The future of configuration management – mini talks

On March 7th I was at the DevOps Norway meetup where both Jan Ivar Beddari and me presented an extended version of the ignite talks we held at Config Management Camp in February. The talks were streamed and recorded through Hangouts and the recording is available on YouTube.

The meeting gave me the opportunity to explain in a bit more detail my viewpoint about why we need a completely new design for our configuration management tools. I had tried already in a blog post that caused some amount of controversy and it was good to get a second chance.

I’d recommend you watch both Jan Ivar’s talk and mine, but if you’re interested only in my part then you can check out here:

And don’t forget to check out the slides, both Jan Ivar’s and mine.

In reply to Luke Kanies

shitIt didn’t take many hours for Luke Kanies to pick up my provocative blog post and express his disappointment:

I’m not going to complain for his words: if I was him I would have thought the same things, and maybe also written the same things. At the same time, it’s kind of funny that a lot of the inspiration for that post came from Luke himself. I’ll explain.

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Next generation configuration mgmt

I’ll be giving an ignite talk at Config Management Camp this year: “the three legs of modern configuration management (…or maybe four)”. James has definitely made a big step in that direction. I recommend you read his blog post and, if you are coming to the conference, attend both his talk and my ignite talk. Who knows, maybe you are really watching the dawn of the next generation of configuration management!!!

The Technical Blog of James

It’s no secret to the readers of this blog that I’ve been active in the configuration management space for some time. I owe most of my knowledge to what I’ve learned while working with Puppet and from other hackers working in and around various other communities.

I’ve published, a number, of articles, in an, attempt, to push, the field, forwards, and to, share the, knowledge, that I’ve, learned, with others. I’ve spent many nights thinking about these problems, but it is not without some chagrin that I realized that the current state-of-the-art in configuration management cannot easily (or elegantly) solve all the problems for which I wish to write solutions.

To that end, I’d like to formally present my idea (and code) for a next generation configuration management prototype. I’m calling my tool mgmt.


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systemd unit files for CFEngine

systemd logoLearning more of systemd has been on my agenda since the release of Debian 8 “Jessie”. With the new year I decided that I had procrastinated enough, I made a plan and started to study according to the plan. Today it was time for action: to verify my understanding of the documentation I read up to now, I decided to put together unit files for CFEngine. It was an almost complete success and the result is now on GitHub for everyone to enjoy. I would appreciate if you’d give them a shot and report back.

Main goals achieved:

  1. I successfully created three service unit files, one for each of CFEngine’s daemons: cf-serverd, cf-execd and cf-monitord; the units are designed so that if any of the daemon is killed for any reason, systemd will bring it back immediately.
  2. I successfully created a target unit file that puts together the three service units. When the cfengine3 target is started, the three daemons are requested to start; when the cfengine3 target is stopped, the three daemons are stopped. The cfengine3 target completely replaces the init script functionality.

Goal not achieved: I’ve given a shot at socket activation, so that the activation of cf-serverd was delayed until a connection was initiated to port 5308/TCP. That didn’t work properly: systemd tried to start cf-serverd but it died immediately, and systemd tried and tried again until it was too much. I’ll have to investigate if cf-serverd needs to support socket activation explicitly or if I was doing something wrong. The socket unit is not part of the distribution on GitHub but its content are reported here below. In case you spot any problem please let me know.

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Managing system services with CFEngine

An important system service is not running...

I have experienced that when people talk about a system’s configuration, they mostly think of software to be installed and configuration files to be deployed. That’s true, they are part of a system configuration, but there’s more to it — if Configuration Management was only that, you could rightfully call it “provisioning” instead. For example, another part of a system’s configuration is that certain critical services must be running and/or certain other services must not be running. And in fact, any configuration management tool has provisions to manage system services and ensure they are in the desired state (while they may differ a lot on the “when” and “how” and “how often” the state is checked).

CFEngine is no exception. You can take advantage of ready-to-use frameworks like NCF or EFL, or  roll your own checks. What I’m presenting you today is a simple bundle that I wrote called watch_service, that you can use to ensure that certain system services are up or down.

My approach is similar to NCF’s bundle called service_action in that it tries to provide a generic, system-agnostic bundle to manage services but with a few differences:

  • while service_action relies on information in NCF itself to make the bundle simpler to use, my watch_service relies only on CFEngine’s standard_services knowledge as available in the standard library;
  • while service_action returns information to the agent in the form of namespace-scoped classes (e.g.: the service was in the desired state, or the service was not in the desired state and the problem has been fixed successfully), watch_service only reports about the events by means of another bundle called report, whose code will be also provided in the last part of this post.
  • service_action supports many different actions, watch_service only supports “up” (ensure the service is running) or “down” (ensure the service is not running).

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Rudimentary compliance report for CFEngine

In CFEngine community you don’t have a web GUI with compliance report. You can get them via EvolveThinking’s Delta Reporting, but if you can’t for any reason, you need to find another way.

A poor man’s compliance report at the bundle level can be extracted via the verbose output. This is how I’ve used it to ensure that a clean-up change in the policies didn’t alter the overall behavior:

cf-agent -Kv 2>&1 | perl -lne 'm{verbose: (/.+): Aggregate compliance .+ = (\d+\.\d%)} && print "$1 ($2)"'

These are the first ten lines of output on my workstation:

bronto@brabham:~$ sudo cf-agent -Kv 2>&1 | perl -lne 'm{verbose: (/.+): Aggregate compliance .+ = (\d+\.\d%)} && print "$1 ($2)"' | head -n 10
/default/banner (100.0%)
/default/inventory_control (100.0%)
/default/inventory_autorun/methods/'proc'/default/cfe_autorun_inventory_proc (100.0%)
/default/inventory_autorun/methods/'fstab'/default/cfe_autorun_inventory_fstab (100.0%)
/default/inventory_autorun/methods/'mtab'/default/cfe_autorun_inventory_mtab (100.0%)
/default/inventory_autorun/methods/'dmidecode'/default/cfe_autorun_inventory_dmidecode (100.0%)
/default/inventory_autorun (100.0%)
/default/inventory_linux (100.0%)
/default/inventory_lsb (100.0%)
/default/services_autorun (100.0%)

Not much, but better than nothing and a starting point anyway. There is much more information in the verbose log that you can extract with something slightly more elaborated than this one-liner. Happy data mining, enjoy!

hENC version 3 released

github-logo Today I am releasing the version 3 of hENC, the radically simple hierarchical External Node Classifier (ENC) for CFEngine (version 2 was released at the end of May and added support for data containers).

This version adds new features and bug fixes, namely:

  • implemented !COMMANDS: a ! primitive is added to specify commands; three commands exist currenty: !RESET_ACTIVE_CLASSES to make hENC forget about any class that was activated up to that point, !RESET_CANCELLED_CLASSES ditto for cancelled classes, and !RESET_ALL_CLASSES that makes hENC forget about any class that was activated or cancelled;
  • fixed, so that it is possible to run the henc module more than once during the same agent run;
  • added a Changelog;
  • improved tests: tests have been added for the new features and the whole test suite has been improved to support the TAP protocol; for example, it’s now it’s possible to use the prove utility to verify if hENC works correctly on your system before trying the installation.

See the README and Changelog for more information.