Automation: Enhance Your Platform Deployments

Human error can lead to larger issues down the line. So how do you prevent it? 

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The process of application deployment can be a stressful one for a company’s computing systems, management and IT department. The successful deployment of a critical application is crucial, and failure can have far-reaching consequences. For an example, think back to the enormous technical snafu of the healthcare.gov launch - by some estimates, the government healthcare enrollment website was only able to enroll 1% of interested individuals in its first week (1). The importance of a successful deployment is amplified when considering cybersecurity infrastructure, such as identity and access management systems. Automated deployment can improve the speed, reliability and security of a “typical” manual deployment, and can significantly reduce the stress and foundational investment associated with this process.

Deployment is defined as ‘all of the activities that make a software system available for use’ (2). There can be great variability in how deployment is carried out, as both applications and customers have different characteristics and requirements; however, the general pattern consists of: installation, configuration and activation of new software, adaptation of existing systems to new software and any necessary updates. In production environments, the roles involved in this process generally include systems engineers, database administrators, network teams, IT stakeholders and project managers. Automation can reduce much of the complexity involved with deployment, and can realize improvements in speed, reliability and security.

Speed

Oftentimes, it takes a significant amount of time to deploy an application. Coordination of the roles involved may take longer than anticipated due to timezone differences, pre-existing obligations, lack of dedicated resources and other ‘human’ factors. Each role may possess a different part of the information required for successful deployment, such as a password or some configuration information, and preparation of the computing environment can drag on, wasting company time and money. Automation helps to alleviate these issues and can drastically cut down installation and configuration time. For example, many applications have configuration files that can be fed into the installer, and run immediately. Automation tools such as Ansible can feed these files into the installer, with all the information provided beforehand by those that possess it. Additionally, system configuration and installation management can be negotiated beforehand, provided to the automation tool, and with one click the entire deployment process can be kicked off and completed, without any need for manual intervention and all of the slowdowns associated with it. 

Reliability

Let’s face it - we all make mistakes. Whether that means forgetting your wallet at home or accidentally ‘fat-fingering’ a configuration option, mistakes make life more difficult. In a business’ IT systems, mistakes can mean lost time, profits and opportunities. Automated deployment significantly reduces the chance of making a mistake by minimizing human error. Most automation tools have the user define their tasks as a series of steps, specified in a file. For example, Ansible has users define steps in a ‘playbook’ - an easily readable list of steps written in a programmatic format (3). As long as this file does not change, the steps involved and the changes made to the system will be identical each time the automation tool is run. This makes troubleshooting, auditing and tracking changes significantly easier.

Security

Generally, the less hands involved in deploying an application, the smaller the chance of a security breach within it. Passwords, protected system information and security keys are all exchanged between roles when installing and deploying software systems. This cross-talk introduces significant security holes, as confidential information often sits on email and chat servers, and maybe even on a piece of paper (hopefully not!). With automated deployment, one person can attain all of the necessary information and provide it to the automation agent, which usually has tools for encryption. Thus, automated deployment increases the security of a regular deployment by simplifying it.

At Hub City Media, we have used the automation tool Ansible to expedite the installation of identity and access management solutions. Our AutoInstaller products run on top of Ansible, and significantly cut down the installation time required to install products by up to 80%. Our clients get a robust, secure and easily replicable way to integrate software systems into their existing architecture, and a much less stressful deployment process. We also use Ansible to automate internal tasks, such as setting up machine instances and installing bootcamps. Automated deployment has added tremendous value to our internal and external processes, and we hope you too can use it to realize your personal and business goals.

 


Pavel Vaysberg is a Systems Engineer at Hub City Media. In his spare time, he enjoys exercise, reading and playing guitar.


(1) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-10-16/why-the-obamacare-website-was-destined-to-bomb
(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_deployment
(3) http://docs.ansible.com/ansible/playbooks.html