Context Is Key: With DevOps Automation Our Developers Can Focus On Code, Not Servers

By Premesh Purayil, CTO, Ranker

As a society, we love making lists. Who hasn’t played the game of listing out their favorite movies, books or albums?  At Ranker, we take those lists and allow the world to vote—resulting in a crowdsourced answer to any opinion-based question. We like to call ourselves the Yelp for everything else. I’m not merely talking about typical, “Top 10” lists like best action movies or the best laptop brands– we have those, but they’re not our bread and butter. We dig deep into lists such as the best apps for messing with someone’s life the NBA’s biggest floppers (I’m looking at you LeBron!) and the best websites to waste your time on.

Sure, people can go to Google and search for the most talented leading men of Irish descent who have starred in sci-fi thrillers, but all of the results would be biased. We leverage the wisdom of crowds to provide a list based on the most user votes and responses – it’s not necessarily a perfect science, but it’s pretty close.

We handle upwards of 5.7 million votes per month, then we have user-generated content. And from there, we leverage data to extract intelligence from it. For example (and to be clear, this is just an example and not scientifically proven), we can determine that a user who likes modern martial arts flicks digs remixes and mashups by The Melker Project, prefers Coke to Pepsi, dislikes Hondas and wears throwback Nike sneakers. That’s a great deal of intelligence and requires a top-notch product to power it.

Our team of developers works tirelessly to improve our product. We have to stay one step ahead of the data we are creating. Our users demand real-time responses and the most up to date information. We’re always working on, testing and tweaking new features. It’s very fluid.

We maintain a relatively lean team. We’re developers; DevOps is not our core competency. In the past, we constantly had top-level engineers doing configuration and maintenance of servers. It was a huge time suck – we spent about 10 hours per week keeping servers up to snuff. That’s roughly 40 hours a month taken away from  innovating and improving our product.

Development is all about context. To have engineers digging into server issues and bouncing back and forth between developing and server management results in a huge loss of context. Developers require concentration and jumping from coding to fighting fires sets back progress.

We could’ve hired a full or part time staffer to run our DevOps, but the time spent finding the talent and then budgeting for their salary would have been high. They would’ve had to be remote, while we’d want to keep them in-house. It just wouldn’t have been realistic.

Roughly six months ago, we cut over from the public cloud to Rackspace Private Cloud, a move that’s going to reduce our infrastructure spend about 60 percent. And in January we signed on with Rackspace DevOps Automation Service to improve how we deploy and maintain our application stack. We now have the same company that is managing our private cloud handling our DevOps. One team has a deep understanding of how our software stack interoperates with our infrastructure and if there’s an issue they can easily understand it and fix it.

Now, if we find an issue, we can get on the phone or submit a ticket and it’s fixed right away, as opposed to my team taking up to several days to get it fixed the old way. And it’s 24×7 – whereas if we hired someone it’d be a single nine-to-five position.

Rackspace knows our Private Cloud and knows our systems. They’re the specialists.

Prior to leveraging DevOps Automation Service we were all manual. We’d configure a server, take an image and reuse it. If we had to do that 10 times, the process may work four out of those 10 times. If we had to make changes to our front-end web stack – that’s 15 servers – we’d make changes manually and then update each server. With DevOps Automation, those changes and updates happen with the push of a button across all servers. It’s a huge time saver.

What it ultimately comes down to is the confidence and comfort level with who is managing our infrastructure – with Rackspace Private Cloud and DevOps Automation Service we know that our hardware and our technology stack is taken care of and we can focus our energy on building a great product.

This is a guest post written and contributed by Premesh Purayil, CTO of Ranker a Rackspace customer. Ranker is crowdsourced rankings of everything – topics both entertaining and practical. Ranker is also a platform for individual and fact-based lists, but its primary goal is to use the wisdom of crowds to deliver the best opinions possible about any topic where a list is the best answer.


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