Building AMIs with Packer

During the planning stages of our migration to AWS, we identified the need to create custom images (AMI’s) as the base for new instances. While we are relatively experienced with Chef, we found that running Chef at instance launch time was much longer than acceptable. Creating custom AMI’s that are preconfigured (known as baking) allowed us to shift the heavy lifting from instance launch time to an earlier, out-of-band time.

In designing this process, we came up with multiple goals – we needed to have a reliable, repeatable, auditable and tested process with a fast spin-up time. This post explores our recent infrastructure automation efforts in this area.

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How do eBay, IBM, Morgan Stanley, and EasyJet view the Cloud?

This is a report back from Cloud Expo Europe 2013 where keynote talks from IBM, eBay, EasyJet to Morgan Stanley gave a view of how far the cloud has been adopted. In short, the cloud has ‘landed’; it is no longer hype or on the bleeding edge but is being used in organisations both large and small. For some businesses it is still early days but many are carrying out implementations to understand the tools and processes they need in order to use the cloud, as well as the organisation changes required.

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Why we built an on-premise private cloud for software test and integration

At we recently transformed our software release process by rebuilding our problematic test and integration environments on a private (on-premise) PaaS cloud platform. The outcome of the 8 month project was a fully automated and repeatable infrastructure and software build process that reduced the environment build time from 12 weeks down to 4.5 hours, achieving ROI within 8 months. In this post we’ll share the rationale behind why we chose private cloud over the readily available public cloud offerings, details of the components, what we’ve learnt, and how we were able to use the experience to improve our other environments and processes.

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London Continuous Delivery meetup – January 2013

On 17th January the engineering team at here at hosted a meetup of the London Continuous Delivery group at our offices in central London. About 50 group members were joined by 15 or so staff from thetrainline in a discussion led by Andy Hawkins from Opscode, originators of infrastructure automation tool Chef. We saw a demo of Chef working with ThoughtWorks GO to build EC2 instances, and there were interesting discussions on auto-scaling and organisational change.

Update: podcast now available…

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Engineering Day – Lifting the Bonnet

Over the past year there have been a huge number of changes and improvements carried out by the engineering teams at, so we techies decided to invite the non-techies within the company to a day of talks and demos on 28th September to ‘lift the bonnet’ and explain what we get up to; to showcase some of the work we have been doing to improve user experience, speed up deployments, reduce operational costs, and generally Make Things Better. Engineering Day - posters

In all there were 16 sessions of around 15-20 minutes each, with presenters from almost every team within the IDG (engineering) department.

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Service Tech Symposium: Fault-Tolerant Cloud Design, Conway’s Law and SOA

On 24 September I went to Service Technology Symposium 2012 in London to see the latest industry thinking around cloud and datacentre automation. In the engineering team at we have recently been busy fleshing out our strategy for cloud computing. We virtualised our Production infrastructure a few years ago, and we’re now looking at various forms of public and hybrid cloud (on-premise plus IaaS/PaaS) and more advanced infrastructure automation.

Two of the sessions in particular were useful: Fault-Tolerant Cloud Computing by John deVadoss of Microsoft [slides], and Conway’s Law and Service-Orientation by HP and Vodafone [slides].

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