Feeling small and cozy – while being big and capable

About two months ago I started my new Cloud journey in a company that has grown - and grows - very fast. Initially I had an image of a small, nimble and modern company inside my head - and it was a surprise to realize that Solita has 1500+ employees nowadays. But has it become a massive ocean-going ship, too big to steer swiftly? A corporation slowly suffocating all creativity and culture?

Fortunately not. As our CEO Ossi Lindroos said (adapting / quoting some successful US growth company) in our starter bootcamp day:

“One day we will be a serious and proper company – but that day is not today!”

Surely, Ossi is not saying that we should not take business seriously and responsibly at all. Or that we should not act like a proper company when it comes to capabilities towards customers – or ability to take care of our own people. We do act responsibly and take our customers and our people seriously. But instead the idea – as I interpret it – is that we have that caring small community feel even when growing fast – and we want to preserve it no matter how big we grow.

Can a company with good vibrations preserve the essentials when it grows?

Preserving good vibrations

Based on my first weeks I feel that Solita has been able to maintain low hierarchy, open culture with brave and direct communication, not to forget autonomous and self-driven teams, people and communities. Like many smaller companies inside a big one, but sharing an identity without siloing too much. Diversity with unity.

I started in Solita Cloud business unit and the first thoughts are really positive. Work is done naturally crossing team or unit boundaries. Teams are not based on single domain expertise, but instead could act as self-preserved cells if required. Everyone is really helpful and welcoming. Company daily life and culture is running on Slack – and there you can easily find help and support without even knowing the people yet. And you get to know people on some level even without meeting them: that guy likes daily haikus, that girl listens to metal music etc.

“One day we will be a serious and proper company – but that day is not today!”

Petrus Enjoying Good Vibrations

Some extra muscle

And size is not all about downsides. Having some extra muscle enables things like getting a proper, well-thought induction and onboarding to new people that starts even before the first day with prepackaged online self-learning – and continues with intensive bootcamp days and self-paced, but comprehensive to-do-lists, that give a feeling that someone has put real effort on planning all this. Working tools are cutting-edge, whether choosing your devices and accessories or using your cloud observability system.  And there is room for the little bonus things as well, such as company laptop stickers, caps, backpacks and different kind of funny t-shirts. Not to mention all the health, commuting and childcare benefits.

And for customers, having some extra muscle means being a one-stop shop yet future-proof at the same time. Whether the needs are about leveraging data or designing and developing something new, or about the cloud which enables all this, customer can trust us. Now and tomorrow. Having that small community feeling and good vibrations ensures that we’ll have brilliant, motivated and healthy people helping our customers in the future as well.

Culture enables personal growth

And when the culture is supporting and enabling, one can grow fast. A while ago, I used to be a rapid-fire powerpoint guy waving hands like windmills – and now I’m doing (apologies for the jargon) Customer deployments into the Cloud using Infrastructure-as-Code, version control and CI/CD pipelines – knowing that I have all the support I need, whether from the low-threshold and friendly chat community of a nimble company, or a highly productized runbooks and knowledge bases of a serious and proper company. Nice.

Now, it’s time to enjoy some summer vacation with the kids. Have a great summertime you all, whether feeling small and cozy or big and capable!

Share your cloud infra with Terraform modules

Cloud comes with many advantages and one really nice feature is infrastructure as code (IaC). IaC allows one to manage data center trough definition files instead of physically configuring and setting up resources. Very popular tool for the IaC is Terraform.

Terraform is a tool for IaC and it works with multiple clouds. With Terraform configuration files are run from developers machine or part of the CI/CD pipelines. Terraform allows one to create modules, parts of the infrastructure that can be reused. A module is a container for multiple resources that are used together. Even for simple set up, modules are nice, as one does not need to repeat oneself, but they are very handy with some of the more resource-heavy setups. For example, setting up even somewhat simple AWS virtual private cloud (VPC) network can be resource heavy and somewhat complex to do with IaC. As VPC are typically setup in a similar fashion, generic Terraform modules can ease these deployments greatly.

Share your work with your team and the world

Nice feature of these Terraform modules is that you can fairly easily share them. As you are using these modules, you can source them from multiple different locations such as local file system, version control repositories, GitHub, Bitbucket, AWS S3 or HTTP URL. If, and when, you have your configuration files in version control, you can simply point your module’s source to this location. This makes sharing the modules across teams handy.

Terraform also has Terraform Registry, which is an index of modules shared publicly. Here you can share your modules with the rest of the world and really help out fellow developers. Going back to the VPC configuration, you can find really good Terraform modules to help you get started with this. Sharing your own code is really easy and Terraform has very good documentation about it [1]. What you need is GitHub repo named according to Terraform definitions, having description, right module structure and tag. That’s all.

Of course, when sharing you should be careful not to share anything sensitive and specific. Good Terraform Registry modules are typically very generic and self-containing. When sourcing directly from the outside locations, it is good to keep in mind that at times they might not be available and your deployments might fail. To overcome this, taking snapshots of used modules might be a good idea.

Also, I find it a good practice to have a disable variable in the modules. This way user of the module can choose whether to deploy the module by setting a single variable. This kind of variable is good to take into consideration all the way from the beginning because in many cases it affects all the resources in the module. I’ll explain this with the example below.

Send alarms to Teams channel – example

You start to build an application and early on want to have some monitoring in place. You identify the first key metric and start thinking about how to notify yourself on these. I run into this problem all the time. I’m not keen on emails, as those seem to get lost and require you to define who to send them to. On the other hand, I really like chats. Teams and Slack give you channels where you can collaborate on the rising issues and it is easy to add people to the channels.

In AWS, I typically create CloudWatch alarms and route them to one SNS topic. By attaching a simple Lambda function on this SNS one can send the message to the Teams, for example. In Teams, you control the message format with Teams cards. I created a simple card that has some information about the alarm and a link to the metric. I found myself doing this over again, so I decided to build a Terraform module for it.

Here is a simple image of the setup. Terraform module sets up SNS that in turn triggers Lambda function. Lambda function sends all the messages it receives to Teams channel. Set up is really simple, but handy. All I need is to route my CloudWatch alarms to the SNS that is setup by the module and I will get notifications to my Teams channel.

Simple image of the module and how it plugs into CloudWatch events and Teams

Module requires you only to give the Teams channel webhook URL where the messages are sent to. When you create CloudWatch alarm metrics you just need to send them to the SNS topic that the module creates. SNS topic arn is in the module output.

You can now find the Terraform module from the Terraform Registry with a name “alarm-chat-notification” or by following the link in the footer [2]. I hope you find it useful to get you going with alarms.

Disable variable

As I mentioned before, it is a good practice to have disable variable in the module. To do this in Terraform, it is a bit tricky. First, create a variable to control this, in my repo it is called “create” and it is a type of boolean defaulting true. Now all the resource my module has had to have the following line:

count = var.create ? 1 : 0

In Terraform this simply means that if my variable is false, this count is 0 and no resource will be created. Not the most intuitive, but makes sense. This also means that all the resources will be a type of list. Therefore, if you refer to other resources, you have to do it with list operation, even when we know that there is only one. For example, my lambda function refers to the role, it does it by referring to the first element in the list as follows:


Again this makes sense and it is good to keep in mind.

I hope this blog inspires you to create reusable Terraform modules for the world to use. And please, feel free to source the alarm module.

[1] https://www.terraform.io/docs/registry/modules/publish.html
[2] https://registry.terraform.io/modules/aloukiala/alarm-chat-notification/aws/

Author of this blog post is a data engineer who has built many cloud-based data platforms for some of the largest Nordic companies.