Last week, on the first day of OpenWorldForum 2013, we met up with Thomas Hatch of SaltStack to have a talk about salt. He was in Paris to give two talks the following day (1 & 2), and it was a great opportunity to meet him and physically meet part of the French Salt community. Since Logilab hosted the Great Salt Sprint in Paris, we offered to co-organise the meetup at OpenWorldForum.


About 15 people gathered in Montrouge (near Paris) and we all took turns to present ourselves and how or why we used salt. Some people wanted to migrate from BCFG2 to salt. Some people told the story of working a month with CFEngine and meeting the same functionnality in two days with salt and so decided to go for that instead. Some like salt because they can hack its python code. Some use salt to provision pre-defined AMI images for the clouds (salt-ami-cloud-builder). Some chose salt over Ansible. Some want to use salt to pilot temporary computation clusters in the cloud (sort of like what StarCluster does with boto and ssh).

When Paul from Logilab introduced salt-ami-cloud-builder, Thomas Hatch said that some work is being done to go all the way : build an image from scratch from a state definition. On the question of Debian packaging, some efforts could be done to have salt into wheezy-backports. Julien Cristau from Logilab who is a debian developer might help with that.

Some untold stories where shared : some companies that replaced puppet by salt, some companies use salt to control an HPC cluster, some companies use salt to pilot their existing puppet system.

We had some discussions around salt-cloud, which will probably be merged into salt at some point. One idea for salt-cloud was raised : have a way of defining a "minimum" type of configuration which translates into the profiles according to which provider is used (an issue should be added shortly). The expression "pushing states" was often used, it is probably a good way of looking a the combination of using salt-cloud and the masterless mode available with salt-ssh. salt-cloud controls an existing cloud, but Thomas Hatch points to the fact that with salt-virt, salt is becoming a cloud controller itself, more on that soon.

Mixing pillar definition between 'public' and 'private' definitions can be tricky. Some solutions exist with multiple gitfs (or mercurial) external pillar definitions, but more use cases will drive more flexible functionalities in the future.

Presentation and live demo

For those in the audience that were not (yet) users of salt, Thomas went back to explaining a few basics about it. Salt should be seen as a "toolkit to solve problems in a infrastructure" says Thomas Hatch. Why is it fast ? It is completely asynchronous and event driven.

He gave a quick presentation about the new salt-ssh which was introduced in 0.17, which allows the application of salt recipes to machines that don't have a minion connected to the master.

The peer communication can be used so as to add a condition for a state on the presence of service on a different minion.

While doing demos or even hacking on salt, one can use salt/test/ which makes fake minions, not everyone has hundreds of servers in at their fingertips.

Smart modules are loaded dynamically, for example, the git module that gets loaded if a state installs git and then in the same highstate uses the git modules.

Thomas explained the difference between grains and pillars : grains is data about a minion that lives on the minion, pillar is data about the minion that lives on the master. When handling grains, the grains.setval can be useful (it writes in /etc/salt/grains as yaml, so you can edit it separately). If a minion is not reachable one can obtain its grains information by replacing test=True by cache=True.

Thomas shortly presented saltstack-formulas : people want to "program" their states, and formulas answer this need, some of the jinja2 is overly complicated to make them flexible and programmable.

While talking about the unified package commands (a salt command often has various backends according to what system runs the minion), for example salt-call --local pkg.install vim, Thomas told this funny story : ironically, salt was nominated for "best package manager" at some linux magazine competition. (so you don't have to learn how to use FreeBSD packaging tools).

While hacking salt, one can take a look at the Event Bus (see test/, many applications are possible when using the data on this bus. Thomas talks about a future IOflow python module where a complex logic can be implemented in the reactor with rules and a state machine. One example use of this would be if the load is high on X number of servers and the number of connexions Y on these servers then launch extra machines.

To finish on a buzzword, someone asked "what is the overlap of salt and docker" ? The answer is not simple, but Thomas thinks that in the long run there will be a lot of overlap, one can check out the existing lxc modules and states.

Wrap up

To wrap up, Thomas announced a salt conference planned for January 2014 in Salt Lake City.

Logilab proposes to bootstrap the French community around salt. As the group suggest this could take the form of a mailing list, an irc channel, a meetup group , some sprints, or a combination of all the above. On that note, next international sprint will probably take place in January 2014 around the salt conference.

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