06 April 2016

Project background

Several years ago I began the journey to better systematize my server management workflow. At the time I was managing over 20 server instances, almost entirely ‘by hand’, meaning I did things like keeping checklists for the steps to rebuild critical servers, running software updates on each individually, etc. Then, I finally took the time to research server configuration management software, selected Salt as my tool, and completely re-oriented my relationship to dealing with software updates, new server builds, etc.

Managing a server this way means that you don’t change anything about the server directly, but instead write code that makes the changes for you. While this does involve a learning curve (it’s almost always faster to just run a command straight from the command line than write code to run the command for you), the benefits of this approach far outweigh the costs in the long run:

  • Automatically rebuild any server from scratch: As long as you have data backups, it’s no longer a big deal if your server tanks. Rebuilding becomes a glorified version of rebooting your computer when it’s acting weird
  • Consistency in dev -> staging -> production environments: You can be much more sure that the server you’re doing development on is consistent with the server that will run in production. With tools like Vagrant, combined with server configuration management, you can run virtually the identical server on your laptop that you do for your customers.
  • Clear documentation: This cannot be underestimated. The exact steps to re-create your mission critical infrastructure is written in code, which means both certainty about how it works, and ease of transfer of this knowledge to other maintainers.

Even though this approach is well known by hard core sysadmins, I suspect many people who could profit from it still have not taken the leap, either through ignorance or the barrier of the learning curve.

Fast forward to last year, and I’m working on CircleAnywhere, an online group meditation platform, using FreeSWITCH for some of the video conferencing portions. Naturally the server, being mission-critical to the project, was built using a Salt configuration for all the reasons mentioned above. It was a fair amount of work to hammer out the deployment, and it occurred to me that a lot of the heavy lifting I had done was the same heavy lifting that anyone rolling out a new FreeSWITCH server (whether for local development or in production) had to do. So I decided to do just a little bit more work, and repackage my efforts for the good of others. :)

FreeSWITCH Kickstart

Thus was born FreeSWITCH Kickstart, a Vagrant/Salt configuration for automatically deploying a FreeSWITCH server for either development or production. Installation locally via Vagrant or remotely involves only a few simple steps (the most difficult of which is acquiring valid SSL certificates for production builds).

The project strives to provide these three things:

  1. An easy way to get up and running with a local FreeSWITCH development environment
  2. A sane/convenient starting point for rolling a production server.
  3. A nice starter template for admins who want their FreeSWITCH server under Salt server configuration management.

A ton of stuff is done automagically for you – even if you don’t like/need it all, it’s still an awesome way to get going!

I’ve written up a fairly comprehensive features list, so you know what you’re getting.

I hope the community will benefit from this work, and doubly hope that others will offer refinements on this first effort. My intention is to maintain this project for the FreeSWITCH community, keeping it up to date with the installation procedure for the latest code and recommended operating system. If anyone would like to join me in maintainership of the project, I would certainly welcome it. :)