How many technicians does it take to run a company’s IT department?
Today, the answer varies massively depending on the company. In a run-of-the-mill IT department, the average ratio of technicians to servers is less than 1 to 500. At hyper-efficient Facebook on the other hand, that number is between 1 to 15,000-20,000.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup StackStorm is among a crop of recent entrants aiming to close that efficiency gap with rules-based DevOps automation tools, which eliminate the formulaic work of manual troubleshooting and provisioning.
StackStorm’s platform plugs in to more than 680 IT management and configuration subsystems, using everything from APIs to command-line-interface scripts to pull information and trigger actions. Operators can then pull from a community library of open source rules and workflows, or write their own in a simple markup language, telling StackStorm what calls to send to subsystems based on information or events.
Similar startups include Factor.io, and Amazon Web Services offers the Lambda automation tool for companies on their infrastructure. But since launching in November, StackStorm’s automation software has built a notable following on the strength of its open source business model and focus on simplicity.
“Below the application, everything is going to be open source now,” says StackStorm CEO and co-founder Evan Powell, former founding CEO of storage firm Nexenta Systems. “It’s not a philosophical debate to me — you have to be. Then as a business person you have to figure out how to use open source to your advantage.”
For Powell, that has included saving on marketing expenses by having potential paying customers self-adopt, and a growing community of users who contribute new integrations or bug fixes.
As for the sizable number of users who will likely download the code and never hire StackStorm for integration or support, Powell views that as “part of the open source tax.”
“DevOps is really fast. It’s all about quick interactions and getting quick answers,” says Eric Brinkman, product manager of Rackspace’s DevOps automation service.
The cloud provider has been trialing StackStorm since February, tying the automation service to its customer-facing Slack rooms. Using snippets of code typed directly in the chat conversation, Rackspace clients can spin up new servers or trigger a host of automated actions.
Think of it as the automator of automators. While services like Puppet or Chef manage and store server configurations, StackStorm ties into those subsystems to trigger pre-set actions — spinning up a server configuration saved in Chef in response to a particular customer service ticket, for example.
“I would say we’re in the beginning stages of figuring out what to do with it,” Brinkman says. “But from a theoretical stance, you should be able to do anything.”