Chaos by the Dashboard Lights
This week at Red Hat’s AnsibleFest in Atlanta, the company revealed that it's expanding its Ansible enterprise package to help admins better automate IT provisioning. The ways that Ansible is being used to provision and update IT resources is expanding and deepening in scope.
One of the new features for the platform is analytics, a set of dashboards displaying how specific automation actions performed in detail, including statistics and data around modules and resources. Conference attendees packed a Wednesday technical session, led by Red Hat Architect John Wadleigh, explaining what these analytics capabilities would provide. Users could view aggregated deployment metrics across multiple Ansible Tower (Red Hat’s “enterprise” Ansible) clusters, or by the organization, or even by individual tasks. Users, for instance, can compare the usage across different organizations. “You can use this data to show how organizations are using automation to improve business performance over time,” Wadleigh said.
The dashboards were pretty snazzy, but they opened up a veritable Pandora’s Box of user expectations for Red Hat. When the Q&A portion of the presentation came around, attendees asked about support on an almost bewildering wide array of other metrics that would help them in their own operations. Could it do health monitoring? Can you break up jobs between those that failed and those that were successful? Wadleigh’s answer to most of these queries was to thank the questioner for the feedback and say that Red Hat would consider that for a future edition.
The Analytics Team, while having a hit on their hands, also has a lot of more work to do now, it would seem. Honeycomb.io’s Charity Majors has long warned us about the limitations of dashboards. Meaningful views of distributed computing are getting so difficult to capture that no set of dashboards, however exhaustive, could help answer the next question someone would have about the data.
Perhaps the Ansible team could take a cue from New Relic, which last week opened up its own analytics platform to programmability. Like Ansible, New Relic captures all user’s performance data on its own servers, and offers dashboards as a service. But with New Relic’s programmability, the users can slice and dice the data in the ways that best fit their requirements.
We asked Wadleigh if Ansible would consider offering its own “build-your-dashboard” capability at one point, and he had replied that it could be a possibility down the road, if users expressed an interest. But, given the onslaught of requests for new dashboards coming in already — and the analytics won’t even be ready for existing customers until November — we suspect that that feature might be bumped up on the to-do list sooner rather than later.