2018 Foreman Survey Analysis


As with previous years, we ran a Foreman Community Survey in order to give you all the opportunity to tell us how we’re doing - where it’s good, and where it’s bad. That survey closed a while ago, and I’m here to show you the results.

Firstly - thank you to all those who filled out the survey. We kept the same multi-page format since it seems to work, and even without prize incentives, we got over 160 responses! You’re all legends :)

If you’ve seen the previous community survey analysis posts, you’ll note the style is a bit different this year. The two main changes are (a) lots of comparisons to the 2017 data, and (b) no pie charts, since bar charts are generally better for comparisons between parts (which is mostly what we’re doing). That’s because I’m using R and R-Markdown to write the report with the code embedded, and you can find the RMarkdown here if you want to check my working.

Unless otherwise noted, the scales on these graphs are all percentages - I’ve removed the y-axis labels as it saves space and would be very repetitive. The survey data in 2017 was collected over about a month (February); in 2018 it was collected over about 2 months (February & March).

I appreciate this report is pretty long. If you’re short on time, you can jump straight to the conclusion (or other sections) using these handy links:

Contents

The same page-by-page analysis from last year still works, so let’s get to it with:

Community Metrics & Core

Let’s start with some data about the community itself. Here we see the “age” of users (as in, how long a user has been participating in the community), location, and some data about how quickly people upgrade:

The geography data isn’t too interesting - we see pretty much the same distribution as last year. Would be great to raise that “N America” bar though…

The “age” chart is more concerning. Bear in mind that we’re one year on from the 2017 data (obviously), and we see an increase in the 2-3 year parts, and a corresponding drop in the < 1 year part. That implies that either (a) we’re not doing a good job of bringing new users to the community, or (b) the new users weren’t aware of the survey. Most likely it’s a mix of both.

For version information, this is even better than last year - over half the community on the latest version! However, like many statistics, this can be a little misleading. Last year the survey was held just a few weeks after 1.14 was released, but this year 1.16 had been out quite a while (indeed, 1.17 came out just after it ended). Additionally, 1.16 was quite delayed, and many people were very keen to get some of the new features, so we expect high adoption anyway. My instinct is that the number of people on the latest version at the same point in the release cycle is broadly similar across both years.

A more concrete measure is that the amount of people running an unsupported version ($latest.major-2 or older) has decreased by over half (27% last year to 11% this year). That’s good news!


Let’s look at how people run Foreman. Here’s some data on the size of infrastructure, user base, and specs of Foreman servers:

Firstly, I think the infrastructure size is interesting. We see a 10% drop in the 10-49 group, and a corresponding 9% increase in the 200-599 group. Is this because we scale better? Or, combining with the “age” graph from before, perhaps this is driven by older users bringing more nodes under Foreman’s control? Hard to say.

I’m also happy to see some small upticks in the 600+ and larger sizes, as we’ve spent significant effort on performance this year. It’s nice to see that reflected in the results.

The users graph is less interesting - broadly this is the same as last year.

For OS, I think the most notable thing is the increase in diversity. CentOS and RHEL have got significant drops, and most others (including “Other”, a grab-bag of things like AIX, FreeBSD, etc) have increased. I’m unsure what’s driving this, but I hope it means we’re gaining appeal in new areas - it certainly means we need to pay more attention to supporting different OSs.

The hardware graph is new this year, so I have no comparison data, but I don’t think it’s very surprising. We know that Katello is one of our most popular plugins to Foreman, and that comes with significant requirements, so it’s entirely expected to see plenty of >2 cores and >8Gb of RAM in use by most people.


We asked you to rate how we do in terms of support, so lets also look at that. As an arbitrary definition of “good support”, I’ve plotted the total 4 or 5 ratings out of 5 (as a percantage of all the replies):

There’s a few results here, and I’ll start with the positive ones…

Firstly, the “Overall Satisfaction” is exactly the same as last year, in that 78% of the community give us 4+ on this. Likewise, every result in these 10 questions is over 50%, so apparently we still give out good support! Thanks for the positive vibes, everyone!

On a more serious note, apart from the overall satisfaction, every single one of these results shows a downward trend. Some are small, and could be simply noise in the data, but even so, it’s cause for concern. I’ll talk more about this in the conclusions.

The free-text-field questions back this up, largely people are mentioning the things we see here such as upgrades, docs, stability. I’ll get summaries of these questions posted to the forum, as there’s too much to include here.


Plugins

Not much has changed in the the world of plugins. Once again, a high proportion of the community (93.87%, up from 89.11% last year), so that’s good to see. In terms of plugin popularity, here’s a breakdown of the most popular plugins. This is a multiple choice question, so I’ve also shown the total “votes” cast here.

Firstly, note the “Other” is top - this represents the “long tail” of plugins we know exist out there (over 90 on our wiki page!). Foreman has a strong culture of helping you to fix the “last mile” in your own environment, and this is the resulting evidence.

More notably, Katello (shown in green) is now the most popular plugin - a huge result given the effort that’s gone into stabilising it over the last year. Well done to all the Katello devs! I also think the increase in Remote Execution (in pink) may be linked to the Katello result (I will do some studies on this later, looking at common patterns in plugin use), but in any case it’s good to see. REX is an excellent plugin, and gains more power and flexibility all the time.

The other two are strongly connected I suspect - Ansible (blue) has had a big increase in popularity, while PuppetDB (orange) has fallen sharply. Given Ansible’s meteoric rise in popularity over the last few years, combined with the Foreman Ansible plugin maturing nicely this year, I think this is fairly easy to understand.


Provisioning

Now let’s take a look at the provisioning side of Foreman. First, some simple Yes/No style data:

For provisioning, a slight increase in those using Foreman, slight decrease in those not using Foreman, not too remarkable. Likewise, there’s a slight increase in people using Hammer, which is nice to see.

On the API front, we see more people using the API overall, but with less using API v1 - this is good news, since API v1 has now been officially dropped from the project anyway!

Compute resources are slightly more exciting:

Bare metal is still king, as ever, as is VMWare. The rest though, is more volatile. The remarkable things I see are (a) how much Openstack has dropped, (b) EC2 catching up to Libvirt, and (c) both HyperV & Azure racing up. How quickly this field changes from year to year only goes to show that we need help writing plugins for the various providers, as it’s impossible to keep up in the core team.

We were interested in the NoVNC console usage too, and I think you could take this either way. If we could support it on every platform, then over half the community would be using it. However, that’s not really feasible, so you’re left with something that 20% and probably another 15-20% might use if they could. So, not a huge selling point, but useful if you’re on a supported platform.

We also asked about whether people modify their cronjobs - 80.49% of the responses said “No”, which I think gives us confidence that we can assume the cronjobs we ship are getting used.


Monitoring

A new question we asked about this year was around monitoring - whether you monitor Foreman and it’s hosts, and what you use to do that:

Some nice things to note here. Most people are monitoring hosts (89.02%), but less than half are monitoring Foreman or the Proxies. We should perhaps provide a blog post on what things should be monitored.

Looking at monitoring systems, there’s lots of love for Zabbix and Nagios. The “Other” category contains a lot of one-off answers, but also a few people using other tools but looking to switch to Zabbix/Nagios/Icinga soon. This data is sure to be useful to the foreman_monitoring authors for what to support in the future.


Proxies

Let’s move on from Foreman to the Proxy. The Foreman Proxy is a key piece of our architecture, and it’s important we understand how it’s used.

It’s not common, but we do know some community members who run only proxies in a standalone fashion, using the resulting REST API for services as a way to improve the automation of their network. This year 7.19% were doing this, compared to 10.26% last year. It’s clearly not common, but we’re glad people find ways to make use of (and contribute to!) our projects.

Lets look at some more data on infrastructure size, Puppet usage, built-in Proxy features, and extending it with plugins:

The size data hasn’t changed much, so I don’t think there’s much to say there. The Puppet changes are also expected as Puppet 3 is shortly to be out of support soon. It is worth noting that the number of users with no Puppet at all has risen sharply - this is in line with the other Puppet / Ansible related changes we’ve seen in the other data.

The features haven’t changed much either. I think we can see a slight increase in the use of provisioning (shown here in the rise of TFTP/DHCP/DNS features, and also in the provisioning graphs earlier).

Plugins are tricky. I deliberately exclude proxy plugins which can only be used with plugins already covered above (e.g OpenSCAP), although somehow Pulp managed to sneak through my filtering, and a few people put this type of plugin in the “Other” field (which you see for Salt, REX, etc.). Discounting these (since we already know quite a bit about their popularity from the previous question), what we see is that the remaining data is dominated by the provider plugins for DNS/DHCP. I really like how we’re able to offer that level of abstraction, making it easy to switch provider and maintain the rest of your automation stack.


Content

With Katello now the most popular plugin for additional functionality, it’s only natural that we devote some time to understanding that perspective of our community. This year we see a slight increase in those doing content management, from 60.78% last year, up a little to 63.52% this year.

Digging in to both the ways content is managed, and the types of content handled, there’s not a lot of change:

All of these are broadly consistent to last year. The only notable result I see here is the strong increase the desire for handling Python packages in Katello - perhaps someone needs to go create a ticket for that?


Contributing & Development

Finally, we want to know about our developers - both those working on Foreman today, but also those who are just trying to get started with us. We see a very similar distribution of these as last year - 34% don’t contribute, 38% do, and 29% need help to get started.

Digging into this, we asked about what resources people were aware of, what areas they help with (or would like to), and how we do in supporting our developers:

In terms of resources, I’m concerned in the drop in awareness of the Developer Handbook. That clearly needs another look in terms of promotion and possibly restructuring. I’m also concerned in the rise of Bug Reporting & Triage as a help category - that means (a) we’ve got a lot more bugs (which we also saw in the decrease in release stability rating above), or (b) it’s not easy enough to submit bugs. I’m inclined to believe it’s most (a), but I am planning an upgrade to Redmine soon, so perhaps we can improve the workflows there too.

The developer ratings follow as similar pattern as the user ratings above - static or decreasing, with RFCs a particular sore point.

Conclusions

I’ll start by saying that these results don’t surprise me. As the Community Lead, I get to chat with a lot of folks and hear about their problems and frustrations in private, so I was already aware that satisfaction was down. If anything, I’m happy it’s not lower.

It’s also important to note that this is not a bad result in isolation - if I didn’t show the 2017 data, it would look pretty good! This is not a cause for sadness, but it is a call to action if we’re to reverse this trend in next year’s survey.

I’ve saved one graph for last - what the community thinks we should work on next. Let’s take a look:

No surprise that bugs and stability top the list, given the rest of the data, but let’s look at this with a different lens…

Taken together, we have issues with bug counts, stability, new user experiences, upgrade processes, and release frequency. It’s my belief that the solution to this is making Foreman run in a container. The implications of such a change are huge:

  • Having complete control of the runtime environment of Foreman will considerably reduce the matrix of support
    • Today, every conversation with a user must start with “What OS are you on?”
  • Removes much of our packaging overhead
  • Simplifies plugins (probably, that needs some definition)
  • Removes (or at least largely simplifies) the need for our complex installer.

This should lead to much greater stability, faster work on bugs (because the runtime is always the same), and a better experience for new-users (because there’s no conflicts with other services on the same box, or weirdness in a particular OS). There’s also some benefit from a developer perspective, as getting a dev environment up could be made easier.

From this perspective, let’s look at that graph again. 10% of the community want this feature directly (marked “Containers - Foreman”), but the argument can be made that such a move is beneficial for the Bugs, and support for host containers in Foreman itself (marked “Containers - Hosts”). One could also argue that’s a step towards better HA support, since containers are far more flexible in that regard. Putting all that together, 67.37% of the community could be served by such a move (although clearly, much of this requires significant effort and changes to the architecture, especially for HA - don’t expect this overnight!).

I should stress that this is my personal opinion, and I have no actual power to command that this happens :P. However, work has already been started by Eric’s team, and I’ll be championing this in the future. I’ve been strongly swayed by my experiences with Discourse’s Docker implementation, and as a fellow Rails project, I think there’s much we can learn from them. Clearly we need to make sure there’s good migration paths for existing users, and there’ll be much tooling to sort out. Contribution will be very much welcome if this excites you!

There are, of course, smaller changes we can make along the way. I’m arranging a regular core-Foreman bug triage which I hope will help get the right bugs prioritised (or closed). We’re also looking into how to improve our release management process so that new releases get out the door on time - no blame to our current release managers though, they work hard and it’s a pretty thankless task! However it’s clear that our usual 3-month timescale has slipped recently, and we’d like to get that back.

We also need to address the issue of communication, discussion, and documentation. I believe on this area we’re already improving - the survey was taken right after the move to Discourse, and now that things have settled down there, I’m seeing much greater interaction in the community on the forum. We’ve already implemented a new RFC process using the forum with voting, and the Solved plugin for the Support board is helping people to focus their efforts. I also hope it’ll assist new members of the community in finding their way to the resources they need.

I’ll be continuing to develop our Discourse integrations this year (we have proposals for migrating some of the old wiki content, and also integrating the blog), and I should finally be able to do the metrics dashboard too, which will give us a view on things like time-to-close for bugs and PRs, failure rates in Jenkins, and so forth. I hope this will enable us to be more pro-active in keeping the community healthy.

Thanks for reading! As ever, if you have comments or questions, hit me up on the forum to discuss it further!


Comments from the community:


Foreman 1.18.1 has been released! Follow the quick start to install it.

Foreman 1.17.3 is now available with several bugfixes. Follow the quick start to install it.

A new bug fix release for Foreman 1.16 is now available. This release contains critical fixes for VMWare, oVirt and the Puppet ENC. See the Foreman 1.16.2 release notes for more details..