Open Service as a Service in Practice

This is a follow-up to the open-source-as-a-service blog post of a friend and a colleague of mine, Stef Walter.

TL;DR of Stef’s article is that open source services are hard to contribute to. Any first-time contributor is probably having hard times to try changes locally in the same way the service is deployed in production.

Imagine that you’d be able to contribute to GitHub and try your change in some playground moments later you opened your PR. Freakin’ awesome, right?! I strongly advise you to read Stef’s blog post to understand this concept further.

In this article I’d like to discuss the practical side of this - how can one actually achieve such glorious service contribution model?

Please don’t expect to get an end-to-end guide here - that would take a book to write, instead I intend to give you a few advices how to proceed.

How do I even start?

The beginning of your journey should be to set goals: clearly define your milestones (ideally with acceptance criteria) and start working towards that goal.

Stef already wrote a list of well-defined stages which you can embrace on your journey. It means that our end-goal then is:

All changes proposed against project's repositories are deployed to a
playground where contributors can try them out.

One note here is that certain milestones can have requirements: you may state that a certain container engine needs to be available to achieve a milestone.

Asking again: how do I start?

10 stages, sounds pretty intimidating. The technology that helped us to move up the ladder was containers and OpenShift. That’s what the stage 3 is about - be able to build container images of your service no matter the developer’s OS and deploy them into k8s or OpenShift.

What tools do I use?

Containers and OpenShift are clear at this point and that should narrow our scope.

The next main tool which will help you is… Automation!

If you need to do manual steps to achieve parts of the development workflow, it’s just a burden which is holding you back to progress further. The automation doesn’t need to be perfect - in fact, it will never be, just make sure it’s implemented, you can always improve it with spending further development cycles on it once you are aware of the main drawbacks.

Actual tooling? Whatever fits you and your team: e.g. we are using Ansible to achieve most of the automation paired with OpenShift Jobs and expanding into GitHub actions.

Some (Red Hat) teams are using Argo CD, Tekton and Kustomize. Make sure to do your research and pick tooling which is best for your use cases.

The principle remains the same though: use continuous integration to verify the change passes automated tests and continuous delivery for users and developers to try the change before (or after) it’s merged with as little disruption in production as possible.

Last words

This is really hard. We already did an analysis how to achieve this contribution model for our project, packit, and the task list is pretty long. On the other hand, the payoff is mind-blowing: anyone can open a PR against a repo in our project and be able to play with it once it’s deployed - without even knowing how to deploy our service. I would use it all the time when working on our project.

Happy hacking and best of luck!

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