Empire :: Introduction

Empire is an open source, self-hosted PaaS that makes deployment and management of dockerized 12-factor apps easy. Empire's goals are described below.

Ease of Use

We're big fans of Twelve-Factor apps and Heroku. When we built Empire we strived to make it as similar to the Heroku experience as we could.

Simple Design

We want to make managing Empire as easy as possible. This means keeping its dependencies to a minimum. Of those dependencies, as many as possible are available as managed services.

As of now, Empire's two major dependencies are:

  1. Amazon EC2 Container Service
  2. A PostgreSQL database. We use Amazon RDS

Empire itself is also very simple. Once an application has been handed to ECS, Empire takes a hands off approach and lets ECS manage it entirely. It doesn't attempt to modify the application unless someone asks it to (i.e., scaling up or down, modifying environment variables, or deploying new releases).

Failure Resilient

We want to make sure that in the case that we lose a container, a host, or even multiple hosts the system will recover. By using Amazon services and features, we are able to achieve this.

  • A container dies? No problem; ECS will bring it back up. In the meantime traffic for that app is routed to other containers (provided you have scaled your app to more than one process) via ELB.

  • A host dies? No problem; ECS will reschedule containers while Auto Scaling brings up a new host in its place. Again, ELB will make sure that the app stays up, provided there are multiple copies of it running.

  • Multiple hosts dies? See above - though it may take a longer to recover.

Better Security Controls

We have full of control over the hosts that our containers run on. That means we can control things like filesystem encryption. We also have direct access to Amazon Identity and Access Management (IAM).

Better Visibility

Since we control everything down to the instance OS, we can gather stats at every layer in the stack. We can tell if we have a 'noisy neighbor' by watching for stolen CPU time. We can install any type of monitoring, logging, or metrics software we want on the host side.

Who should use Empire?

Empire isn't for everyone. While it aims to be simple to run, there are still some operational costs involved in managing the service. Empire is well suited for companies that have a microservices/SOA type architecture, are looking for the ease of use of a Heroku like system, but need additional control over security and the systems their applications run on.

What does Empire not do?

There are a few things Empire does not do currently - largely due to the fact that these add quite a bit of complexity to Empire. We feel that different users will want the flexibility to come up with their own solutions.

In the future, as we iterate on how we handle these things at Remind, we'll share how we handle them, or open source them.

Logging and Metrics

Internally at Remind we use a combination of logspout and Sumo Logic to aggregate logs from both containers and the container host. We use datadog to gather stats from both the containers and the container host as well.

This solution works for us, but we don't feel that it's sufficiently generic or simple enough to make it a part of the core Empire project itself.

Creating and Serving Docker Images

Empire deploys docker images, so you'll need some place to host those images and something to build them.

At Remind we host our docker images in a private repository on the official Docker Hub Registry. We build images via CircleCI on each push into each repository.

Attached Resources