- Significantly reduced man-hours spent on infrastructure maintenance tasks.
- Increased ability to add new nodes in minutes to keep up with peaks in web
- Achieved a fully-automated, virtualized infrastructure.
IGN's Recipe for Success
From its corporate headquarters in San Francisco and offices throughout
North America, Europe and Australia, IGN Entertainment has become a leading
Internet media and services provider focused on the video game and
entertainment enthusiast markets.
As the company grew, IGN decided to consolidate its datacenter in Southern
California with its new datacenter in Las Vegas, which immediately presented
problems. Its legacy center was a traditional, old-school datacenter with no
coherent architecture, comprised of a collage of different technologies
based on both Linux and Windows infrastructures.
To affect the move to a single datacenter, IGN would need to move from
physical to virtual platforms. It would need to take old hardware from its
SoCal datacenter and rapidly provision it in a virtual configuration, for
which management became a prime directive.
"We needed to do things in a reliable and idempotent fashion," says Ryan
Creasey, Principal Systems Engineer at IGN. "We had basically done
everything with homegrown scripts. We had entertained the idea of CFEngine
and Puppet, but it didn’t facilitate what we wanted to get out of it."
Prior to Chef, IGN had written a significant portion of its libraries to
partially automate some of its infrastructure in the same Ruby-based DSL
that Chef utilized for the implementation of its Chef engine.
"We went with Chef primarily because it was implemented with Ruby DSL," says
Creasey. "That would allow us to take previous libraries and integrate them
into what we wanted to do with recipes and cookbooks that Chef would
provide. We had a lot of success off the bat with Chef."
Though IGN initially envisioned running its own in-house Chef server,
Chef and its expansive community drew them to Chef. "All of the
deployments in Vegas were done using Chef," adds Creasey.
"We didn’t have to worry about the infrastructure side and were in a better
position to concentrate more on doing, and not how it gets done. It also
allowed us to have a distributed automation framework that could be easily
accessible from any environment: datacenter, cloud or local workstation."
Today, IGN’s Las Vegas infrastructure is comprised of a highly virtualized
blade environment. Exploiting Chef’s ability for automation and
configuration management, "We spend more time now on innovation, than being
mired down with fighting fires all the time," Creasey says. "We can spend
more time thinking about doing things better, more efficiently."
With a Chef-based architecture, IGN has also streamlined the continuous
integration of their engineering team’s applications by configuring
auto-deployments into a stage environment based off a production stack. "We
take the run list for a production node and have our continuous integration
agents build an entire node from scratch, along with a particular
application build," Creasey says. "We can now guarantee that stage box would
look like a production box. Providing that degree of quality control was
simply not possible before without systems architecture automation."
"We’re using an open-source project called Vagrant," says Creasey, "which
utilizes Chef to build Sun virtual-based boxes on an engineer’s local
workstation. Chef was able to provide us a whole new degree of ownership for
our systems. Treating infrastructure as code, you can take software
development concepts and apply them to how the lifecycle of server
configuration. We can take the proposed change to a server configuration
through development, stage and production, and know that all of our bases
have been covered. We provision a node with Vagrant on an engineer’s local
workstation based off a production run list, and make changes locally. Then,
we push the changed recipes to a stage environment and verify that nothing
breaks when we’ve integrated that change in with other nodes. Pushing that
change into production becomes much less stressful and can easily be done on
a regular release schedule."
Overall, deploying with Chef alleviates unnecessary
complexity and significantly reduces man-hours for maintenance and
scalability. "I shudder to think how long it would have taken to migrate if
we didn’t have a systems automation framework," concludes Creasey. "We did
it quickly with Chef, and saved a lot of time and man-hours in the process."
With Chef, IGN was able to streamline its datacenter deployments and
provide an agile solution for its scalability. When the need arises to add
web servers to the pool to meet customer demand, it can be accomplished via
hands-off automation. "We see peaks of traffic particularly when new games
are announced or there are video game expos, like E3," says Creasey. "During
these times our traffic will dramatically peak. We used to have to combat
that by hand-building web servers to deal with that capacity a month or so
in advance. With Chef we’ll be able to organically grow that pool in an
automated way. For example, when the application servers are at 80 percent
of some arbitrary performance metric; we can have some process spin up
additional nodes with Chef, configure them with the right run list, add it
to the farm and do it in minutes. Chef is exceeding our expectations. The
product has been great."