Consul in a Microservices Environment at Neofonie GmbH

Consul in a Microservices Environment at Neofonie GmbH

May 27 2015 Kevin Fishner

Neofonie GmbH is a German software company with offices in Berlin and Hamburg. The firm is a solution and full-service provider specializing on portals, search, social media, e-publishing and mobile applications. With a range of clients and services, Neofonie works in highly complex, fast-changing environments. Neofonie uses a three-stage continuous delivery pipeline which uses Consul as a foundation to safely move applications between environments.

You can find an excerpt of the German version of this post on Neofonie's blog.

The problem: promoting software across environments is error-prone

Responsible software release cycles usually require promoting software across testing, staging, and production environments. This process, while enabling safety, can be error prone and difficult. For example, you can start multiple services in a local environment, but the IPs must be changed so services can properly discover each other in this environment. Then when the software is deployed to a different environment, the IPs need to change again. Doing this for dozens of interconnected services, becomes unmanageable and error-prone.

One of the biggest projects at Neofonie uses a three-stage continuous delivery pipeline. Previously to move an application between stages, each stage had its own property file with appropriate IPs for that specific stage. For example, the development stage required you to connect to a MySQL instance on your localhost, which needed to be manually configured.

However in staging and production, the application has to connect to a remote MySQL instance. There have been times where the wrong IPs were committed and the staging environment tried to connect to MySQL on localhost. Or even worse, the development environment tried to connect to production MySQL instances. Of course, mistakes cannot be completely avoided, but we needed to take steps to reduce the risks inherent involved in continuous delivery pipelines.

The applications are packaged as Docker containers, which isolates them from other services and the underlying OS. However, Docker doesn't solve the problem of discovering dependent services. Dependent IPs can be injected into the Docker container on initialization, but what happens if a service goes down or is restarted? There would be no way to inform other services of the new location. The dynamic nature of containers requires a new approach. Neofonie wanted to just start containers and have all dependencies managed without manual intervention to update IPs. Consul is now used to achieve this.

Containerized services with Consul as a service registry

Using Consul as a DNS server in combination with the Consul Service Registry means that a set of Docker-images can start anywhere without changing properties. The Consul registry confines the boundaries of a service-topology per se. The service-topology becomes decoupled from the underlying machines. Be it development, test or production, the way services are queried always remains the same. The service environment is governed by a specific Consul-instance which has proved to be a very elegant solution.

The Service Registry keeps track of all available services in a specific environment. The Consul registry is packaged in a container as well, making it easy to bring up in any environment. The other containers in the environment each hold a Consul agent and are made aware of the Consul registry when they are started. This is accomplished by using the link-mechanism that Docker provides to share environment variables between containers.

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