Nobody likes to be woken up in the middle of the night, but if you’ve got to do it, make sure you pick the right person to solve the problem. Scribd has long used PagerDuty for managing on-call rotations, but only within the “Core Infrastructure” team. All production incidents were routed to a single group of infrastructure engineers rather than developers who were committing code to the service. Clearly not a good idea. To help with our migration to AWS, we recognized the need to move to a more distributed model of incident response, with developers taking on more responsibility. We needed to try something different and the Core Platform team ended up being a suitable test subject for our experiments.
The idea of transitioning from “nobody is on-call” to “everybody is on-call” originally seemed too harsh, but we needed to ensure that dreaded production alerts would end up going to the developers who would be best suited to resolve the problem. We decided on a compromise: a “day-shift” for our on-call rotations which would route directly to developers unfamiliar with the rigors of production incident response. All the while, we still planned on relying on the Core Infrastructure team’s existing rotation to fill in the gaps, covering the “night shift.”
Trying it out
Getting everyone on board with the day/night shifts was the easy part,
implementing the shifts in PagerDuty turned out far more difficult. To begin, I
Core-Platform schedule, adding all of the team members. The
schedule was built using Pagerduty’s “Restrict On-Call Times” in order to
restrict the schedule’s activation, limiting it to 7:00-17:00 PST.
Next I created an “Escalation Policy” with Core Platform as the first level, and then configuring the existing Core Infrastructure primary schedule as the next level escalation. In essence, incidents not handled by the Core Platform team would escalate after a timeout, such as 30 minutes, to the Core Infrastructure team. Then, hopefully, somebody would act on the alert and resolve the incident.
Having wired the settings together for Core Platform’s services as a prototype, I shared my progress with a developer from PagerDuty; it went okay. I explained the desired end-goal, and we walked through what I expected to happen. Considering our settings, he explained that what would actually happen:
- During the day, Core Platform developers would be notified when incidents happened.
- Outside of the day shift, there would always be a 30 minute delay, dead air, before anybody would be notified. After that 30 minute delay, the Core Infrastructure team would receive the alert.
Definitely not ideal.
The PagerDuty developer and I switched gears and tried to find ways in which we could arrive at something as close as possible to our desired end-state. We figured out a couple options:
- In the
Core-PlatformSchedule, add a Secondary Layer built with the members of the
- We would get the desired effect of skipping Core Platform developers when outside of business hours.
- This option would also put the management of part of Core Infrastructure’s rotation into Core Platform’s hands, including the management of explicit overrides.
- In the
Core-PlatformEscalation Policy, add the
Core-InfraSchedule to the first notification in addition to the existing
- This would require documented policy for engineers in Core Infrastructure to only respond to incidents outside of the day shift, with no automamted way for them to know whether they can ignore an alert until they receive it.
- Create duplicated Services for day time vs night time, with different
Escalation Policies to rout to different groups. Then with event rules,
route alerts to the different services based on time of day.
- This would create a lot of manual configuration bloat. Additionally if we ever needed to change anything we’d have to change it on ALL services running this style of escalations.
- Keep the baked-in delayed response for night shift alerts.
- Obviously not a good choice for situations where every minute counts!
- Switch the Core Platform schedule to 24/7 by removing the restriction.
- Pushes developers into new and uncomfortable positions of being on-call all the time, making team based escalations less appealing for adoption across the company.
Back to the start
Things will go wrong in production. The goal for our incident response and escalation process is to make sure that we connect problems (incidents) with solutions (people) as quickly as possible. When we discussed the various options with the entire team, the only clear path forward was to adopt the last option: switch to a 24/7 schedule for the developers on Core Platform. We shared the entire process, and conclusion with our friends at PagerDuty. I hope that we see a feature which allows Schedules to be built from both users and other Schedules in the future. That level of composition would give us the flexibility to accomplish our ideal end-state for developer incident response.
Until that feature arrives, we’ll just be extra motivated to ensure the stability and availability of the services we deliver on Core Platform!