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Where’s Your Chaos Monkey?

2/11/2013 4:54 AM

Maybe this is happening to you. You’re in yet another conversation with a software-side person. You find yourself slightly aghast about a mindset. You quickly cover your naiveté with that neutral, knowing face that says, “Of course that’s the way it is. Sure. Duh.”

Last week, it was this doozy: “chaos monkey.”

That’s monkey as in wrench.

In software lingo, “chaos monkey” is code, developed by Netflix, and aimed, initially, at itself. It’s a “resiliency tool that helps applications tolerate random instance failures” — like when you’re streaming something and it stops working.

So you click it and it starts again — probably from a different server, in a different part of however Netflix configures itself. Chaos monkeys hurtle around, finding faults like that.

“Chaos monkey” popped up in a July 2012 Netflix blog and is part of an openly available online basket of “tools for keeping your cloud operating in top form.”

What’s that? Openly available? A video competitor is making code available to its competitors to help their “clouds” work better? (Find that neutral, knowing face again!)

Welcome to step one in the mental gymnastics necessary to make the inevitable transition from “how things are today” to “after software devours the world.”

It is this: By feeding your work back into the “open” ecosystem, you benefit because other people take your progress and further refine it. They’re usually duty-bound to feed their improvements back into the community. Give to get.

(This is largely the point of the Comcast/Time Warner Cable “RDK” effort, where “RDK” stands for Reference Design Kit. The main purpose is to get new boxes to market much faster, but it’s intentionally transparent and collaborative.)

Here’s step two in getting your head around how software people think: Once you place all of your products and services in the cloud — in one big, unified glob of software — then part of your daily existence is to find your failures and fix them. In software, there’s no taking of two aspirin and calling in the morning. It’s about finding where it hurts and kicking that spot harder.

We all have our chaos monkeys. Mine of late is Apple’s iCal software, which is deleting stuff out of my scheduled life so randomly and completely that I broke down and ordered a paper Day-Timer, after weaning off of it only four months ago.

But in a video sense, chaos monkeys make sense. A lot of the moving of video over big national backbones into regional fiber networks and hybrid-fiber-coax (HFC) plant to homes is about load balancing. t’s a lot about making sure that stream leaves the server intact and gets to your screen intact.

Seems inevitable for some chaos monkey action.

Up next from Netflix, and available to all? Janitor monkey, “which helps keep your environment tidy and costs down.”

Go figure.

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