Take our DevOps Code… Please!

At Foghorn, we’ve been writing modular DevOps code for many years.  Over time, we have developed a set of modules that represent about 80% of our customers needs, and leveraged those modules to accelerate the timeline of DevOps projects.  This includes infrastructure as code (network, servers, IAM rules, security rules, etc.), deployment code, and operations code.  Generally we charge a fixed fee for projects which leverage FogOps IP in place of our standard hourly rates. This has been a great model to help get new customers and new initiatives up and running quickly at a relatively low cost.  Once delivered, our customers either ask us to evolve and iterate on their code, or they take complete ownership.

Recently we’ve spent a considerable amount of time to modularize our code and offer it to our customers directly.  During this process, we felt that defining a pricing model was holding us back from releasing more value more quickly to our customers.  We wanted the ability to churn out modules fast, without coming up with pricing. We also wanted the ability to maintain and update our modules.  We came to the conclusion that the best way we could serve our customers is to give this code away, for free, to the community of customers who have selected Foghorn as their Public Cloud and DevOps provider.  We are excited to help our customers grow quickly, and hope to see great uptake in the use of our code.

We discussed open-sourcing the modules completely, but ran into a few snags.  If our goal was mass adoption of our project, we would simply open source it.  But our goal is not to create another public repository of community recipes.  The value that our modules bring are that they represent Foghorn’s prescriptive opinion on best practice design and implementation.  The contributors for this project will be limited to Foghorn engineers and our clients’ engineers who share the same philosophies around building and running infrastructure and applications as code.

Our clients who choose to use our modules can benefit in a few ways:

  1. Our clients chose Foghorn because they appreciate and align with Foghorn’s principals for running mission critical workloads.  Leveraging our modules is an easy way to adopt those principles.
  2. Even if our clients know all of our principals by heart, and have the staff capabilities to implement as code, they can save a great deal of time and energy by using our modules as starting points for their custom DevOps code.
  3. Many of our customers simply don’t have the bandwidth to do this, and so they pay us to do it for them.  By leveraging our modules, we finish faster, and they pay less.
  4. Faster is not only cheaper. It’s faster too!  Our customers can accelerate their mission critical initiatives, making themselves more competitive, and positively impacting the top line of their business.
  5. We hate getting waken up at night.  We always err on the side of stability and reliability with our designs. Our clients’ engineering teams usually appreciate this.

So how do you sign up?  Simple.  Give us a ring.


Posted in Cloud, Cloud Management, Public Cloud

DevOps Muscle for the Crossfit Games


As we approach the Crossfit games once again, I thought I’d share some detail on how Foghorn helped Crossfit update their DevOps processes for the 2016 games.  Crossfit has been growing rapidly, and had challenges in 2015 scaling their leaderboards.  We worked together to prep for the 2016 games, and had some great success.  As usual, we leveraged HashiCorp tools to get the job done.. If you are interested reading more, we’ve dropped a case study on our main site.

Posted in AWS, Cloud, Cloud Management, Public Cloud

Business Risk? Or Assurance

risk_and_rewardWith the announcement that Snapchat has gone ‘all in’ on Google Cloud Platform, Snap has incorporated this plan into their financial filings as an additional ‘business risk’.

“Any disruption of or interference with our use of the Google Cloud operation would negatively affect our operations and seriously harm our business…”

My immediate reaction was really to question whether this is a business risk, or a business assurance? Certainly Snap is now dependent on Google’s ability to scale and manage a massive infrastructure, and so the disclosure is appropriate. But as a prospective investor, I’d feel that a great potential risk to the business, loss of availability of the Snapchat service, has been greatly reduced.

If there was a book maker taking odds on the likelihood of various companies making technical and/or operational missteps that cause an outage, Google would not be the company I’d bet on.  Quite the opposite, I think they’ve proven over the last 15 years or so that they’re pretty good at running large infrastructure.

As this reality begins to sink in with investors, partners, customers, and business leaders, cloud adoption will accelerate beyond current predictions.


Posted in GCP, Public Cloud

Terraform beats CloudFormation to the Punch with Inspector Support


Cloud Neutral DevOps

HashiCorp makes some of our favorite DevOps tools.  Along with being feature rich, stable, and well designed, they are cloud neutral. This allows DevOps teams to become experts with a single tool without having to get locked in to a single cloud vendor.  Some cloud neutral tools try to completely abstract the cloud provider and the services available.  This forces the user to only use the ‘lowest common denominator’ of services available from all supported providers.  With Terraform, HashiCorp has not fallen into this trap.  They embrace the rich set of services available from each provider, with different services supported for different clouds. This allows us to put the right workload in the right cloud, without the need to leverage multiple tools, or build multiple deployment pipelines.

Terraform Supports AWS Inspector

It would be expected, however, that Terraform would trail the cloud providers’ proprietary tools supporting new cloud products and features.  But HashiCorp is amazingly quick to support features.  A great example is v 0.8.5, which now supports AWS’ Inspector service.  As of the publishing of this post, AWS’ own CloudFormation tool still does not have support for Inspector.  Pretty amazing for a small company offering an open source product!

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Posted in AWS, Cloud, Cloud Management, Public Cloud

Who’s Managing your Cloud?

After designing, building and managing hundreds of environments, sometimes we get a little too deep in the weeds with our blogs. So I thought I’d share this article, which gives a high level perspective on how companies benefit from working with a cloud managed services provider.

The article covers performance, scalability, security and compliance.  I’d add some additional benefits, like:

Cost Optimization:  Your provider knows where additional cloud spend will help, vs flushing money for little benefit.

Agility: Sure, the cloud enables agility, but it doesn’t guarantee it.  Your provider should be full of DevOps ninjas, who can put in place the pieces that don’t come ‘out of the box’ with IaaS.

Manageability: It’s so easy to string together IaaS components that give you the functionality you need. It’s also easy to do so in a manner which creates a management nightmare.  Especially if you’ve never done it before.  Your provider should lead you down the path to an infrastructure that can scale easily without additional management overhead.

And the winner is.. 

There are lots of great choices out there, although I’m pretty biased for FogOps, where our motto is “Live by Code”.  The meaning?  Everything we do to manage your site is done with code, leaving you with a self healing, auto-scaling environment that leverages continuous deployment to make your life easy.

Oh yeah, and it works on AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud.

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Posted in AWS, Azure, Cloud, Cloud Management, GCP, Public Cloud

Disney goes Hybrid; Shares Challenges


Ian Murphy recently wrote a great article on Disney’s journey to the Hybrid Cloud. The lightning talk, given by Blake White,  highlighted the issues that many enterprise companies face when adopting some of the latest technologies, like Kubernetes and AWS, and integrating them with their existing on-prem infrastructure.  Although these technologies are well suited for integration, often the heavy lifting has to happen by the enterprise.  Many open source projects are very robust, but their focus is not on enabling integration with existing infrastructure.

The perfect example given in the talk can be found when Blake explains that in order to get the integration that Disney required, they had to build their own bespoke Kubernetes cluster provisioning tool.

Despite these challenges, Disney is forging ahead – a good sign that the value they are receiving makes overcoming the challenges a worthy endeavor. Lesson to learn?  Things worth doing are hard. Don’t let that stop you!


Posted in Cloud, Cloud Management, General, Private Cloud, Public Cloud

Crunching HIPAA data just got cheaper

With the recent AWS announcement, AWS customers can now leverage spot instances to crunch their HIPAA big data workloads.   This can help decrease the compute costs of these jobs by up to 90%, making EC2 a cost effective option for crunching large amounts of data that include Protected Health Information.

Amazon’s BAA with its HIPAA compliant customers requires that all EC2 instances that process PHI must run in dedicated tenancy mode.  Until now, spot instances were not available in dedicated tenancy mode, leaving this cost effective option unavailable for processing PHI.

Spot instance pricing is Amazon’s method of selling excess capacity that can be pre-empted if needed.  Spot pricing is market based, and often falls well below even the steepest discounts afforded with long term commitments.  Since the nodes can be pre-empted, spot instances are not suitable for many types of workloads, but most cluster compute technology is designed to tolerate node losses, making spot instances a great way to save money on short lived tasks that require high compute power.

I took a quick peek in the AWS interface, and didn’t see any option to leverage dedicated spot instances in AWS’ managed Hadoop framework, EMR.  Hopefully we will see that soon!

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Posted in Amazon Web Services, AWS, Cloud, Health Care, Public Cloud

Pay AWS Less for your Dev and Test Workloads

24×7 environments are handy, but are they required for Dev and Test?

I’m going to assume your development team is not leveraging development environments 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  That is to say, I’m assuming you don’t have 3+ teams on shift throughout the world.  I’m also going to assume you aren’t building and destroying development environments as part of your continuous deployment pipeline (more on that later).  Lastly, I’m going to assume that development does not need to mirror production (that’s what Test is for).  First off, AWS provides numerous means by which you can tune your setup with cost savings in mind.  These are focused around some dev and test behavior that may have gone overlooked.  So with all that in mind, let’s cut costs.

Scheduled development servers

First off, let’s simply make our development server layer mirror our actual development schedule(s).  I am talking about the stateless tier, not the database.  Let’s create time-based scaling triggers (natively supported in Auto Scaling Groups, Elastic Beanstalk, OpsWorks, or just use Lambda!).  Scale-In to 0 instances in service 1 hour after development teams stop working.  Scale-Out to 1 instance in service 1 hour before development teams start working.  Even a hardcore development team working from 6am to midnight six days a week still leaves money on the table.  Let’s see how much exactly, assuming 5 development teams, each using a single c4.large development environment:

Scheduled Dev Environment Cost

Parking development servers

Let’s say we have already implemented scheduled development servers as outlined above, or maybe we haven’t yet but we are using Auto Scaling Groups.  In either case, we can simply park an unused development environment if we know no one is actively contributing code changes.  Let’s take the following scenario.  We have a major push happening on 2 of our products.  Development on the other 3 has been halted so resources can be borrowed.  We will be suspending any work for two consecutive sprints (let’s say we use two week sprints).  That’s 3 development environments with no changes for a month.  We can simply set our desired capacity in the auto scaling group to 0, or if we setup time-based scheduling, simply remove the Scale-Out rule.

Resource utilization, or lack thereof

It’s easy to get complacent with an instance type.  The development team has grown to love the fast provisioning and rock solid compute & network reliability of the c4.  Furthermore, since you use c4.2xlarge instances in production it’s a logical development downgrade using the c4.large.  But what if your development environment didn’t really require the processor performance and network stability? What if instead you simply needed any 2 core ~ 4GB memory server?  A t2.medium might well do the job..  It lacks the sustained compute capability, but that is rarely needed in dev.  Assuming 5 development environments, you can save even more:


Resource configuration, being thoughtful with your decision

Let’s say your production database has strict IOPS requirements.  This database was created before AWS released General Purpose SSD (GP2) EBS storage.  As a result, you configured Provisioned IOPS to meet  your requirements.  Since test needed to match production, the same Provisioned IOPS were brought over to the database.  Furthermore, in an effort to mirror test with production, they also made test Multi-AZ RDS.  These decisions were innocent at the time, but have a definite impact on hourly costs.  Since our databases are running 24×7, there is an immediate opportunity to provide the same performance level at a reduced availability and cost.  Here is how that would play out, assuming we reduced our test DB to a single availability zone with gp2 based storage:



It is critical to test against a duplicate of production before deploying to production, but let’s first assume you aren’t doing blue/green deployments (more on that later).  Test only needs to mirror production during testing.  And just like scheduled development servers, test environments should be running during automated and QA test schedules.  Going even one step further, the mirroring of production in test need only occur during performance tests (or similar tests where resources impact meaningful results).  Non performance related testing can occur on a production-like environment, similar in layers but resourced like development and run on a schedule matching QA and automation testing.  Then when true performance testing occurs, the test environment can be modified to production-like resources.

Test should mirror production, sometimes

You have a test environment in one of two states. State 1 is the QA and Automation validation and regression testing setup. State 2 is the production mirror performance testing setup. Let’s compare 24×7 vs Scheduled and Non Performance Testing vs Performance Testing. Production uses Elastic Load Balancing, 15 c4.2xlarge application servers, 3 node m4.xlarge Redis cluster and an r3.xlarge MySQL database. For ease of scheduled states, the database will be production specification running 24×7, but we will not be using the AWS RDS Multi-AZ feature like we do in production. This environment is about $6000 / month for a truly cloned production setup. But we don’t need that level of scale unless we are performance testing.  By scaling in and applying our 8am-6pm scheduling, we can reduce the costs dramatically.  When it’s time to do performance testing, we scale up only for the tests, lets say twice a week for 4 hours. Sparing you the math, We end up at around $1,040 / month.  As you can see, combining all of these techniques can save a fortune.

Do I even need a dedicated test environment?

Back to blue/green deployments.  This is not a blog post about the what or why or how of blue/green deployments.  But let’s say your environment supports that kind of deployment.  Why run a test environment that is a mirror of production 24 hours a day (or even on a schedule) when you can simply build the environment, run through the testing, perform the auto scaling group swap (for example), wait a reasonable amount of time to support rollback, and finally terminate the previous production environment.  In this case, a test environment that was running 24×7, or even 96 hours a week can be reduced to the time it takes to build, test and support rollback.  If this is automated (more on that later), your scheduled test environment running 60 hours a week could potentially be reduced to a production clone running for more like 8 hours a week.  In this world, let’s assume our workflow is very simple, measured in days.  Day 1, we build and test.  Day 2 we cutover blue/green and leave both running.  Day 3, we leave both running for one more day of rollback.  Our 60 hour scheduled test environment is now 24 hours per week with the added benefit that we are testing against production specifications while at the same time saving money.

Why automate the build as part of testing?

Whether you are doing blue/green deployments or not, there is a justification in building the test environment from nothing each time you do it.  While the only cost savings measure in doing so is reduced run time (you build, test, and destroy, or build, test, and cutover), the benefits go way beyond that.  This workflow validates far more than an updated application deployment.  You are also testing your configuration management, your infrastructure code and potentially the same workflow you would use for disaster recovery.  Building a server using configuration management to create a test environment and never doing so again is stopping short of the power of configuration management.  This “permanent” environment you created introduces false assurance that you can recreate this setup any time.  Since application code is being pushed to servers with application code already on them, unknown dependencies get introduced into the application.  That dependency structure doesn’t stop at the application either. By not building from your servers from nothing, even the configuration management code may be presuming a given state.  Automating test environments from scratch leads to automating build/deploy, which leads to well exercised infrastructure code.

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Posted in Amazon Web Services, AWS, Cloud, Cost Optimization, Public Cloud

VNet-in-a-box. Get your Azure workloads moving!

azureAzure for the masses

Microsoft has come a long way in the past two years with their cloud offerings, and Azure is now a legit IaaS option that many of our customers are interested in. But the same blockers to other cloud providers still apply.

vnetStuck in Neutral?

Many of our customers have come to us with a problem of inertia.  Everyone in the company wants to get to the cloud, but the hurdles to get that first workload up and running are just too big. Easier to just keep adding to the stuff in the datacenter.  Each of these decisions makes sense on their own, but imagine if you would have taken the plunge a year ago?  You wouldn’t be dealing with the procurement nightmare right before the holidays to get that new ‘urgent’ project the resources they need.  The time is never right, you have to jump in at some point.

Are these your blockers?

Foghorn has helped lots of companies get past these hurdles.  The biggest ones we see are security and network integration. Companies unfamiliar with the Azure VNet features feel they need to make sure the VNet is configured to both protect their cloud workloads from the internet as well as protecting their coporate networks from cloud workloads.  At the same time, they need to understand how to best integrate an Azure VNet with their corporate network.

You are closer than you think!

finishFoghorn has developed a process, a set of best practices and a set of codified templates that allow us to help companies get over these hurdles in days instead of weeks or months.  We deliver it in a handy piece of code, and enable companies to extend their private network into a secure cloud environment and instantly benefit with new infrastructure available on demand. We call the offering VNet-in-a-box.  In a few days you can be spinning up servers, connecting to them from your corporate network, and configuring them for that urgent business need.  We have an easy to swallow fixed price for the entire engagement, and if you qualify, Microsoft might even pick up some.. or all.. of the tab.  Step 1?  Call Foghorn, or check out a few more details here.

Posted in Azure, Public Cloud, Security


We get questions regularly about the difference between the industry standard Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider Technical Account Manager (TAM) and
the Foghorn specific
FogOps Technical Account Consultant (TAC).  The truth is that even though these acronyms are only one letter off, they couldn’t be farther apart in terms of what they deliver and the benefits that are realized.  In fact, most organizations that are leveraging an application stack in the public cloud could likely benefit from both TAM and TAC services.  This article explains the differences between the two offerings and how to ensure that you have a support
and engineering model that ensures success for your application’s full stack in the cloud.


TAM Backstory 

The traditional TAM offering was born from the need for additional, white-glove, manufacturer/provider support  that allowed enterprise customers to get an increased level of assistance for the products and services they used in their information technology environment.  Familiar examples include operating systems providers like Microsoft and RedHat, hardware companies like NetApp and cloud service providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google.  In the world of cloud, escalating vendor support tickets, providing additional non-public insight into bug fixes, escalating root cause analysis (RCA) and helping to provide product and service roadmap insights are common industry cloud IaaS provider TAM services.

Since the term TAM has been adopted by lots of technology companies for many different varying services, and since Foghorn is a cloud company, I’ll focus my comparison around IaaS provider TAM services.

The Challenge

warningLike the support services they oversee, the cloud IaaS provider TAM is able to provide guidance, advice and information.  But when it comes to leveraging those things to provide hands-on engineering, configuration, upgrades, etc., the TAM is usually not contractually able to assist.

Cloud vendor provided professional services are usually available to provide hands-on expertise to attempt to pick up where TAM’s leave off.  However, the many layers (and accompanying vendors) in most application stacks along with the desire for more enterprises to leverage multiple cloud providers results in the need to leverage multiple TAMs and multiple vendor-based professional services groups.  This is far from ideal given the expense and common finger pointing that occurs among providers.  Best case, your project’s velocity suffers while the various groups figure out how to work together towards a common objective.  Worst case, your site’s environment suffers from availability, security, and/or performance issues caused by gaps among vendors.

Enter FogOps TAC


A FogOps TAC picks up where the cloud TAM leaves off, providing a named Consultant who bridges the gap between advice and execution in a multi-cloud, full stack environment.

Similar to a TAM, but with multi-cloud capabilities, a TAC can join customer work sessions, presentations and meetings and ensure that financial commitments with pay-as-you-go services are continually optimized.   Additionally, the TAC can actually implement best practice advise and solve engineering challenges.

Best of all, there is no finger pointing, or lost time due to gaps among providers since there is one named resource looking out for issues site wide and stack deep.

The most visible and immediate benefits are increased velocity and inter-operability cloud wide and stack deep.  But easily taken for granted is the value realized from the TAC’s leadership and technical project management capabilities–none of these projects matter if business value is not realized and the TAC ensures that happens.

A few brief examples to help illustrate:

  • Resource Emergency! – Let’s consider the example of a cloud provider who has some sort of cloud resource limit that cannot be exceeded by their customer.  Theoretically, a cloud provider TAM may work to escalate an exception to this limit, but in some cases an exception may not be possible.  The TAM will explain the situation and possibly advise the customer on a strategy to circumvent the limit through best-practice, cloud-provider recommended engineering and architecture.  The TAM’s role in this situation likely ends here and that’s where the FogOps TAC continues.  After confirming the strategy won’t have adverse impact, the FogOps TAC executes the required engineering, likely involving changes to automation code.   No finger pointing, no delays, with the breadth and depth of the site taken into account.
  • Scaling is Broken! – Now consider an auto-scaling environment built according to IaaS provider best practice.  All works well except for the larger than anticipated IaaS usage charges.  Streamlining the entire system from web server configuration, to auto scaling rules, to server bootstrap process would be a typical FogOps TAC activity.  The result?  Seamless scaling and more connections per server, increased site performance and reliability while simultaneously reducing IaaS cost and usage.

Engineering and Support Models

A common and successful enterprise cloud support model includes IaaS provider enterprise support along with a FogOps TAC for hands-on, full stack architecture, engineering and execution.

But what happens when one named resource is not enough and your desired velocity exceeds your ability to execute?

That’ll be the topic of a future  blog post.  For now, I’m off to enjoy the next episode of Westworld!

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Posted in Cloud, Cloud Management, Public Cloud