Docker Birmingham – September

Yesterday evening I went to my first Docker Birmingham meetup, sponsored by Black Cat Technology Solutions.

I was so tired before the event I was really nervous I would fall asleep half way through a presentation and start snoring. 🙂 When I got there I was greeted by an array of pizzas. I wanted to eat them so badly, but then I would definitely sleep, so I resisted. 🙂 I spent a bit of time chatting to one of the hosts Shaun McLernon before the sessions started.

The agenda had a last minute change, as one of the speakers was ill, so the first presentation was a lighthearted one by Alistair Hey called “CV Driven Development – Why it’s ok not to be ‘cool’. ” He spoke about the things that trigger alarm bells when he’s looking at CVs, and used that as a segway into comparing what’s cool, with what just works. A specific case being a comparison between Kubernetes and AWS ECS, where he compared the pros and cons of each. The take home message was use the correct tool for the job, where the “correct tool” choice will be influenced by your requirements, skills and what works for your organisation.

Being short of a speaker, a couple of folks stepped up to talk about their projects in a lightning talk style. First up was Marcus Oaten with a talk about an environment built on Docker for testing new architectures for a Drupal application. Essentially using Docker to model all the services and layers to try new approaches out before having to commit to a specific architectural change.

Next up was Dan Webb speaking about the evolution of the builds used for a PHP environment he was working on. Moving from large-ish multi-purpose containers to smaller single-purpose containers with separation of duties and multi-stage builds.

I think the lightning talks worked really well. They triggered a lot of discussion, with people throwing out ideas.

The meetup was really useful. I like the “this is what we are doing” stuff, as it feels a lot more real, and shows the thought process and progression. I’m not sure about the experience level of the other folks, but I’m a Docker newbie, so this sort of thing is more important to me than hearing all about the super-cool stuff I will probably never use. I like hearing that as well, but this this stuff is more relevant to me at this stage.

I definitely plan to go again. Thanks to the folks at Black Cat Technology Solutions for sponsoring and organising the event, and to the speakers for stepping up to the plate.



Midlands Microsoft 365 and Azure User Group – Launch

Last night I went to the launch of a new meetup call Midlands Microsoft 365 and Azure User Group. It was co-organised by Urfaan Azhar and Lee Thatcher from Pure Technology Group, and Adrian Newton and Mark Smith from my company.

Some of you may have noticed this isn’t about Oracle. Yes we have a big Oracle Cloud Apps thing and a bunch of Oracle on-prem stuff, but we also have a lot of Microsoft stuff here, including loads of mailboxes on Office 365 etc. As a result, Azure is also becoming a big thing for us.

I’ve used Azure a bit for some Oracle trials, with the articles on the site, and I did a WebLogic on Azure talk some years back, but this is pretty far out of my lane, so I was really there to show some support to our folks and trying to learn some stuff. 🙂

The turnout was really good. I think there were about 40 people in total, with about 6 coming from our company. For the first event I was kind-of expecting more of “us”, and less of “not us”, so the fact so many “not us” turned up was awesome! Getting a couple of Microsoft Most Valuable Professisonal (MVP) speakers for the launch event was cool.

After some introductions from Urfan and Lee, the first speaker was Ed Baker with an “Introduction to Microsoft 365”. The purpose of this session was for Ed to give an overview of the M365 stack and try to gauge what we were interested in, to see how the meetup should move forward in future. Ed is an Enterprise Mobility MVP and is clearly comfortable in front of an audience.

After food (Pizza and Indian) and drinks it was time for Gareth Jones with “An Introduction to Microsoft Azure”. Gareth talked about the way Microsoft deliver the Azure services, including the setup of their data centres. Once again, this was about gauging the interest for the different aspects of Azure. Gareth is an Azure MVP, and just like Ed was very happy in front of a crowd.

It was a really good start for the new meetup. Big thanks to Urfaan, Lee, Adrian and Mark for getting this going. Thanks to Ed and Gareth for taking the time to come and speak to us. Thanks to everyone who turned up to support the event, as well as the sponsor Pure Technology Group. I look forward to the next event, to see how this moves forward!



Birmingham Digital & DevOps Meetup : August 2019

Yesterday evening I went along to the Birmingham Digital & DevOps Meetup for the first time. It followed the usual meetup format of quick intro, talk, break, talk then home.

First up was Elton Stoneman from Docker with “Just What Is A “Service Mesh”, And If I Get One Will It Make Everything OK?” The session started by describing the problems associated with communication between the building blocks of a system, and how a service mesh can alleviate some of them. It then moved on to some service mesh demos using Istio. These included examples of altering the routing of traffic to do canary testing and targeting specific groups etc.

Elton was really honest about the learning curve, issues and overhead associated with this sort of setup. One comment I really liked was when he showed a slide containing the following, saying that often people assume there is a progression from left to right.

Meaning people assume you learn Docker, then you need some form of orchestration so you learn Swarm. From there you naturally progress to Kubernetes and once you understand that, you will inevitably move on to a service mesh using something like Istio. Elton’s point was you don’t *have to* continue on this progression. You can step off at any point once you’ve achieved the functionality you need. I think this is a really important point and I can see it reflected in what I do with Docker. We’ve got some things that stop at just using Docker containers, with no orchestration at all. I work on a project that requires some orchestration, so we use Swarm, which is really easy to use. So far I’ve had no reason to go beyond Swarm, and even considering a service mesh is so far down the line for us. I’m not discounting the relevance of these for everyone, but they don’t make sense for me at this point.

It was a really good session and I learned a lot. You can check out Elton’s blog here.

After the break it was James Relph with “Container Security Fundamentals”. This started of with a basic introduction to containers, using that as an entry point to explain how containers can be problematic from a security perspective, and what you can do to reduce the impact. He covered a lot of stuff, some of which I already do, some I know about and some stuff that was new to me. This is not an exhaustive list.

  • Don’t automatically trust images from Docker hub. Do your due diligence, even when they are from a reputable source.
  • Use your own image repository. He mentioned ECR amongst others. This can be used for your own images, but also base images from Docker Hub, which you have verified.
  • Don’t use “latest”, but use specific tagged versions. Latest gives you all the latest fixes, but all the latest bugs too. You should test and verify before you let images out into your infrastructure.
  • Multi-stage builds to reduce the size of containers and minimise the attack surface. Basically, copy out what you need and leave the crap behind.
  • Using sidecar containers to provide specific services, allowing your application images to remain more focused. The sidecar images can be maintained by feature experts to make sure they are as secure as possible.
  • Scanning images using Clair, amongst other things, to check for dodgy software. One of the audience mentioned Anchore.
  • Using microVMs like Firecracker to provide additional isolation, whilst retaining the ease of use of containers. I’ve not played with this, but I have tried Kata Containers, which seems to do pretty much the same.

There was a lot in there!

I was a bit nervous going into the event thinking it would all go over my head, and some of it probably did, but it was cool. I got to speak to a few people before the event, during the break and at the end. It seemed like there were quite a mix of people there from beginners in these areas upward, so I didn’t feel out of place.

A few times I found myself thinking, that’s great, but what do I do about my 3rd party applications? I’ve written before (here) about how 3rd party apps screw everything up. 🙂

Thanks to Elton Stoneman and James Relph for taking the time to come and speak to us. Thanks to the folks from BrumDigitalDevOps for organising the event, and to Capgemini UK for sponsoring the event.



Paris Province Oracle Meetup

paris-province-oracle-meetupThe reason for me being in Paris was to speak at the Paris Province Oracle Meetup. Breaking my journey to the Netherlands with a quick trip to Paris was a really easy way to connect with more people.

The Paris meetup is very similar to those found in other cities around the world, including Oracle Midlands in my home town. We all gathered at about 19:00 in the AVNET office in Paris and I did two talks with a short break between them. The first talk was about pluggable databases and the second one was about running Oracle databases in the cloud.

I like these local meetups. They feel a lot less formal and more personal than some (but not all) conferences. It just feels more natural to me. I really enjoyed doing the talks and the crowd seemed to respond well to them, which was nice. I’ll definitely be back again, if they will have me. Maybe next time I will get to do some sightseeing in Paris too. 🙂

The meetup finished at about 21:45 and Stew Aston took me out to get some food. We chatted for ages about life, the Universe and Oracle. 🙂 Once the food was over, he gave me a lift back to my hotel and by the time I got into bed it was about 01:00.

Big thanks for Yves for inviting me across to the event, and thank you to everyone who came out to support the event. Without you it can’t happen. Also thanks go out to the Oracle ACE Program for continuing to let me fly the flag. 🙂

So that’s paris done in less than 24 hours. Next stop the Netherlands!