General

SRE Weekly Issue #93

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Articles

Julia Evans tells us why she likes Kubernetes, and along the way explains how its resilient architecture works.

From the Jepsen folks, this outline is detailed enough to read by itself:

This outline accompanies a 12-16 hour overview class on distributed systems fundamentals. The course aims to introduce software engineers to the practical basics of distributed systems, through lecture and discussion. Participants will gain an intuitive understanding of key distributed systems terms, an overview of the algorithmic landscape, and explore production concerns.

In this article Steve Smith explains why a production environment is always in a state of near-failure, why optimising for robustness results in a brittle incident response process, and why Dual Value Streams are a common countermeasure to failure.

This article seems like a direct reply to last week’s “The Coming Software Apocalypse“. I gave that one a good review, so I feel compelled to include this refutation, but I was left really wishing for more detail on the arguments put forward. Perhaps there’s more to come?

Better requirements and better tools have already been tried and found wanting. Requirements are a trap. They don’t work. Requirements are no less complex and undiscoverable than code.

This is an article version of Cindy Sridharan’s Velocity 2017 talk. She covers a lot, including major monitoring methods, existing OSS tools, the pitfalls of each, and how to achieve observability in a cloud-based infrastructure.

GitHub ensures low MySQL replication lag by rate-limiting expensive batch-processing queries based on replica lag. Before freno, this logic resided in each client, with multiple implementations in different languages. Freno (which is open source) centralizes the replica lag polling and query rate-limiting decisions into a queryable service.

Earlier this year, LinkedIn open sourced their alerting system duo. Together, these tools provide functionality similar to vendor solutions like PagerDuty and VictorOps.

Here’s a great guide to rate-limiting in NGINX including config snippets.

Netflix has an in-house serverless environment on which they run “nano-services”. It has nifty features including automatic pre-warming, gradual roll-out scheduling, and canary deployments.

GitHub details their Internet-facing network topology and explains how they use traffic engineering to ensure their connectivity is fast and reliable.

What if two people try to interact, but only one of them is flagged into a new feature? OKCupid tells us why A/B testing is much harder than it seems, and then they explain how they developed useful test cohorts.

A primer on runbooks, including a nice template you can use as a starting point in writing yours.

This article is published by my sponsor, VictorOps, but their sponsorship did not influence its inclusion in this issue.

Outages

SRE Weekly Issue #92

Shout-out to all the folks I met at Velocity!  It was an exhilarating week filled with awesome personal conversations and some really incredible talks.

Then I came back to Earth to discover that everyone chose this week to write awesome SRE-related articles. I’m still working my way through them, but get ready for a great issue.

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Essential eBook for DevOps pros: The Dev and Ops Guide to Incident Management offers 25+ pages of insight into building teams and improving your response to downtime.
http://try.victorops.com/SREWeekly/IM_eBook

Articles

This is the blockbuster PDF dropped by the SNAFUcatchers during their keynote on day two of Velocity. Even just the 15-minute summary by Richard Cook and David Woods had me on the edge of my seat. In this report, they summarize the lessons gleaned from presentations of “SNAFUs” by several companies during winter storm Stella.

SNAFUs are anomalous situations that would have turned into outages were it not for the actions taken by incident responders. Woods et al. introduced a couple of concepts that are new to me: “dark debt” and “blameless versus sanctionless”. I love these ideas and can’t wait to read more.

These two articles provide a pretty good round-up of the ideas shared at Velocity this past week.

This one starts with a 6-hour 911 (emergency services) outage in 2014 and the Toyota unintended acceleration incidents, and then vaults off into really awesome territory. Research is being done into new paradigms of software development that leave the programming to computers, focusing instead on describing behavior using a declarative language. The goal: provably correct systems. Long read, but well worth it.

Drawing from Woods, Allspaw, Snowden, and others, this article explains how and why to improve the resilience of a system. There’s a great hypothetical example of graceful degradation that really clarified it for me.

In a recent talk, Charity Majors made waves by saying, “Nines don’t matter when users aren’t happy.” Look, you can have that in t-shirt and mug format!

A summary of how six big-name companies test new functionality by gradually rolling it out in production.

This article jumps off from Azure’s announcement of availability zones to discuss a growing trend in datacenters. We’re moving away from highly reliable “tier 4” datacenters and pushing more of the responsibility for reliability to software and networks.

Of course I do, and I don’t even know who Xero is! They use chat, chatops, and Incident Command, like a lot of other shops. I find it interesting that incident response starts off with someone filling out a form.

Outages

  • PagerDuty
    • PagerDuty posted a lengthy followup report on their outage on September 19-21. TL;DR: Cassandra. It was the worst kind of incident, in which they had to spin up an entirely new cluster and develop, test, and enact a novel cut-over procedure. Ouch.
  • Heroku
    • Heroku suffered a few significant outages. The one linked above includes a followup that describes a memory leak in their request routing layer. These two don’t yet have followups: #1298, #1301
      Full disclosure: Heroku is my employer.
  • Azure
    • On September 29, Azure suffered a 7-hour outage in Northern Europe. They’ve released a preliminary followup that describes an accidental release of fire suppression agent and the resulting carnage. Microsoft promises more detail by October 13.
      Unfortunately can’t deep-link to this followup, so just scroll down to 9/29.
  • New Relic
  • Blackboard (education web platform)

SRE Weekly Issue #91

I’m heading to New York tomorrow and will be at Velocity Tuesday and Wednesday. If you’re there, look for the weirdo in the SRE Weekly shirt and hit me up for some nifty swag! Also, maybe check out my talk on DNS, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader for pointing out that I totally screwed up the HTML on the link last week. Oops.

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Articles

Here’s how Hosted Graphite made their job ad for an SRE-like role (Ops Automation Engineer) more inclusive. The article is filled with specific before/after language snippets, each with a detailed explanation of why they made the change.

A couple weeks after their major outage last October, Dyn published this article explaining secondary DNS. It’s a great primer and digs into what to do if you use advanced non-standard functionality like ALIAS records and traffic balancing.

SignalFx goes into deep detail on their feature for predicting future metric values. We get an explanation of why prediction is difficult and a discussion of the math involved in their solution.

Payments: we really have to get them right. Here’s DropBox’s Jessica Fisher with a discussion of how they reconcile failed payments.

No matter what goes wrong, our top priority is to make sure that customers receive service for which they’ve been charged, and aren’t charged for service they haven’t received.

A couple of weeks ago, I linked to a story about Resilience4j, a fault tolerance library for Java. This week is the second installment that shows you how to use it to implement circuit breakers. There’s also an interesting discussion of one of the implementation details.

Here’s a cute little debugging story. Turns out ntpd has a bit of a blind spot!

Adcash CTO Arnaud Granal gives us a rare glimpse into the multiple iterations of their infrastructure. Hear what worked well and what didn’t as they scaled to handle 500k requests per second at peak.

Outages

  • OpenSRS (DNS provider)
    • OpenSRS (registrar and DNS provider, among other services) had a major outage in their DNS service.

      At 1AM UTC we were the target of a sophisticated DNS attack that was followed by an unrelated double failure of core network equipment at our main Canadian data center, caused by an undocumented software limitation.

      Yikes.

  • Amadeus (airline booking system)
    • Amadeus provides the technical underpinnings of many airlines around the world. They had issues this past week, taking a lot of airlines with them.
  • SourceForge
    • Our [data center] hosting provider has been having issues with a power distribution unit.

  • Facebook

SRE Weekly Issue #90

A couple of DNS-related links this week.  I’ll be giving a talk at Velocity NYC on all of the fascinating things I learned about DNS in the wake of the Dyn DDoS and the .io TLD outage last fall.  If you’re there, hit me up for some SRE Weekly swag!

SPONSOR MESSAGE

Like DevOps? Register for All Day DevOps – a FREE online conference this October, offering 100 DevOps-focused sessions across six different tracks. Learn more & register:
http://bit.ly/2waBukw

Articles

We’re all becoming distributed systems engineers, and this stuff sure isn’t easy.

Isn’t distributed programming just concurrent programming where some of the threads happen to execute on different machines? Tempting, but no.

Every-second canarying is a pretty awesome concept. Not only that, but they even post the results on their status page. Impressive!

So many lessons! My favorite is to make sure you test the “sad path”, as opposed to just the “happy path”. If a customer screws up their input and then continues on correctly from there on, does everything still work?

Extensive notes taken during 19 talks at SRECon 17 EMEA. I’m blown away by the level of detail. Thanks, Aaron!

A cheat sheet and tool list for diagnosing CPU-related issues. There’s also one on network troubleshooting by the same author. Note: LinkedIn login required to view.

Antifragility is an interesting concept that I was previously unaware of. I’m not really sure how to apply it practically in an infrastructure design, but I’m going to keep my eye out for antifragile patterns.

It’s easy to overlook your DNS, but a failure can take your otherwise perfectly running infrastructure down — at least from the perspective of your customers.

Do you run a retrospective on near misses? The screws they tightened in this story could just as easily be databases quietly running at max capacity.

A piece of one of the venting systems fell and almost hit an employee which almost certainly would have caused a serious injury and possibly death. The business determined that (essentially) a screw came loose causing the part to fall. It then checked the remaining venting systems and learned that other screws had starting becoming loose as well and was able to resolve the issue before anyone got hurt.

Oh look, Azure has AZs now.

The transport layer in question is gRPC, and this article discusses using it to connect a microservice-based infrastructure. If you’ve been looking for an intro to gRPC, check this out.

How do you prevent human error? Remove the humans. Yeah, I’m not sure I believe it either, but this was still an interesting read just to learn about the current state of lights-out datacenters.

This is a really neat idea: generate an interaction diagram automatically using a packet capture and a UML tool.

Thanks to Devops Weekly for this one.

Outages

  • .io
    • The .io TLD went down again, in exactly the same way as last fall.
  • PagerDuty
    • PagerDuty suffered a major outage lasting over 12 hours this past thursday. Customers scrambled to come up with other alerting methods.
      Some really excellent discussion around this incident happened on the hangops slack in the #incident_response channel. I and others requested more details on the actual paging latency and PagerDuty delivered them on their status site. Way to go, folks!
  • StatusPage.io
    • I noticed this minor incident after getting a 500 reloading PagerDuty’s status page.
  • The Travis CI Blog: Sept 6 – 11 macOS outage postmortem
    • This week, Travis posted this followup describing the SAN performance issues that impacted their system.
  • Outlook and Hotmail

SRE Weekly Issue #89

SPONSOR MESSAGE

Acknowledge and resolve IT & DevOps alerts directly from Slack with the new native integration with VictorOps. Learn all about it here:
http://try.victorops.com/slack/SREWeekly

Articles

Cachet looks like a pretty good contender to incumbents like StatusPage.

Hosted Graphite used PySyncObj to create a fault-tolerant threshold alerting feature.

Talk about a high-pressure incident! When a teleconferencing provider’s wires got crossed, hilarity (and embarassment) ensued.

This article is published by my sponsor, VictorOps, but their sponsorship did not influence its inclusion in this issue.

This story is from a PagerDuty engineer. What’d you learn while shadowing on-call? I’d love to hear your story!

Here’s how SYNQ set their status page up. They’re the folks that committed to publishing all of their incident followups publicly a month or two back. Transparency FTW!

I’ll save you the math: that’s ~17k req/sec. I really like that this article takes us through their learning process and their first failed attempts.

Quid wrote up this explanation of how they set up their game day and what they learned. I really like the structure they used, and I may draw heavily on it for my own game days.

“Observability” as a term is making the rounds like “DevOps” did (and still does…). Here’s Baron Schwartz’s take on it.

Outages

  • Google Services
    • As two astute readers pointed out (thanks!), the Gmail outage I included in the last issue was from 2009(!). Oops. However, Google has been experiencing a series of outages and degradations this month, so I’m just going to pretend I knew that rather than that I forgot to check the date on the article.
  • s3 outage
    • S3 had an outage in us-east-1 on September 14th. This one showed up as yellow on their status site, with the text below. Companies that depend on S3 probably saw impact as well, but I couldn’t find any status posts other than Heroku’s.

      11:58 AM PDT We are investigating increased error rates for Amazon S3 requests in the US-EAST-1 Region.
      12:20 PM PDT We can confirm that some customers are receiving throttling errors accessing S3. We are currently investigating the root cause.
      12:38 PM PDT We continue to work towards resolving the increased throttling errors for Amazon S3 requests in the US-EAST-1 Region. We have identified the subsystem responsible for the errors, identified root cause and are now working to resolve the issue.
      12:49 PM PDT We are now seeing recovery in the throttle error rates accessing Amazon S3. We have identified the root cause and have taken actions to prevent recurrence.
      1:05 PM PDT Between 11:40 AM and 12:56 PM PDT we experienced throttling errors accessing Amazon S3 in the US-EAST-1 Region. The issue is resolved and the service is operating normally.

      Full disclosure: Heroku is my employer.

  • IBM
    • IBM had a mishap when transferring control of some of its domains to a different registrar. Some of their services including their Global Load Balancer went down.
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