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by Martin Fowler.
Original Post: Bliki: ImmutableServer
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Feed Description: A cross between a blog and wiki of my partly-formed ideas on software development
Automated configuration tools (such as CFEngine, Puppet, or
Chef) allow you to specify
how servers should be configured, and bring new and existing machines
into compliance. This helps to avoid the problem of fragile
SnowflakeServers. Such tools can create PhoenixServers
that can be torn down and rebuilt at will. An Immutable Server is the
logical conclusion of this approach, a server that once deployed, is
never modified, merely replaced with a new updated instance.
Automated configuration tools are usually used with
ConfigurationSynchronization where you leave a server
running for a potentially long period of time, repeatedly applying
configuration to bring it into line with the latest specification.
In theory servers can be allowed to run indefinitely, and they'll be
kept completely consistent and up to date. In practice it's not
possible to manage a server's configuration completely, so there is
considerable scope for configuration drift, and unexpected changes
to running servers.
By frequently destroying and rebuilding servers from the base
image, 100% of the server's elements are reset to a known state,
without spending a ridiculous amount of time specifying and
maintaining detailed configuration specifications.
Once you're using phoenixes, the focus of
configuration management shifts to the management of base images.
Fixes, changes, and updates are applied to the base image rather
than to running systems. Each time you want a new update you modify
the base instance and run it through an automated test harness. You only
create new servers when they pass these steps.
So a phoenix server's complete state is built from a combination
of base image + automated configuration management + data , which reduces the pressure to have automated
configuration manage 100% of the server.
But while we can continue to run configuration management updates
on a server during its brief lifetime, there's less value in doing
so. In fact, there is considerable value in not doing so, since
any change to a running system introduces risk.
Once you've spun up a server instance from a well-tested base image, you
shouldn't run configuration management tools, since they create
opportunities for untested changes to the instance. Any changes that
are needed can be made to the base image, tested, and then rolled
out. Servers without the change are torn down and replaced.
If this sounds familiar, it's because it follows the practices of
ContinuousIntegration and ContinuousDelivery. With
Continuous Delivery of software, it's safer to compile a given version of
an application into a deployable artifact only once, and know that you are
deploying and running a consistently built application in all environments.
With an immutable server, you make each change to a base image, and then
you know that all instances created from that image are consistent.
The main differences between instances of a server role come from
configuration settings, which should come from outside the server.
For example, most virtualization and cloud platforms offer a way to
set metadata values when provisioning a new instance, which can then
be read by the running server. New servers may also pull
configuration values from a central registry like Zookeeper.
It's advisable to minimize the number and scope of per-instance
configuration items for immutable servers, and to run changes to
these through automated testing where feasible.
If servers are disposable, the data that lives on them often is not.
When implementing phoenix or immutable servers you should consider what
data needs to be persisted as servers are destroyed and created, and what
data must be replicated in order to scale by adding additional servers.
You can ship data off of the instance when it has value but isn't needed
at runtime, for example sending logfiles to a central syslog server. A shared
file system like NFS can make files available to servers, perhaps living on
a SAN. Cloud platforms generally offer mountable storage devices like AWS
EBS volumes which can be attached to new servers instances when the old ones
are destroyed, or quickly duplicated and attached to replicas when scaling a
cluster. Often you can pass the buck to a service which someone else maintains,
like Amazon's RDS database service.
Netflix has been at the forefront in using the ImmutableServer
pattern, although I'm not aware that they've used the term. They
have open-sourced the Aminator tool they developed to manage AMI
instances for use on Amazon's AWS cloud and blogged
about how their use of this pattern has evolved with
experience. Interestingly, the speed of instantiating new
instances has been a key driver for them, since this helps them to
automatically scale and recover.
Data covers a variety of things, including database files and other application-managed data, runtime state, other runtime-generated data such as log files, and externally supplied configuration.