Social networks for servers

08/14/2011

A while ago Techcrunch profiled a company called Nodeable who closed 2 mil funding. They bill themselves as a social network for servers and have some cartoon and a beta invite box on their site but no actual usable information. I signed up but never heard from them. So I’ve not seen what they’re doing at all.
Either way I thought the idea sucked.

Since then I kept coming back to it thinking maybe it’s not bad at all, I’ve seen many companies try to include the rest of the business into the status of their networks with big graph boards and complex alerting that is perhaps not suited to the audience.

These experiments often fail and cause more confusion than clarity as the underlying systems are not designed to be friendly to business people. I had a quick twitter convo with @patrickdebois too and a few people on ##infra-talk were keen on the idea. It’s not really a surprise that a lot of us want to make the events stream of our systems more accessible to the business and other interested parties.

So I setup a copy of status.net – actually I used the excellent appliance from Turnkey Linux and it took 10 minutes. I gave each of my machines an account with the username being their MAC address and hooked into my existing event stream, it was all less than 150 lines of code and the result is quite pleasing.

What makes this compelling is specifically that it is void of technical details, no mention of /dev/sda1 and byte counts and percentages that makes text hard to scan or understand by non tech people. Just simple things like Experiencing high load #warning This is something normal people can easily digest. It’s small enough to scan really quickly and for many users this is all they need to know.

At the moment I have Puppet changes, IDS events and Nagios events showing up on a twitter like timeline for all my machines. I hash tag the tweets using things like #security, #puppet, and #fail for failing puppet resources. #critical, #warning, #ok for nagios etc. I plan on also adding hash tags matching machine roles as captured in my CM. Click on the image to the right for a bigger example.

Status.net is unfortunately not the tool to build this on, it’s simply too buggy and too limited. You can make groups and add machines to groups but this isn’t something like Twitters lists thats user managed, I can see a case where a webmaster will just add the machines he knows his apps runs on in a list and follow that. You can’t easily do this with status.net. My machines has their fqdn as real names, why on earth status.net doesn’t show real names in the timeline I don’t get, I hope it’s a setting I missed. I might look towards something like Yammer for this or if Nodable eventually ships something that might do.

I think the idea has a lot of merit. If I think about the 500 people I follow on twitter, its hard work but not at all unmanageable and you would hope those 500 people are more chatty than a well managed set of servers. The tools we already use like lists, selective following, hashtags and clients for mobiles, desktop, email notifications and RSS all apply to this use case.

Imagine your servers profile information contained a short description of function. The contact email address is the team responsible for it. The geo information is datacenter coordinates. You could identify ‘hot spots’ in your infrastructure by just looking at tweets on a map. Just like we do with tweets for people.

I think the idea has legs, status.net is a disappointment. I am quite keen to see what Nodeable comes out with and I will keep playing with this idea.