Running Heroku on Heroku


heroku logoThis is a live summary taken from this talk given at StrangeLoop.

Today Noah Zoschke @nzoschke will cover running Heroku on Heroku. Heroku for those that are not familiar is a cloud application platform as a service. It used to be a ruby application as a service platform but now it has been opened up for many other languages. Heroku was all about getting rid of the need for servers; at least you maintaining servers. This talk is going to be about bootstrapping and self hosting and all the benefits for the dev and operations cycles that come along with it – not to mention the benefits for your business.

The meaning of the word bootstrapping has come to mean a self sustaining process that proceeds without external help. There are many applications of this term, socio econimics, business, statistics, linguistics (how a small child can go from no spoken ability to having it), biology (we all start as just a few cells and our cells then figure things out), and then of course computers (booting up is bootstrapping up). We have a computer that is off and we need to figure out how to get the system up and running from that off state into a fully running a viable for work state. Boostrapping also has a very specific meaning for compilers. If you have a compiler written in a language that it itslef compiles then it is bootstrapped. We will talk about the compiler example for just a minute before we get into what this could mean for services for illustration purposes.

Self building/bootstrapping is something that allmost all languages and compilers strive to do. Bootstrapping is an excelent test for any compiler. It allows you to work on your compiler in a higher level language. It also leads to a really great consistency check of the compiler itself. A compiler that can compile itself is a good thing also because it reduces the overall footprint of the tools needed to work on the compiler itself. There is ofcourse a chicken and egg problem. There are a number of strategies for handing this.

Build compiler/interpreter for X in language Y
Using an earlier version of the compilar
Hand compile

Lets change terminology quickly, “Self hosting” is a computer program that produces new versions of that same program. This applys to compilers as we illustrated but it also applies equally well to kernals, programming languages, and revision control systems like git being maintained in git self host. There are more such as text editors; vim being developed with vim and so on. So, the question is

“Is this an applicable metaphore for services and the cloud?”

We see the same properties and benefits associated with compilers in services and cloud. At a simple level Heroku hosts http://www.heroku.com on Heroku. Not very surprising, probably more surprising if you found out Heroku was run on Slicehost or something like that! (it is not). There are a number of motivations though for taking self hosting a bit further than just this. Dogfooding, efficiency, and separation of concerns. Heroku used to be this large ruby app and any time some developer would screw something up he could crash the whole system. There were all kinds of hoops that were jumped through to prevent this from happening. The ultimate solution ended up being self hosting. Features used to be added to this large ruby app now most features, like Heroku cron, are turned into applications that actually run on Heroku itself not in its codebase where it can cause problems.

Now taking this even further to something more heroic. Heroku has a whole separate database cloud service. This thing is large and a fairly big deal. and the whole thing runs on Heroku itself. Can we keep going with this, and take it even a step further?

Heroku Cloud Architecture

Noah  Zoschke talking about heroku cloud architecture

The question is, what else can we self host? Take the compile part of the architecture and run them on the heroku dynos. so basically compiling new Heroku dynos will be compiled by the compile application running ontop of Heroku itself. We want to run a platform that is not just for sinatra apps or rails apps etc… We want a platform that is a generic computing platform. Running Heroku applications on Heroku helps us prove out we do, or move there is we are not already.

Other motivations are effortless scaling, decreased surface area of the architecture, and build/compile symmetry. We want our build servers to look just like our runtime servers. The motivation here is obvious and running compile on heroku itself really gets us there. The other and most important motivation is to be able to focus on these secure ephemeral containers, the dynos, and making them as secure and well factored as possible. If our business depends on these containers from top to bottom we will be forced to make these are sound as possible.

Martin Logan (@martinjlogan) also, if this kind cloudy stuff floats your boat you should check out Camp DevOps Conf in Chicago this Oct

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