When Chef Habitat was released a little more than two years ago (good DevOps.com story on Habitat here and a good DevOps Chat on it here), many people in the DevOps community wondered where Chef was going with Habitat. It was a really ambitious vision, but could it meet its lofty goals?
Habitat is now made up of many different packages that provide different functionalities. There is, of course, much more to Chef Habitat. This DevOps Chat will tell you all about it.
Joining us on this DevOps Chat are Jaime Winsor, a co-author of Habitat, and Tasha Drew, senior product manager of Habitat, and Blake Irvin of SmartB, a Habitat user. Between the three of them, there is a ton of great information here. If you are interested in Chef Habitat or would like to find out more, this is a great place to start!
As usual, the streaming audio of our conversation is below, followed by the transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!
Audio: Chef Habitat
Transcript: Chef Habitat
Blake has spent over a decade working in systems and software engineering automation, on platforms ranging from on-premise metal to containers-as-a-service, BSD and Solaris systems to embedded Linux sensor platforms. He lives and works in Berlin, Germany, where he’s Senior Operations Engineer at smartB, GmbH, an energy-efficiency and sustainability startup.
Alan Shimel: Hey, everyone, this is Alan Shimel from DevOps.com here for DevOps Chat, and we’ve got a really great chat lined up for this episode. It is all about Chef Habitat, and we’ve got some really-we actually have three guests on the show today, so we’re gonna move it along to keep it moving.
Let me first of all introduce my two Chef guests or from Chef. One is Tasha Drew, who’s a Product Manager for Chef Habitat, and one is Jamie Winsor, an engineer with Chef and one of the co-authors of Habitat. Jamie, Tasha-welcome to DevOps Chat.
Tasha Drew: Thanks so much. Happy to be here.
Shimel: Thank you.
Jamie Winsor: Yeah, thanks for having us, man.
Shimel: Hey, it’s my pleasure. And then, joining Jamie, Tasha, and myself today, all the way from Berlin, is Blake—and I hope I’m not gonna mess this up—Irvin. Blake, are you there?
Blake Irvin: Yep.
Shimel: Okay. Thanks. Hey, Blake, I appreciate you taking the time to join us. Blake, you’re with, is it BusyBee, is that what’s the name of the company?
Irvin: It’s called smartB.
Irvin: Yeah, and the B essentially stands for business, because we are building, because we focus on providing energy efficiency analysis for businesses—small to very large businesses and the buildings that they operate.
Tasha Drew is the Product Manager for Habitat. She previously launched Chef Automate’s analytics capabilities, was Head of Product at Rentlytics, was responsible for product for Engine Yard Cloud, and spent several years in various data center endeavors on behalf of Lockheed Martin. Tasha holds an M.S. in Management from RPI and a B.S. in Computer Science from USC. When not in front of a computer, Tasha prefers to be cruising around Napa or at the beach with her dogs—all while having intensely deep thoughts about how to save application developers from tedious rework via the wonders of application automation with Habitat.
Jamie Winsor is a lead engineer at Chef Software and the coauthor of Habitat, an open source project built upon distributed system protocol Butterfly to provide a self-healing, self-configuring, stack-agnostic, frictionless abstraction for running applications—regardless of their complexity—to software developers. Jamie has been a software engineer in the video game industry for 10 years, focusing on networked application servers on such titles as League of Legends, Lord of the Rings Online, and Dungeons and Dragons Online. One of Jamie’s responsibilities in his game development tenure was to bring what we today know as DevOps into the daily lives of the other developers on his team, which Jamie accomplished by building, evangelizing, and teaching methods to his peers. He draws on that experience today in building Habitat, as he helps enable all software developers, regardless of their experience, bring their ideas to life without investing in the details of operationalizing an application.
Shimel: Wow, that’s really good stuff. Jamie and Tasha, you both work for Chef, no need to introduce who Chef is to our DevOps audience, but Blake-welcome. And we have you on today because we’re gonna talk a little bit about Habitat, and Blake, if you don’t mind, I wanted to start with Tasha and Jamie and talk a little bit-just a little background. Maybe we have some folks on here who are not familiar with Habitat.
So, Jamie, you’re a co-author. Why don’t you take that one, right? What’s Habitat, for people who may not be familiar?
Winsor: Yeah, sure. So, the Habitat project is a number of pieces of software, and the overall goal is to, I hope, redefine what application automation means by focusing on the application instead of the infrastructure. In the past, we have been building computers in service to host our applications, and what Habitat does instead is it says, “Let’s focus on what the applications are that we need to run our application, what software we need down to a bare minimum, and then provision the machine around it,” and Habitat runs exactly the stuff that you need.
It does so with a packaging system and a build system and then a process supervisor. The process supervisor runs the packages, the process supervisor communicates to other supervisors using a gossip protocol to share and spread information about what software they’re running, which allows us to enable things for free, just by packaging your software with Habitat, such as service discovery, leader—follower failover, rolling configuration updates, rolling software updates—and it’s all coordinated using the gossip ring.
Finally, the piece that we built, the last piece of Habitat is simply called Builder, which we can also chat about today, which we just launched about a month ago. And Builder is a hosted Software as a Service build service that’s currently in preview mode. It’s free, and it builds your software that’s packaged with Habitat and hosts it as well in release channels, which allows you to have supervisors subscribe and then receive automatic updates using a complete CI/CD process of promotion between an unstable branch to a stable branch and so on. That’s basically it.
Shimel: Yeah, no, more than basically-that was a great description and great stuff there, Jamie.
Tasha, now, Habitat was released as an open source project by Chef, and it’s probably about two years ago now, right?
Drew: Yeah, yeah.
Shimel: And so, Tasha, tell us kinda what’s been the latest with Habitat.
Drew: Sure. So, basically, we have been working nonstop since the initial reveal of Habitat about two years ago, just adding functionality and capability across both that Builder system and that process supervision system that Jamie’s been talking about.
We’ve also been working on the deployment piece of the overall integration between those two which, in Habitat’s world, is highly agnostic. So, the idea is, use whatever tools you need to deploy those artifacts and supervisors that you’re using with Habitat. And so, we’ve been working with partners to have a really great cloud foundry ecosystem story, Kubernetes ecosystem story, AWS and Azure story, and then Terraform as well.
So, the idea is, we have been making it easier and easier for people to come get started using Builder, and that’s why we’ve released Builder in free preview mode, it’s because we just want to have this very low friction way for people to get started with Habitat and start rebuilding all of their workloads, and then deploy using your favorite technologies and then start seeing the benefit of the supervisor in Builder, communicating between the two.
Shimel: Absolutely. And as you mentioned, Builder is in free preview right now. You know, some people look at things like Habitat and some of the other great open source projects Chef is kind of shepherding, and they say, “This is all great, great, great, but how—you know, where does, how do they stay in business? Where do they make money?”
So, Tasha, can you talk a little bit about sort of where Chef sees commercial opportunity with Habitat?
Drew: Yeah, absolutely. So, for our enterprise customers, having on prem solutions that integrate with all of our open source products in order to have that really strong control plane management layer is super important. And so that’s, with Chef Automate, something that we continue to invest and see incredible success with.
And then, with Habitat, Habitat becomes the technology that continues to support enterprises while they want to move fast to deliver applications to production at scale. And so, having this part of the technology suite be adopted by our core set of enterprise customers will continue to be part of our strategy, but then we also have Builder to enable smaller shops to just get started—really low friction point, really easy to use. And how we monetize Builder itself over time will be something that we investigate as we see how people adopt and use the technology.
Shimel: Excellent answer. Great, Tasha. So, Blake, I didn’t wanna leave you too long in the cold. Let’s bring you into this now. First of all, Blake, I don’t think I asked you, and I don’t know if our audience is savvy to it, but what exactly is your role at smartB?
Irvin: So, I—we have a team of sort of multidisciplinary, polyglot engineers at smartB. We do all kinds of things because we’re a small shop and a small company, still. But the focus that I have—and this has been my focus and my interest, sort of, for the last, it’s actually been a little bit over 10 years is on all manner of operations engineering.
So, what I used to do would be something more like traditional systems administration, and now I would say I’m more of a software engineering operations specialist. In other words, I’m focusing on improving and streamlining the process of software engineering and less focused on things like racking servers.
Shimel: Sounds like you’re doing DevOps to me, man. [Laughter] But Blake-
Irvin: Yeah, you could say that.
Shimel: Yep. So, Blake, smartB is using Habitat?
Irvin: Yeah, that’s true.
Shimel: Let’s talk about why.
Irvin: I would say, for the moment, about-sorry?
Shimel: I was gonna say—why? What are you using it for?
Irvin: Well, we’re using it for almost everything. We have one—yeah, we have one production service that is not yet what I called Habitized or wrapped up in the Habitat package, and we’re just waiting for some work in the community to be finished before we can do that. But yeah, like, 85, 90 percent of our services are running under Habitat, using the Habitat supervisor, and we’re using as much of that workflow that Jamie and Tasha were describing as we can at the moment.
And that’s actually been a pretty good process for us, I think, because the way that Habitat’s designed, the adoption process can be incremental. So, when Tasha was referring to giving Habitat users the freedom to pick and choose how they want to deploy or how they want to go about adopting, that’s definitely something we’ve leveraged a lot to make our story good for ourselves.
Shimel: Got it. And so, Blake, I mean, when did you guys adopt, start with Habitat?
Irvin: So, when I saw the launch video, which was, I think, Adam speaking in Seattle-Adam Jacob, the Chef CTO. I was sort of, I was watching it originally just out of curiosity and then, as the talk went on, my mouth started hanging open further and further, I think. Not because I thought it was the most groundbreaking thing that I’d ever seen, but more because I couldn’t-I was surprised to see how many of the check boxes that I had in my mind from 10 years ago around this kinda stuff, all this kind of operations work, how many of those check boxes were getting checked off by the project as the architecture and the behavior of the tools was described.
So, we really started looking at the feasibility of adoption within weeks, I think, of that launch video.
Irvin: And started doing the rollout probably a few months afterwards. So, we’ve been doing it like a very slow, incremental rollout to, you know, ensure that we don’t disrupt any of our current software development process or our current production environments. That’s what’s been going on. It’s been a continual process for, I’d say, like eight months now, but just done very slowly.
Shimel: Very cool. So, Blake, you know, I have a long history of working in open source-related projects and stuff, and I’m always curious, you know, as a consumer, if you will, or a user of this open source project, have you guys—what have you contributed back? Have you contributed any code, bug findings, suggestions for new features? How are you giving back to the community, here?
Irvin: Yeah, sure. I think the thing, since we’re a really small team, what we’ve really focused on is trying to use the tool in the way that it’s been designed to be used and then giving feedback to the community and/or to the core maintainers whenever we find bugs or places we want to see improvements, and just keeping that conversation really open and fluid, which has been great. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve continued to use Chef software stuff for—not quite my whole career, but a sizable majority of my career. It’s just that, I think, as an organization, Chef believes that community is very important, and in fact, perhaps, one of the most important things about building a company. And compared to other experiences I’ve had with other open source groups, I think that’s been a real win for everybody involved.
So, in terms of code contributions, I think mostly what we’ve done is put out a lot of plans, which are the sort of blueprints for packages that Habitat uses when you set up like a set of dependencies for your application. So, we’ve definitely published a lot of those back into the community. I think you can find them if you look on the Builder site under the smartB origin, you’ll see all the packages we’ve published. And we’ve also published some stuff back into the core plan side, just the ones that the Habitat team maintains.
Shimel: Got it, got it. So, Jamie and Tasha, does Blake and smartB sort of represent the kind of prototypical Habitat user?
Winsor: I’d say so. You know, with Habitat, you can pick and choose what pieces you want, and it’s been great to watch Blake and smartB grow from—back to the packaging manager and the supervisor and gradually moving toward adopting Builder. They’ve been great to work with in the community. They gave us a lot of great feedback. You know, they’re users, so one of the things that is really important is, you build a feature or you build—you know, you fix a bug, and then you immediately get the feedback from the community, and they’ve been unbelievable to work with.
I’d say that Habitat would work for any team that ships software, though. So, they’re absolutely a typical user, because they ship software, right?
Shimel: Mm-hmm. Cool beans. Guys, we’re almost at the end of time, unfortunately, leading up here over 15 minutes. But Tasha, for people who may want to, you know, go explore Habitat themselves, where can they go to get information?
Drew: Yeah, we would love them to visit our website, Habitat.sh. There, you can see, we have a quick, you know, just kick the tires, 10-minute kinda step-through demo. We have more in-depth tutorials if you want to start just playing around with both the run and build time features of Habitat, and our community is very active on our Slack channel, which you can find a link there to join, but it’s just at Slack.Habitat.sh. So, as you get started, if you wanna just jump in that Slack channel, the entire core team is there, our community is there, and we seek to be super welcoming to new people. New questions are very welcome in the general channel. So, you can just hop in and get support and ask whatever questions you have.
Shimel: So, it’s Habitat.sh?
Drew: Yeah, yeah.
Shimel: Excellent, excellent. Guys, listen. Thank you very—all three of you, Blake Irvin, Jamie Winsor, Tasha Drew—thank you so much for being our guests in this episode of DevOps Chat. Continued success, Blake, with you guys in your bigger business as well as using Habitat, and Jamie and Tasha, with you guys continuing to develop and make Habitat, you know, an indispensable tool for companies around the world. Alright?
Drew: Thanks so much.
Winsor: Thank you.
Shimel: Alright, everyone, have a great day. This is Alan Shimel for DevOps Chat. We’ll hopefully see you soon on the next chat. Until then, take care, everyone.