

o let speculation equal confirmation
o lead the witness to your conclusion
o talk over them
o selective hearing
o weigh one conversation heavily
o let fear of rejection win
o talking to anyone
o be unprepared for the interview
o try to learn everything at once
o only do customer dev first week
o ask customer to design the product

See also: How can Vagrant be used to deploy on Amazon EC2

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