In the Software world, Developer communities have been the de facto standard since the rise of the Open Source movement. Once started as a counter-culture alternative to the commercial dominance of Microsoft, open source spread rapidly way beyond its initial roots. Nowadays, very few questions the motivations to offer an open source option as a valid go to market strategy. Many software vendors have been using this approach in the last few years to acquire customers through the freemium model and eventually generate significant business (Redhat among others). From a marketing standpoint, a community is as a great vehicle to increase brand visibility and reach to the end users.
If in theory, it all sounds great and fun, our journey from concept to reality was long and arduous.
It all starts with a cultural change. While it now seems straight-forward for most software engineers (just like smartphones and ubiquitous wifi are to millennials), changing the mindset from a culture of privacy and secret to one of openness is significant, especially for more mature companies. With roots in the conservative air force, this shift did not happen overnight at Quali. In fact, it took us about 3 years to get all the pieces off the ground and get the whole company aligned behind this new paradigm. Eventually, what started as a bottom-up, developer-driven initiative, bubbled up to the top and became both a business opportunity and a way to establish a competitive edge.
A startup like Quali can only put so many resources behind the development of custom integrations. As an orchestration solution depending on a stream of up to date content, the team was unable to keep up with the constant stream of customer demand. The only way to scale was to open up our platform to external contributors and standardize through an open source model (TOSCA). Additionally, automation development was shifting to Python-based scripting, away from proprietary, visual-based languages. Picking up on that trend early on, we added a new class of objects (called "Shells") to our product that supported Python natively and became the building blocks of all our content.
We started exploring existing examples of communities that we could leverage. There is thankfully no shortage of successful software communities in the Cloud and DevOps domain: AWS, Ansible, Puppet, Chef, Docker to name a few. What came across pretty clearly: a developer community isn't just a marketplace where users can download the latest plugins to our platform. Even if it all started with that requirement, we soon realized this would not be nearly enough.
What we really needed was to build a comprehensive "one-stop shopping" experience: a technical forum, training, documentation, an idea box, and an SDK that would help developers create and publish new integrations. We had bits and pieces of these components mostly available to internal authorized users, and this was an opportunity to open this knowledge to improve access and searchability. This also allowed us to consolidate disjointed experiences and provide a consistent look and feel for all these services. Finally, it was a chance to revisit some existing processes that were not working effectively for us, like our product enhancement requests.
Once we had agreed on the various functions we expected our portal to host, it was time to select the right platform(s). While there was no vendor covering 100% of our needs, we ended up picking AnswerHub for most of the components such as Knowledge Base Forum, idea box and integrations, and using a more specialized backend for our Quali University training platform. For code repository, GitHub, already the ubiquitous standard with developers, was a no-brainer.
We also worked on making the community content easier to consume for your target developer audience. That included a command line utility that would make it simple to create new integration, "ShellFoundry". Who said developing Automation has to be a complicated and tedious process? With a few commands, this CLI tool can get you started in a few minutes. Behind the scene? a bunch of Tosca based templates covering the 90% of the needs while the developer can customize the remaining 10% to build the desired automation workflow. It also involved product enhancements to make sure this newly developed content would be easily uploaded and managed by our platform.
Once we got all the pieces in place, it was now time to grow the community beyond the early adopters. It started with educating our sales engineers and customer success with the new capabilities, then communicating it to our existing customer base. they embraced the new experience eagerly, since searching and asking for technical information was so much faster. They also now had visibility through our idea box of all current enhancement requests and could endorse other customer's suggestions to bring up the priority of a given idea. 586 ideas have been submitted so far, all nurtured diligently by our product team.
The first signs of success with our community integrations came when we got technology partners signed up to develop their own integration with our product, using our SDK and publishing these as publicly downloadable content. We now have 49 community plugins and growing. This is an on-going effort raising interesting questions such as vetting the quality of a content submitted through external contributors and the support process behind it.
It's clear we've come a long way over the last 3 years. Where do we go from there? To motivate new participants, our platform offers a badge program that highlights the most active contributors in any given area. For example, you can get the "Bright Idea" badge, if you submitted an idea voted up 5 times. We also created a Champion program to reward active participants in different categories (community builder, rocket scientist...). We invite our customers to nominate their top contributors and once a quarter we select and reward winners who are also featured in an article with a nice spotlight.
What's next? Check out Quali's community, and start contributing!
Electric cars may be stealing the limelight these days, but in this blog, we'll discuss a different kind of newsworthy plugin: Quali just released the TeamCity plugin, to help DevOps teams integrate CloudShell automation platform and JetBrains TeamCity pipeline tool.
This integration package is available for download on the Quali community. It adds to a comprehensive collection of ARA pipeline tool integrations that reflects the value of CloudShell in the DevOps toolchain - To name a few: Jenkins Pipeline, XebiaLabs XL Release, CA Automic, AWS Code Pipeline, Microsoft TFS/VSTS.
JetBrains is well known for its large selection of powerful IDEs. Comes to mind their popular PyCharm for Python developers. They've also built a solid DevOps offering over the years, including TeamCity, a popular CI/CD tool to automate the release of applications.
So what does this new integration bring to the TeamCity user? Let's step back and consider the challenges most software organizations are trying to solve with application release.
Application developers and testers have a mandate to release as fast and as possible. However, they are struggling to get in a timely manner, an environment that represents accurately the desired state of the application once deployed in production. On the other hand, IT departments do have budget constraints on any resource deployed during or before production, so the onus is on the DevOps team to meet these business needs.
The CloudShell solution provides environments modeling that can closely match the end state of production using standard blueprints. Each blueprint can be deployed with standard out of the box orchestration that can provision complex application infrastructure in a multi-cloud environment. As illustrated in the diagram above, the ARA tool (TeamCity) triggers the deployment of a Cloud Sandbox at each stage of the pipeline.
The built-in orchestration also takes care of the termination of the virtual infrastructure once the test is complete. The governance and control CloudShell provides around these Sandboxes guarantee the IT department will not have to worry about budget overruns.
As we've discussed earlier, when it comes to selecting a DevOps tool for Application Release Automation, there is no lack of options. The market is still quite fragmented and we've observed from the results of our DevOps/Cloud survey as well as our own customer base, that there is no clear winner at this time.
No matter what choice our customers and prospects make, we make sure integrating with Quali's CloudShell Sandbox solution is simple: a few configuration steps that should be completed in a few minutes.
Since we have developed a large number of similar plugins over the last 2 years, there are a few principles we learned along the way and strive to follow:
With cyber-attacks on the ascent, the need to strengthen the security posture and be responsive is top of mind for CIOs, CEOs and CISOs. Security is very closely interlinked to all aspects of the business and has a direct bearing on business reputation, privacy and intellectual property. Unfortunately, the IT stack continues to get complicated even as attacks continue to get sophisticated. Further artificial simulations undertaken without a real-world replica or a virtual-only scenario can often overlook vulnerabilities that could not be seen in a simulated environment. And in the cases where an investment is made in building the complex testing infrastructure, it can often be cost prohibitive aside from the time spent to set up and tear down infrastructure and applications. This is where traditional security test beds run into bottlenecks, as they require significant, costly investments in hardware and personnel—and even then cannot scale effectively to address today’s growing network traffic volume and ever-more-complex attack vectors. Government, military, and commercial organizations are deploying “cyber ranges,” test beds that allow war games and simulations to strengthen cyber security defenses and skills.
Quali has always been involved in making these test beds highly efficient, cost-effective and scalable. Over the last few years Quali’s flagship product CloudShell has provided the ability to replicate large scale, complex and diverse networks. It can orchestrate a hybrid sandbox containing both virtual and physical resources needed for the assessment of cybertechnologies. Because cyber ranges are controlled sandbox, CloudShell resource management and automation features provides the ability to stand up and tear down cyber range sandbox as needed in a repeatable manner. Operational conditions and configurations are easily replicated to re-test cyber-attack scenarios. This sandbox utilizes resources such Ixia BreakingPoint, intrusion detection, malware analyzers, firewall appliances, and common services such as email and file servers. The sandbox resources are isolated into white, red and blue team areas for cyber warfare exercise scenarios in a controlled sandbox.
Today we announced how we took this capability a step further in association with Cypherpath to provide containerized portable infrastructure to support virtual sandboxes and cyber agents. Through this partnership, joint customers can use on-demand containerized infrastructures to create and manage cyber ranges and private cloud sandboxes. Through full infrastructure and IT environment virtualization and automation, security conscious enterprises can save millions of dollars in costs associated with creating, delivering and managing the full stack of physical compute, network and storage resources in highly secure containers.
One such customer is the United States Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) the premier combat support agency of the Department of Defense (DoD). According to Ernet McCaleb, ManTech technical director and DISA Cyber Range chief architect this solution provided them with the means to fulfil their mission without sacrificing performance or security and deliver their MPLS stack at a fraction of the cost.
Cyber Ranges are not just for federal defense establishments alone. They have broader applicability across the Enterprise.
Top 3 Reasons to use Cyber Ranges
3 questions to consider for choosing Cyber Ranges or sandbox infrastructure solutions
Teams from Quali and Cypherpath have developed a joint solution brief that can be accessed here.
Finally, as an interesting side note, CloudShell’s capabilities allowed system integrators like TSI to model tools like Cypherpath in. This becomes important as the modern IT landscape continues to evolve and allows not just security professionals, but DevOps teams, cloud architects and other system integrators to leverage the standards-based approach CloudShell has taken towards its “shells” including its open source initiatives.
As enterprises bring newer security tools into their arsenal against cyber-attacks, the modern cyber ranger solutions from the likes of Quali and Cypherpath should definitely be on top of their consideration list.