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On Stack Overflow, we see a lot of AWS configuration and management questions. See, for example, AWS Powershell create a new instance with private IP. AWS configuration and management questions are usually considered off-topic because they are not directly related to programming or development. In fact, most AWS questions appear to be off-topic for Stack Overflow because they are neither programming or development related.

When I move to close as off-topic, I like to make a suggestion within the stack exchange network. What Stack Exchanges field AWS configuration and management questions? Where should we tell folks to go with their AWS configuration and management questions?


Related (and very opinion-based): based on Braiam's suggestions (at least five other stack exchanges), should we have a Cloud Stack Exchange for folks?

A Cloud Stack Exchange could cover Amazon, Rackspace, HP Cloud, Azure, iCloud, OpenStack, etc. It would be useful to users (those using the storage, compute and software) and subscribers (those subscribing to and administering the services). It would also unify and consolidate the associated topics, and stop spraying these questions all over the stack exchange networks.

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    A mixure of Server Fault, Super User, Unix & Linux, Database Administrators and Webmasters depending the flavor of the question. – Braiam Mar 27 '15 at 2:51
  • Thanks @Braiam - I've been using Web Applications Stack Exchange too because Amazon delivers the configuration and management screens as a web app via SaaS. Sigh... – user173448 Mar 27 '15 at 3:04
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    What's wrong with having different sites for different topics? – Michael Hampton Mar 27 '15 at 6:50
  • @ Michael - I think it would be easier on users if everything was centrally located. Maybe that's my wiring and experience with Microsoft's and Novell's directories (and centralized administration). "What's wrong with having different sites for different topics?" - nothing I suppose. I would like Stack Overflow to stop being a dumping ground for AWS questions, though. – user173448 Mar 27 '15 at 6:52
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    I would like Server Fault to stop being a dumping ground for crap AWS questions, too, but I don't think creating a whole new SE site just to store all the crap questions is going to be the answer. And there are two separate proposals on Area 51 already... – Michael Hampton Mar 27 '15 at 7:04
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    Sadly, these days I think that creating a whole new SE site to dump all the crap AWS (and other) questions from SF (and elsewhere) is the solution. It should probably be called devoops.se. – user147520 Mar 27 '15 at 7:59
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    I don't think Web Applications is the right place. Just because it's (primarily) a web interface doesn't make it on topic there. WA is more for end users of apps like Gmail, Facebook, Bing Maps, etc. – Fish Below the Ice Mar 27 '15 at 13:11
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Before I get directly to your question, some background is required.

There is a very popular concept called DevOps, which you may have heard of. The idea is that developers and sysadmins should work closely together throughout the lifecycle of a product in order to reduce friction, increase efficiency, and maybe save some people's sanity. When this is done, even halfway, it works very well and delivers results.

Unfortunately there is a completely different definition of DevOps. In this misconception, there are no sysadmins and developers attempt to do operations themselves. This can work for a while, especially when you have a service like AWS maintaining infrastructure for you, but even virtual infrastructure needs operations, and Dev and Ops skillsets don't really overlap that much. So this usually ends in disaster. It has resulted in popular online services shuttering entirely, and in one case many of you have heard of, a developer going to prison because he did not have sufficient ops knowledge or experience to secure his (illegal) web site.

(If your company is following that second definition, get help now before it's too late.)

So. The ways in which developers and sysadmins use a service like AWS frequently differ. (Similar issues arise with Docker, which I've written about on mSO.) Here is a sample of the things that developers and sysadmins may do with AWS:

Developers

  • Write code for new features and bug fixes
  • Check code into a repository
  • Run unit and integration tests
  • (In some cases) Deploy code
  • (In some cases) Provide the environment (CloudFormation, AMIs, server OS and software selection) in which code runs

Sysadmins

  • (In some cases) Deploy code
  • (In some cases) Provide the environment (CloudFormation, AMIs, server OS and software selection) in which code runs
  • Monitor servers for problems and fix problems that arise
  • Maintain a secure and up to date environment

While today there is some overlap, traditionally the process of deployment and defining and providing the runtime environment have been ops tasks. For better or worse, developers are sometimes doing these tasks, often without the necessary perspective, training or experience. (Which has in part led to the popularity of Ubuntu, but that's another discussion altogether...)

For instance, in one case sysadmins may maintain the server on which Jenkins runs while developers manage Jenkins itself (which in my experience usually works best); in another sysadmins may manage both; and in a third case developers may manage both.

Ultimately, while there is always going to be topic overlap (and as I've said before, topic overlap is OK), most questions are going to be obviously development questions or obviously operations questions, and should be asked on Stack Overflow or Server Fault respectively.

One possible rule of thumb is that if the task needs root/sudo, then it is either most likely an ops task, or the environment isn't set up correctly (in which case you probably forgot to hire sysadmins).

For those that fall into the middle gray area...

make your best guess and bring your hazmat suits.

With all that out of the way, I don't think it makes sense to have a single Stack Exchange site for "cloud providers" as it would have two mostly distinct classes of questions, and readers of one class would not be interested in the other class.

Finally, it should be noted that many of the questions on SO tagged with AWS actually have nothing to do with AWS at all; it is only incidental that the person asking the question is an AWS user. When you see these, I would recommend removing that tag.

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  • Thanks Michael. It was a good answer. Could you list the potential stack exchange sites so that its clear you answered the question? – user173448 Mar 28 '15 at 1:53
  • I thought I did! "Ultimately, while there is always going to be topic overlap (and as I've said before, topic overlap is OK), most questions are going to be obviously development questions or obviously operations questions, and should be asked on Stack Overflow or Server Fault respectively." – Michael Hampton Mar 28 '15 at 1:55
  • Potentially of interest: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/97295/devops – Dan Cornilescu Feb 16 '17 at 18:03

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