How custom solutions for Foreman can help you solve everyday challenges of sysadmins more efficiently

Kamil Szubrycht - Full-Stack Developer
business, devops, foreman

Foreman is a hypervisor-level server lifecycle management tool. In conjunction with a tool like Puppet, Chef or Ansible, Foreman can offer a broad range of features and efficiency improvements, as well as a lowered barrier to entry. It’s a very effective way to help your SysOps team work faster, make their processes better, and give them extra time for other tasks.

The types of challenges that Foreman can help solve

One of Foreman’s biggest advantages is that it offers a developer-friendly environment and ease of entry even to teams that don’t specialize in SysOps (while training them to use Puppet or Chef alone might take quite a while). DevOps experts will have an easier time learning Foreman as a new tool. Once introduced to your team’s toolset, Foreman can become their one point of contact for automation and management, improving overall efficiency. Some tasks (those inaccessible from Foreman’s hypervisor level) will need to be performed manually, but they likely won’t be an everyday problem.

Because of the multiple plugins you can choose to use with Foreman, managing your IT environment will be even easier for your team. The plugins offer various functions, from improved security to alternative data storage solutions. Additionally, Foreman’s community is large and robust enough to offer effective support when issues occur. Foreman is open source, which means it’s easy to create custom solutions for it (while tools like Puppet and Ansible are very commercialized, so solving problems with them usually involves additional fees).

Businesses that can get the most out of using Foreman

Foreman will have the most impact at small and medium-sized businesses, where the costs of server management software matter the most, as it’s entirely open-source and can be used to access enterprise-level features. Businesses interested in reducing downtime should also look into using Foreman. When availability is key, and you can’t allow for loss of data or disrupted services, Foreman can help by keeping track of what goes wrong where, and allowing you to quickly restore your infrastructure’s proper function even with physical damage to your machines. In this way, Foreman ensures continuity of service and easy recovery when problems occur.

No particular industry will benefit from Foreman more than others, but companies with dispersed architectures might. If your business includes many services, many endpoints, and a large number of processes running on several servers (rather than a monolithic system), Foreman is probably for you. SaaS platforms are a good example of such a business, with clients and different version of the app being supported on various servers.

Let’s look at the example of Foreman used in conjuction with Docker. We can take a whole machine, copy it, and move it elsewhere in the infrastructure. It will work just fine, restored in a fraction of a second with no need to redo the configuration. Foreman has the ability to create a 1:1 clone from scratch as needed.

Bare metal vs. the cloud

If you depend on cloud solutions such as Azure, you become completely reliant on the provider - their availability, data policy, and so on. If you choose to maintain your own infrastructure with a tool like Foreman, you get access to the bare metal. Everything will be on your machines, and you’ll be able to adjust it to your needs. Additionally, if you have sensitive data, you might not want to put them in the cloud - although in that case it falls on you to you configure your infrastructure well for security.

For some companies, particularly ones without much fluctuation in how powerful an infrastructure they need, this can save costs. Managing your own bare metal infrastructure can be cheaper than using the cloud, but adding more resources quickly can be complicated (partially because you’d need to consider the space occupied by your hardware). However, for certain businesses keeping their servers on site is a requirement, e.g. because of laws and regulations related to data protection.

The cloud, on the other hand, allows for more flexibility and freedom for innovation and experimentation. Services like Azure, Digital Ocean and Docker are popular because if you use them, a chunk of the work will be done for you by the provider. Foreman can naturally work very well with these tools, and the combination allows for more than any one tool can do.

Maintaining flexibility with Foreman’s plugins

One of Foreman’s biggest advantages is its customizability. With an experienced team of Ruby developers, you can build a custom set of tools to take Foreman in any direction you want. As part of our cooperation with a client, we have developed several open source plugins and other solutions, some of which ended up in Foreman’s codebase.

Plugins can help you in a multitude of ways. For example, you could use a plugin to integrate Foreman with Slack and send status updates and alerts through Slack. Foreman can be easily adjusted to internal processes and tools, making it easier to adopt as a new tool. If you wanted to get rid of low-level integrations in your architecture, you could use Foreman plugins to fluidly make the shift. Crucially, everything else set up in Foreman would remain unchanged. The latter is a good example of Foreman’s high-level approach. It has the potential to shorten the configuration stage by a fair amount.

One thing to remember, however, is that open source tools come with some risks, mainly because of dispersed responsibility (Foreman is being developed by a community, not a company that you can sue when something goes wrong). On the other hand, Foreman’s community is robust enough that help should be available if you need it.

Interested in gaining business benefits through Foreman development? Work with a team of Ruby developers experienced in building custom Foreman solutions.

Author's Bio
Kamil Szubrycht

Full-Stack Developer

Full-Stack Web Developer with Foreman experience. Coding mostly in Ruby and JavaScript - when nobody is looking. An open source enthusiast. Biker. An occasional chess player. Real Madrid supporter. Addicted to pizza.

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