Opscode Chef cooks up Facebook automation

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World's biggest social network brings in Private Chef to manage automation

Facebook has deployed Opscode Chef to automate configuration and management within its web-tier infrastructure.

The social networking behemoth will use the automation services provider’s Private Chef on-premise automation product to help with the day-to-day running of the site.

Explaining why Chef was chosen over competitor systems, Jay Wampold, vice president of marketing at Opscode, told Cloud Pro: “Facebook is probably one of the largest infrastructures on the planet and scale matters to them, but there were three dimensions of scale in particular that were important when they made the decision about what automation platform they were going to use.

“The first was the raw number of clients that can be managed and automated using Chef. The second was the volume of configurations that can be stored and managed and the third was the ability through role-based access control to propagate and manage what users across your infrastructure have access to which components of the architecture and who can manage that.”

Additionally, Facebook did not want to change its workflow to conform to an automation tool, Wampold said.

“One of the inherent benefits of our primitive-based architecture is our Chef bends to a customer’s workflow,” he said.

Christopher Brown, CTO of Opscode, added: “These are guys with a lot of technical savvy [who knew they] could staff a team to build an automation system like Chef themselves.

“But they are also smart enough to know that they would have to continue to support that kind of thing over time, [which is why they chose to outsource].”

As well as having the scalability and flexibility Facebook required, Brown also claimed the two organisations “shared a lot of the same design ideas” and that, over time, they would likely be moving in the same direction anyway.

While the introduction of Chef into Facebook’s systems is a major boon for both companies, it is not one that will be immediately apparent to users.

“Enabling Facebook’s scale is something that most users will not directly see, but obviously the better it scales the fewer failure cases you have around standard usage as well,” said Brown.

In addition to announcing Facebook as a new client, Opscode is also unveiling the latest iteration of its automation suite, Chef 11.

“Facebook actually had a role in the timing and some of the development of Chef 11 ... which was rebuilt from the ground up,” said Wampold.

“It was accelerated by the needs of Facebook, but through Hosted Chef, our software-as-a-service platform, even in the workloads we were seeing a year ago we were already seeing things we were going to want to address for greater scale on our own,” said Brown.

The back end server has been replaced with Erlang, rather than Ruby, and it now uses a PostgreSQL database. This, Brown claims, makes it both more secure and easier to install for its enterprise customers.

The rollout of Chef on Facebook’s servers has been completed, although it will continue to grow as the service grows, and Chef 11 is available as a free download now.