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What’s Really Going on at the Bleeding Edge of DevOps—Takeaways from AutomaCon

By Garrett Heel on .

We’re big fans of automation at Runscope, and most of the automation we practice is behind the scenes. Runscope is built on more than 70 independent microservices that run in the cloud, and being able to orchestrate and automate those services efficiently is absolutely essential to successfully scaling our products and processes. Last week, we attended AutomaCon in Portland, Oregon, a conference focused on automation for DevOps professionals. Engineers interested in the bleeding edge of DevOps came together to hear from the brains and hands behind some of the most popular automation tools like CoreOS, Chef and Puppet.

While AutomaCon is known as the “infrastructure as code” conference, every presenter put forward a different definition of the concept, making for a diverse and compelling collection of talks. What made the conference particularly noteworthy is that the talks were centered on what the presenters were doing for automation in practice—no theories, no speculation, just real tools and experiences from which the rest of the community can learn. We’ve compiled our learnings from the conference into four key themes that reveal some interesting findings about today’s DevOps ecosystem and where it’s headed.

1. No standard definition for “infrastructure as code”

AutomaCon kicked off with the emcee posing the question, “What is ‘infrastructure as code'?", and nearly every presenter over the course of two days responded in his/her own way. Many times, the definition was created through stories about practical applications. My favorite definition came from Adam Jacob, CTO and Co-founder of Chef:

Infrastructure as code “enables the reconstruction of the business from nothing but a source code repository, an application data backup, and bare mental resource.”

Even though others at the conference didn’t give this exact definition, the way they spoke about automation was in the spirit of this quote, and this definition was the most concrete one I heard all week.

2. Containers and orchestration: Perception vs. reality

Greg Poirier, Factotum at Large at Opsee, presents at AutomaCon.

Greg Poirier, Factotum at Large at Opsee, presents at AutomaCon.

Docker and containerization are dominating engineering and DevOps conversations of late. AutomaCon had some great talks in this arena, and of note was Kelsey Hightower, Product Manager and Chief Advocate at CoreOS, who did a deep-dive into Kubernetes, as well as Greg Poirier, Factotum at Large at Opsee. However, despite the mindshare, Kelsey looked at containerization as just another tool in the DevOps chest, albeit one that is still in its early stages of adoption.

Prior to AutomaCon, I was convinced that containerization and Docker in particular would saturate the discussions. Yet when Kelsey and other speakers did a poll at the beginning of their talks asking how many attendees had tried out Docker, less than half of the crowd raised their hands. Even more telling, when asked how many use Docker in production, nearly all the hands fell. Clearly, even for this crowd of bleeding edge developers and DevOps engineers, containerization is still in its early days.

3. Security isn’t there (yet)

Joseph Damato, Founder of Package Cloud, discusses security at AutomaCon.

Joseph Damato, Founder of Package Cloud, discusses security at AutomaCon.

While the focus of the conference was on automation, presenters made it clear that security cannot be ignored or sacrificed in exchange for benefits of automation. In his presentation, Joseph Damato, Founder of Package Cloud, discussed the fundamental components required for securing automated infrastructure. He also reminded the audience that tools ubiquitous in DevOps are built upon many layers and that we must understand every one of these layers to have confidence in the security of our systems.

4. Death to cut & paste

Many solutions for managing infrastructure as code are in the early adoption phase, so documentation and best practices guides have not yet been sufficiently provided. The steep learning curve to these solutions have led to an unprecedented amount of cut-and-paste configurations, and several speakers discussed the danger of this practice. Relying on a cut-and-paste solution is a quick fix, but precludes you from learning the details and nuances of a framework or tool before considering the solution ready for production.

Luke Kanies, CEO and Founder of Puppet Labs, likened the current state of software automation to that of the evolution of automobile manufacturing. Kanies said that there were dozens of companies in the early 20th century along with Ford Motor Company that implemented manufacturing optimizations. Yet it was Henry Ford’s relentless focus on volume that helped evolve manufacturing, ultimately to Ford’s success. While the automobile manufacturing process was much faster, Ford didn’t sacrifice quality. This parallels to today’s automation tools in that we must not sacrifice quality purely for the sake of automation and scale.


Automation is not new, and in DevOps, there are tons of new ideas and tools coming out. Yet as we learned at AutomaCon, we must not leave behind the care and attention to detail as we move forward into more and more automated processes. We’re excited to take these learnings on the road at our next conference appearance. We’ll be at AWS re:Invent October 6-9 in Las Vegas, and we’d love to chat with you about automation and anything API-related. Sign up for Runscope free and catch us at re:Invent to discuss how to automate your API monitoring and testing processes.

Categories: api ecosystem, events, microservices

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