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How Auto Trader achieved the DevOps dream

Thu 13 Feb 2020 | Dave Whyte

How can organisations achieve the DevOps dream? Kubernetes, an Istio Service Mesh and a dash of innovation, says Auto Trader’s Dave Whyte

Kubernetes, the container orchestrator developed by Google and made open source by the tech giant in 2015, has become the lynchpin to DevOps success for a huge number of businesses. With Kubernetes running on cloud servers, developers and engineers have the tool and infrastructure to handle large containerised applications at the required scale for business.

Cruise control

For Dave Whyte, operations lead at UK automotive marketplace Auto Trader, a combination of Google Kubernetes Engine and an Istio service mesh has made the company’s DevOps dish taste even sweeter. At this year’s DevOps Live in London, Dave will explain why the centralised platform the company has built using the two tools is “the DevOps dream.”

The combination is a powerful weapon. But what are Kubernetes and Istio’s respective roles in the new environment?

Kubernetes provides self-healing, rapid container cluster management and quick release roll-back. Don’t worry if you’re a little confused. A cluster refers to the network of computers upon which containerised applications run, while quick release roll-back enables IT shops to jump back in time to a healthy release version. And the magic-sounding “self-healing functionality” refers to Kubernetes’ ability to restart containers that fail and kill unresponsive ones.

Istio, on the other hand, helps Auto Trader’s platform squad encrypt traffic within clusters and manage traffic between different services by setting policies. This has enabled the team to integrate security into the pipeline (known as “DevSecOps”), in line with the OWASP application security model. “All of our applications have end-to-end encryption with their own outbound and inbound network policies,” explains Dave. “We have integrated OWASP into our release pipelines and carry out regular manual and automated security scans.”

Within this dual-environment, the company’s devs effectively gain secure freedom. They can “release when they want, control inbound and outbound network rules to their apps, and adjust the CPU and Memory resource and amount of [replica containers],” explains Dave.

Need for speed

Auto Trader decided to make the switch to Kubernetes to upgrade its security layers and implement mutual Transport Layer Security (mTLS) authentication between its apps. After a spike of work, Dave’s team realised that, whilst not impossible, retrofitting this on its Cloud Stack platform would be a challenge:

Join Dave at DevOps Live, London ExCeL, 11-12 March 2020

The DevOps dream = Kubernetes / Istio Service Mesh and a dash of innovation
11 March 2020
14:30 – 14:55

“Instead we decided to pivot and explore getting this working by migrating from a virtual machine-based infrastructure to a containerised one on a public cloud. This also enabled us to be more flexible around making improvements along the way and not worry about the underlying infrastructure.”

The migration was made easier as the automotive marketplace had already containerised a large portion of its applications. “I am sure there are a lot of other companies out there who have done the same,” he says.

While it’s true that you don’t need tools like Kubernetes and Istio to reap the benefits of the DevOps philosophy, you can’t put a price on tools that give both operations and developers a clear picture into IT services and network policies. Visibility helps operations “pick up and deal with any service impacting issues as soon as they arise” while allowing developers to innovate in a way that gives operations peace of mind.

“The ‘DevOps’ Culture was already at Auto Trader before we started using Kubernetes and Istio, it has just enabled it to grow a lot stronger,” explains Dave. “Increased visibility enables developer and operations to work more closely together,” allowing them to “optimise the applications, notice issues much more quickly, faster turnarounds on fixes and instant observability confirming issues are resolved.” The numbers do the talking. Auto Trader jumped from 15,000 releases in 2018 to over 30,000 in 2019.

When Auto Trader’s IT shop set about building its centralised platform, they ensured operational support and developer integration was baked in from the start. A central feature is a command-line interface CLI that enables developers to manage apps from within the repo directory on their local machines. Additionally, they created a platform dashboard as a DevOps interface. Data is “dragged in via service discovery and network policies”. Vital information including “details of who the app owner is, links to the relevant pipeline, link to Jaeger tracing, and logging” is easy to hand.

People and culture

Aside from the technical work needed to get the environment up and running, Dave credits Auto Trader’s “core set of values” for taking its DevOps dream over the finish line. “I believe the two main ingredients to success are people and culture,” he says. At Auto Trader “all interviews are based around the values as well as technical capability”. “Having the right, diverse culture from the top down has meant that we work together, continuously improving and pushing normal boundaries.”

If you want to learn what can be achieved in DevOps with the right environment, people and culture, don’t miss Dave Whyte’s session on Day One of DevOps Live, March 11. Registration Free.

Experts featured:

Dave Whyte

Operations Squad Lead
Auto Trader UK


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