Yara’s DevOps environment supports digital agronomy solutions to enable smarter farming
Responsibly feed the world and protect the planet. This is Yara’s mission and is both simple and ambitious. Yara grows knowledge to responsibly feed the world and protect the planet, to fulfill our vision of a collaborative society, a world without hunger and a planet respected.
To meet these commitments, they have taken the lead in developing digital farming tools for precision farming and work closely with partners throughout the whole food value chain to develop more climate-friendly crop nutrition solutions.
Building a cloud-native solution on Amazon Web Services (AWS) helps Yara to move quickly, continuously pushing development of new applications for farmers’ use. Instana, an AWS Partner, enables Yara’s DevOps and software teams with observability and visibility into their cloud environment and managing their Kubernetes microservices platform, via Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS). Yara’s digital solutions help soften the effect of global food production on the planet.
Yara’s agile method includes the farmers they build solutions for
Yara International has worked with farmers for over 100 years. Today, it is adding digital services to its portfolio, and advising
farmers on best practices for crop nutrition. The apps use data from Yara’s extensive knowledge and experience in agriculture and provide recommendations and best practices to optimize crop efficiency and yield.
Yara uses agile processes and—via continuous feedback from farmers and users—evolves and develops its digital tools and services. Moving to a cloud-native architecture helped Yara’s Digital teams to move quickly, and launch Proof of Concept ideas, that can easily scale when they prove to be viable and creating value for farmers. Yara’s digital services and mobile apps help farmers implement smarter agronomy practices to address wider food equity issues such as food shortages, limited farmland, and air pollution.
Yara shifts to managed services
Working with its software engineering teams, Yara’s DevOps team created multiple digital tools to help farmers improve productivity and efficiency. These products came about because of digital investments Yara made over the last three years. To free up time to develop new tools, Yara needed a system that allowed them to focus less on platform maintenance.
To get where they are today, Yara needed:
- Automated, scalable microservices architecture
- Managed microservices, which was accomplished via Amazon EKS, and could incorporate the automation above
- Observability and visibility of its infrastructure, which they achieved through the partnership with Instana
All these efforts helped speed up continuous development for products and proof of concepts, and enabled them to make digital tools for farmers:
- FarmWeather offers hyper-local weather reporting to help optimize planning and farming.
- YaraIrix measures the nitrogen need of crops during every growth stage.
- Atfarm provides fertilization optimization for most efficient crop yield.
Microservices, Kubernetes, and Amazon EKS
At the beginning of their journey, Yara made the decision to adopt a cloud native development and infrastructure strategy, and to focus on containerized infrastructure.
Yara started using a scripted and in-house developed Kubernetes management system with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances. When AWS developed and introduced Amazon EKS, Yara took advantage of the new service and migrated from its in-house solution to Amazon EKS. Yara’s stack is cloud-native, heavily containerized, with apps built in microservices architecture, using Kubernetes to manage containers. Yara also uses Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and AWS Lambda.
Managing containers with Amazon EKS also helps the overall security of the platform. It’s easier to manage data security features as it connects well with identity and access management (IAM) roles for stronger access security. Working with farmers as customers, it’s of utmost importance to protect their data. For example, GDPR regulations are a constant consideration. An AWS microservices platform managed via Amazon EKS reinforced its security efforts.
“Instana has built a close relationship with Yara, understanding how Yara works, and used our feedback to add features and co-develop functionality in their product. We’ve seen that kind of interaction from very few vendors.” David Van Damme Director DevOps and Infrastructure, Yara International
Instana provides observability and performance measurement to Yara’s environment
Yara had the foundation needed for a modern infrastructure. But it also needed observability and visibility into how its infrastructure and applications were performing, to support operational agility and gain visibility into potential security issues. Yara needed both a general overview of performance and availability as well as detailed tracing level. Yara also wanted to add Service Level Objectives (SLOs) so its Dev teams could better measure performance and outcomes.
Instana met these needs exactly. Instana offered strong visibility into Kubernetes and microservices environments, including Amazon EKS, providing full visibility of what happens in a cloud-native workload. Instana collaborated closely with Yara’s DevOps teams to establish and track the right metrics and measurements to monitor performance.
Instana worked closely with Yara, developing new features for its specific needs, and based on feedback, to ensure Yara has the visibility and understanding required to meet their objectives.
Instana observability tool and SLOs
To help Yara achieve deeper visibility, Instana used its application performance management tool (APM) which offers automatic detection of whole environments, including Kubernetes run microservices. There is a trace for every request—no sampling. This is important to know as a sample holds only a set number of traces, so when you need to troubleshoot an issue you might not have all the data you need.
Simply put, observability makes data available from within the system that you wish to monitor. Monitoring is the actual task of collecting and displaying this data. Without meaningful analysis you miss the purpose of creating observability and performing monitoring in the first place. The better your analysis capabilities are, the more valuable your investments in observability and monitoring become. Further, Instana’s APM provides alerting in three categories:
- Changes are configuration changes: an online or offline event
- Issues are low level events: CPU usage spiking, or container limits being reached
- Incidents are critical events which are an aggregate of changes and issues that Instana has identified as potentially catastrophic, like data loss or service interruption on an edge service
These alerts provide insight into what occurred before troubleshooting even begins.
For Incident Alerts, Instana creates a full report, complete with the root cause identified and all the corresponding events correlated to the root cause. This prevents “alert fatigue,” providing a single alert with all the events and the root cause so you can take immediate action. The alternative is to receive an alert per event that would need sifting through to find the root cause, which leads to only spending time fixing symptoms. Fight the symptoms, you never fix the cause; fix the cause and you resolve all the symptoms.
It’s not just APM, but a real-time infrastructure monitoring, platform monitoring, end-user monitoring, and intelligent alerting system.
For Yara, Service Level Objectives (SLOs) and Service Level Indicators (SLIs) have been pivotal. Having an SLO methodology in place improves communication by making prioritization conversations more factual and less emotional when it comes to the impact of incidents. Instana’s Application Perspectives allows SLOs to be defined by customer experience through the use of user journeys. Instana’s Application Perspectives Creation Wizard enables the creation of specified user journeys with easy selection and specifications via ‘blueprints.’ With the Creation Wizard the user journey specification is interactive, as items are specified the user can see what data is expected to be returned.
For each API and solution team, Yara added metrics and measurement to understand what’s happening via SLOs and SLAs on APIs and microservices that make up a product. There was collaboration with Instana in figuring out the best way to measure and what the right measurements were. They ran Instana’s module for SLOs, Application Perspectives, in pre-production. It helped Instana with real-time feedback and gave Yara measurements to manage their systems.
Yara delivers tools to farmers at speed and scale
With Amazon EKS and Instana’s observability tools Yara can move at the pace it wants to and continuously improve farmers’ efforts for optimizing crops and productivity.
Yara’s DevOps and Security teams spend less time maintaining the system by managing Kubernetes with Amazon EKS. Everything is infrastructure as code and enables an automated approach to running the infrastructure. With the high level of automation, everything is up to date, the team has a better understanding of what to look at, and it’s easier to apply security solutions.
Yara can push their agile development forward, as opposed to just managing the environment. With less focus on maintenance, the more time Yara can spend on automation and self-service tools for developers, which further enables the digital teams to produce new products faster.
All teams are responsible for their own API or app performance. Application Perspectives helped with giving the control of managing the APIs back to the individual teams. They use the SLO and SLI numbers to discuss within the team about why, for instance, might the front end be slow and which of the APIs might be running slowly. Discussion between front-end services and back-end APIs on where delays are introduced are solved quickly now. Each team sees clearly what is happening via the Instana tool, down to the SQL query that’s causing the delay.
“Once the software teams adopt Instana, they turn in to fans. Looking at internal satisfaction scores and feedback from the more established teams, Instana comes up as something that’s really driving value and trust in the cloud native infrastructure stack we’ve built.” David Van Damme, Director DevOps and Infrastructure, Yara International
What’s next for Yara
Going cloud-native with a modern environment and managing microservices with Amazon EKS has been extremely advantageous for Yara. It has enabled task automation and allowed for faster scaling.
With Instana’s APM, Yara can see every corner of their environment and have empowered their teams to manage their APIs and to build and test as needed. Its core platform can go from very fast and agile, and pivot into something that scales easily. Ultimately, Yara doesn’t have to slow down pilots and can continue to enable farmers to grow food efficiently, for more value, and feed a growing population sustainably.