Q&A: StackStorm’s Evan Powell Talks DevOps, Automation and OpenStack

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 30, 2015

Evan Powell (shown here) is CEO of StackStorm, which is a very interesting company focused on event-driven automation, sometimes described as IFTTT for operations.  The company is starting to make waves, too.

Rackspace officials have recently started talking publicly about their use of StackStorm and there are a number of other large users as well.  StackStorm’s toolset is 100 percent open source and used to tie together environments with the aid of a rules engine, workflows, audit and access controls, and more.  The project is fairly young - just reaching version 0.8 now. However, StackStorm’s work on the Mistral workflow engine has been upstream in the broader OpenStack community.

As part of an interview series that we’re doing here at OStatic, we caught up with Evan for a Q&A. Here are his thoughts.  

StackStorm can help administrators and developers tie environments together with rules, workflows, and more, correct? Can you describe what advantages it offers?

Yes that is right.  There are countless projects that help with specific functions, such as event management or aspects of monitoring or remote change management and configuration management.  Tying these together is done by hand, with scripts, and the more you have tied together the more fragile your environment becomes.  

By comparison, with StackStorm, the more integrations you have - the more useful it becomes because now you have a more comprehensive view of your environment and can adapt the wiring of that environment together as your needs change.  

What are some organizations missing when it comes to doing DevOps right?

Well, I've written extensively about barriers elsewhere.  And noted experts like Gene Kim have done an incredible job using data derived from the Puppet DevOps survey and elsewhere to highlight useful patterns.   One pattern I would highlight is the use of source control to manage your configurations.  Truly treating infrastructure as code seems to be one of the common factors for those companies that achieve great outcomes.  And, yes, StackStorm allows you to use this pattern with your orchestrations and integrations as well.

What if organizations have a lot of legacy technology in place. Can they easily fit into a modern DevOps approach?

I'm not sure I'd use the word "easily."  However certainly StackStorm is an example of a solution that can embrace and to some extent encapsulate your legacy solutions.  With a solution like StackStorm your operational pattern is no longer tightly coupled to your environment - so for example your desired remediation process stays basically the same whether you swap out monitoring solution X for solution Y.   

You have some tools upstream in the OpenStack community, correct? What are these?

Yes, we contribute heavily to the Mistral workflow as a service project.  Mistral is a powerful workflow engine and an important part of the overall StackStorm platform.  

What are StackStorm's goals for this year?

We are completely focused on user success.  We have a number of large users that now depends on us effectively as the transmission for their operational environment.  If we continue to make this type of user successful - everything else will work out.  We are also seeing the number of integrations increasing significantly which means the number of legos which are available to our users has increased; so far we've grown from in the teens back in November of 2014 to over 600 as of the beginning of March.  I expect we will see thousands of integrations in the community later this year.  

How has keeping your tools open source benefited your business objectives?

Open source is hugely helpful for a project like us where the more participation we have - in terms of integrations and automations and also the first level support and suggestion to other users - directly increases the value users get out of StackStorm.   

Would you like to add anything?

Please find us on IRC #stackstorm on freenode.  Also we are doing a sprint / hackathon at Pycon in Montreal April 13-16th where we will be working with many projects to improve their integration into StackStorm.  

Editor's Note: This story is the latest in a series of interview pieces with project leaders working on the cloud, Big Data, and the Internet of Things. The series has included talks with the University of Washington team working on the Grappa data analytics tool, Rich Wolski who founded the Eucalyptus cloud project, Ben Hindman from Mesosphere, Sam Ramji from Cloud Foundry Foundation,Tomer Shiran of the Apache Drill project, Philip DesAutels who oversees the AllSeen Alliance, Tomer Shiran on MapR and Hadoop, and co-founder of Mirantis Boris Renski.