March 4, 2016

Adventures with Bluemix

March 4, 2016

Keeping up with the rapid evolution of web programming is frighteningly difficult—especially when you have a day job. To ensure I don’t get left behind, I like to build a small project every year or so with a collection of the most buzzworthy technologies I can find. Nothing particularly impressive, of course, but just a collection of buttons that do things. This year I am trying to get a good grasp on “as a Service,” which seems to be everywhere these days. Hopefully this adventure will prove educational.

Why use services when I can do it myself?

The main idea behind “as a Service” is that somewhere out there in the cloud, someone has figured out how to do a particular task really well. This someone is willing to provide you access to that for a small service fee—thereby letting you, the developer, focus as much time as possible on your code and not so much time worrying about optimal configurations of things that you need to work efficiently.

SoftLayer is an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider, which is what will be the home for my little application—due in large part because I already have a ton of experience running servers myself.

I’m a big fan of Python, so I’m going to start programing with the Pyramids framework as the base for my new application. Like the “as a Service” offerings, programming frameworks and libraries exist to help the developer focus on their code and leverage the expertise of others for the auxiliary components.

To make everything pretty, I am going to use Bootstrap.js, which is apparently the de facto front-end library these days.

For everything else I want to use, there will be an attached Bluemix service. For the uninitiated, Bluemix is a pretty awesome collection of tools for developing and deploying code. At its core, Bluemix uses Cloud Foundry to provision cloud resources and deploy code. For now, I’m going to deploy my own code, but what I’m really interested in are the add-on services that I can just drop into my application and get going. The first service I want to try out is going to be Cloudant nosql, which is a managed couchDB instance with a few added features like a pretty neat dashboard.

Welcome to Bluemix

Combining Bluemix services with SoftLayer servers

One of the great things about services in Bluemix is that they can be provisioned in a standalone deployment—meaning Bluemix services can be used by any computer with an Internet connection and therefore, so can my SoftLayer servers. Since Bluemix services are deployed on SoftLayer hardware (in general, but there are some exceptions), the latency between SoftLayer servers and Bluemix services should be minimal, which is nice.

Creating a Cloudant service in Bluemix is as easy as hitting the Create button in the console. Creating a simple web application in Pyramid took a bit longer, but the quick tutorial helped me learn about all the cool things the Pyramid project can do. I also got to skip all the mess with SQLAlchemy, since I’m storing all the data in Cloudant. All that’s required is a sane ID system (I am using uuid) and some json. No need to get bogged down with a rigid table structure since Cloudant is a document store. If I want to change the data format, I just need to upload a new copy of the data, and a new revision of that document will be automatically created.

After cobbling together a basic application that can publish and edit content, all I had to do to make everything look like it was designed intentionally was to add a few bootstrap classes to my templates. And then I had a ready to use website!

Conclusion

Although making a web application is still as intensive as it’s always been, at least using technology in an “as a Service” fashion helps cut down on all the tertiary technologies you need to become an expert on to get anything to work. Even though the application I created here was pretty simple, I hope to expand it to include some of the more interesting Bluemix services to see what kind of Frankenstein application I can manage to produce. There are currently 100 Bluemix services, so I think the hardest part is going to be figuring out which one to use next.

-Chris

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