Build a Better Upgrade Practice with Pivotal Platform Automation

June 3, 2019 Nadja Conklin

At Pivotal, we’ve been working with cloud platform teams to understand how to help them maintain their platforms with less stress and toil. A key observation for us has been that teams that practice smaller, more frequent updates can really simplify their platform upgrade process overall. They are able to significantly reduce risk, increase stability with faster troubleshooting, and reduce the overall effort of upgrading. This also has the great side-effect of creating a culture of continuous iteration and better feedback loops between platform teams and developers, which builds trust across the organization.

The trick is how to make patching a rote task so that you can do it consistently.

Pivotal is pleased to announce the general availability release of Pivotal Platform Automation—the essential building blocks for creating a perpetual upgrade machine for your organization.

There’s no doubt that patching platforms can be time-consuming, repetitive, and difficult to orchestrate across an enterprise. But the alternative—stagnation—is also risky:

  • You could miss a critical security patch, putting your data, systems, and business at risk.

  • You could find it more painful to take a major operating system (OS) upgrade if you haven’t been patching all along.

  • You could delay your developers getting the features that they need.

So the ideal platform is one that offers constant updates and an easy way to apply them. With Pivotal Platform Automation, we give you a new option to achieve this desired state.

Read on to learn more about how you can get started with Platform Automation and how companies are already applying this best practice for upgrades.

Constant Upgrading with Pivotal Platform Automation

With Pivotal Platform Automation, platform teams have the tools to create an automated perpetual upgrade machine that can continuously take the latest updates when new software is available—including PAS, PKS, OpsManager, stemcells, products, and services.

Platform Automation consists of building blocks: Concourse tasks that perform small, defined actions for interacting with OpsManager. It comes with detailed instructions and examples on how to put these building blocks together in a pipeline that automates your specific upgrades. You can tailor the solution for your environments and upgrade your foundations at scale.

Example of Platform Automation Pipeline in Concourse

Concourse, the heart of the Platform Automation Engine, is a CI/CD system remastered for teams that target multiple platforms and configurations (such as multiple clouds) and deliver frequently. It’s a great fit for Platform Automation because of its declarative pipelines, containerized execution, and visible tracking of pipelines. Using a CI/CD system like Concourse can free up your time by automating installations, upgrades, and cross-deployment operations.  

Key features of Platform Automation include:

  • Repeatable and reusable building blocks

  • IaaS agnostic tools; use it across various infrastructures

  • Flexible building blocks to create pipelines that work for your needs—a single pipeline can handle installation and upgrades of products

  • Externalized configuration so you can make changes to your config, without needing to refly your pipeline every time there’s a change

  • Pivotal supported with a dedicated R&D team improving the tools

You can get started with Platform Automation on Pivotal Network.

Rethinking Your Automation and Upgrade Strategy

Cerner is a great example of a company that evolved from an old mindset on platform upgrades to a new approach. In their SpringOne Platform keynote, Cerner’s Greg Meyer and Bryan Kelly talked about applying security updates when they first started using Pivotal Platform: “Pivotal releases a security patch every six days. So, we need to do an update every six days, in all three of our foundations that we have. It’s an overwhelming feeling as an operator.”

The Cerner platform team did an analysis of their upgrade pipeline to examine its effectiveness. They discovered: “We were running it [the automation] when we had an update that we wanted”—not every time there was a new security patch or new release.

After that analysis, they changed their approach to take updates regularly. As an example, they shared that they had taken 70 stemcell upgrades to production from May 2018 to September 2018. Now, “when a new stemcell patch upgrade comes out on a Monday, we can have it in production by Friday.” They are able to keep up with Pivotal's rapid iterations and move quickly with very little risk.

Cerner’s platform team can now focus on other things like becoming Site Reliability Engineers, rather than worrying about their pipelines because upgrading is now so autonomous. They reduce the risk of any one deployment failing and can debug quickly if needed because it’s easy to pinpoint exactly what has changed. They even can push upgrades in production during business hours rather than waiting for weekends or evenings.  

There are many of these stories from our customers—about how they evolved their mindset around change. No longer do they fear frequent change. They embrace it and see the value for their business.

Three Things to Keep in Mind for Your Upgrade Strategy

With Pivotal Platform Automation, even small platform engineering teams can make a big impact. Maximizing the value of the platform while minimizing delivery time, risk, and waste can change the way your organization builds and runs software.

Remember these three objectives of a continuous upgrade strategy:

  1. Apply security patches regularly—Security threats will continue to grow (16,555 CVEs were published in 2018 alone!). Pivotal is dedicated to making your platform secure, and your strategy should take advantage of this.

  2. Take small, frequent upgrades—It’s never a good feeling to be behind on upgrades. By applying updates regularly, you can avoid the stress, expense and exposure of a big, time-intensive upgrade project.

  3. Give your developers the latest features—A sure way to keep you developers coming back for more is to give them the latest features without delay. Keeping tools and services up-to-date is not a trivial effort, and you’ll be rewarded for maintaining your platform as a product.

Get started with Platform Automation:

About the Author

Nadja Conklin

Nadja is a Senior Product Manager at Pivotal Software, passionate about strategy, design, innovative process, and inspiring teams

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