DebOps philosophy

In this section, you can read about DebOps from personal perspective of its authors. We hope that this will help explain how the project came to be, what its goals are, and where it is heading.

Maciej Delmanowski

I'm using GNU/Linux as operating system since 2001. Since 2002 I'm using primarily the Debian GNU/Linux distribution, or its derivatives, both on private and work computers, workstations and servers alike. I really like Debian, both from the software side, as well as the philosophy behind the project.

At the moment I'm not a Debian Developer, however I would still like to contribute to the project, at least in a small, but meaningful way. Most of my professional focus for the last few years has been on Debian system administration, therefore this is what I'd like to offer to the Debian community - my experience as a sysadmin, the knowledge how to manage a Debian host, or a cluster of hosts together.

In the past that was primarily done through books, blog posts, HOWTOs, manual pages. But this method is brittle, and requires a person that can process the information, adapt it to their needs as well as changes to the current operating system and software stack, and perform the necessary operations. Recently, multiple configuration management tools have been created, that offer another avenue of sharing the knowledge about system administration in a different, programmable and automated way.

The Ansible project is one such tool. It is very easy to use, but powerful configuration language, very friendly towards system administrators. In the past, while evaluating different configuration management systems to use at my workplace, I noticed that there were no easy to use, extensible, general purpose projects that managed Debian-based environments using Ansible. Since I needed such a project to manage different, heterogeneous Debian servers, I started writing one. Over time, it has evolved into DebOps.

The name "DebOps" is a portmanteau of "Debian" and "Operations", and it hints at the purpose of the project itself - to help IT Operations teams manage Debian or Debian-based environments. I don't think that I can be cited as an author of this name. Instead, I'd like to quote an article written by Enrico Zini, a Debian Developer, who in 2014 wrote about "Debops" methodology:

What I like the most about being a Developer is building tools to (hopefully) make someone's life better. I like it when my software gets used, and people thank me for it, because there was a need they had that wasn't met before, and thanks to my software now it is being met. I am maintaining software for meteorological research that is soon going to be 10 years old, and is still evolving and getting Real Work done.

I like to develop software as if it is going to become a part of human cultural heritage, developing beyond my capacity, eventually surviving me, allowing society to declare that the need, small as it was, is now met, and move on to worry about some other problem. I feel that if I'm not thinking of my software in that way, then I am not being serious. Then I am not developing something fit for other people to use and rely on.

This involves Development as much as it involves Operations: tracking security updates for all the components that make up a system. Testing. Quality assurance. Scalability. Stability. Hardening. Monitoring. Maintenance requirements. Deployment and upgrade workflows. Security. I came to learn that the requirements put forward by sysadmins are to be taken seriously, because they are the ones whose phone will ring in the middle of the night when your software breaks.

I am also involved in more than one software project. I am responsible for about a dozen web applications deployed out there in the wild, and possibly another dozen of non-web projects, from terabyte-sized specialised archival tools to little utilities that are essential links in someone's complex toolchain.

I build my software targeting Debian Stable + Backports. At FOSDEM I noticed that some people consider it uncool. I was perplexed.

It provides me with a vast and reasonably recent set of parts to use to build my systems. It provides me with a single bug tracking system for all of them, and tools to track known issues in the systems I deployed. It provides me with a stable platform, with a well documented upgrade path to the next version. It gives me a release rhythm that allows me to enjoy the sweet hum of spinning fans thinking about my next mischief, instead of spending my waking time chasing configuration file changes and API changes deep down in my dependency chain.

It allows me to rely on Debian for security updates, so I don't have to track upstream activity for each one of the building blocks of the systems I deploy. It allows me not to worry about a lot of obscure domain specific integration issues. Coinstallability of libraries with different ABI versions. Flawless support for different versions of Python, or Lua, or for different versions of C++ compilers.

It has often happened to me to hear someone rant about a frustrating situation, wonder how come it had never happened to me, and realise that someone in Debian, who happens to be more expert than I can possibly be, had thought hard about how to deal with that issue, years before. I know I cannot be an expert of the entire stack from bare iron all the way up, and I have learnt to stand on the shoulders of giants.

'Devops' makes sense for me in that it hints at this cooperation between developers and operators, having constructive communication, knowing that each side has their own needs, trying their best to meet them all. It hints at a perfect world where developers and operators finally come to understand and trust each other's judgement. I don't know that perfect world, but I, a developer, do like to try to understand and trust the judgement of sysadmins. I sympathise with my sysadmin friends who feel that devops is turning into a trend of developers thinking they can do without sysadmins. Reinventing package managers. Bundling dependencies. Building "apps" instead of components.

I wish that people who deploy a system built on such premises, have it become so successful that they end up being paid to maintain them for their whole career. That is certainly what I wish and strive for, for me and my own projects. In my experience, a sustainable and maintainable system won't come out of the startup mindset of building something quick&dirty, then sell it and move on to something else.

In my experience, the basis for having sustainable and maintainable systems have been well known and tested in Debian, and several other distributions, for over two decades. At FOSDEM, we thought that we need a name for such a mindset.

Between beers, that name came to be "debops". (It's not just Debian, though: many other distributions get it right, too)

—Enrico Zini, "Debops"

His words deeply resonated with me. I would like to think that my work on DebOps will be useful to other Debian sysadmins and users out there, for many years to come. I hope that with time DebOps will grow beyond just a software project and will become something much more, either within Debian itself, or right beside it.

Robin ypid Schneider

I made the switch to GNU/Linux as my main OS in August 2009 and self-taught myself most of it‘s internals when I was in the last years of secondary school. Since 2012 I'm primarily using Debian GNU/Linux be it on private and work computers and servers alike. I really like Debian and would like to become a Debian Developer some day.

Starting in 2012, I worked 5 years as a IT Consultant until 2017, mainly deploying and advocating Free and Open Source software. During that time, I set up and deployed a monitoring appliance based on Debian, Icinga and Check_MK as well as file syncing appliance based on Debian and ownCloud. The file syncing appliance was build from the ground up with DebOps and deployment was also done with Ansible and DebOps. The monitoring appliance was set up by me before I knew fancy tools like Ansible/DebOps. Currently, I am working as a full-time sysadmin, mainly doing scripting, monitoring, security and automation. Sadly, neither Debian, nor Ansible/DebOps play a big role currently. Feel free to get in touch if you think otherwise and are fully committed to Free Software.

I came to DebOps shortly after I settled on Ansible as the configuration management system of choice for my private infrastructure, because DebOps is the most comprehensive approach to CM for Debian GNU/Linux I could find. Since 2015-02 I am using it for most of my machines and various projects at work and I'm quite happy with it. I did not lose much time as a user of DebOps and started contributing to it and helping DebOps evolve. In 2016-07, I officially became the second DebOps Developer when Maciej and me set up the debops-keyring.

One of my big interests is IT security, so together with Maciej I put a lot of effort into DebOps to create something worthwhile, that can be relied upon to a reasonable extend, be Free Software and auditable. I am actively working on making the project as secure and privacy-friendly by default as possible and I will not stand backdoors or any kind of weakening which third parties might like to include in projects like DebOps. I am not using every component/role that DebOps provides currently, but the ones I do are carefully reviewed and tested by me. Refer to for my ongoing, digitally signed status of this review. I understand that being a developer of a project designed to set up and configure thousands of servers and workstations (not the main goal of DebOps but it works quite nice for me) results in a lot of responsibility. I am doing what I can to keep up with that. For example, I switched to Qubes OS in 2016-12. All my development work is done from there from now on. OpenPGP signatures come from stripped down, offline VMs. The reason I am doing all of this as a responsable sysadmin and developer is to keep our dear users safe during those difficult and advanced times.

DebOps is already one of a kind when it comes to configuration management for Debian. The reason I joined the project is it’s commitment to excellence which I now like to give back to the project and all its users.

"We do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard."