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Server Management Made Simpler

Many people assume that under the hood there are mystical unicorns and magical elves powering Harvest, but the reality is that we simply use regular servers in a datacenter to bring our applications to you. No elves involved. Anyone who has ever had to look after more than a few servers knows that getting all the servers into line is a bit like herding cats, and can be time consuming. It’s always important to know exactly what state your server configurations are in, and usually very important to know that all servers are in the same configuration state at all times.

It’s no secret that many of the fine folks who work on Harvest are Ruby experts (and thus quite easy on the eye). So when looking around at tools we could use to make our servers simpler to manage, we decided to try Chef. If you are not familiar with Chef, it comes from the folks at Opscode and is a powerful tool to manage server configurations, and perform common system administration tasks on a set of servers. Chef is written in Ruby and allows you to accomplish a fair amount of your system administration tasks by writing Ruby recipes to execute on remote servers. Chef makes system administration a bit more like application programming, in a sense.

While we work on getting Chef into daily use, and indeed while we improve our systems platform in general, we plan to share some of our experiences with Harvest users and readers of this blog. You can read up on some of the details of how we got Chef up and running quickly, a little look at how a Chef cookbook, recipe and role work together and we plan to bring you some more details in future posts. We’d love to hear from any Harvest users who are using Chef, or doing interesting systems or server management work (and invoicing clients via Harvest, naturally). What systems projects have you been working on?

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This was posted in Behind-the-Scenes, Code.
  • You can also solve this problem by avoiding the need to manage a server, altogether. For example, take a look at Rackspace Cloud Sites.


    • Warwick Poole on January 14, 2010

      Hi Jim, thanks for the comment. We have looked at all sorts of “cloud computing” options and thought about how we can leverage different solutions to reduce our systems management overhead. We don’t have plans to abandon managing our own infrastructure just yet as it provides some flexibility which we currently rely on. But we are already using some resources from Amazon EC2 and who knows what the future holds.

  • Just wanted to chime in on EC2. We moved completely over to EC2 early 2007 and have been extremely pleased with that decision. We leverage several AWService’s (EC2, S3, SQS, SDB) and find that it just works. We have a small team and need to be mindful of how much time we spend on our infrastructure. With EC2, we now spend less time then we did at a conventional data center (they were great folks by the way) and have all the flexibility and growth we literally could ever need. I hope you have a similar experience. Personally, given our experience, it gives me greater confidence knowing that some of your services are migrating over. Enjoy!

  • Warwick Poole on February 2, 2010

    Hi Stephen

    It’s always good to hear AWS success stories. At the moment we only have ancillary services in EC2 (monitoring, etc) but this situation may evolve over time.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

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