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Vagrant: Building and maintaining portable virtual software development environment

I had a new developer joining my team. But onboarding required him to successfully install all the necessary software. The project was complex with a disparate set of software, and modules required to make all of it work seamlessly. Despite best efforts, it took the developer a couple of hours to completely set up his machine.

vagrant

It set me to think if there is something that can be done to improve and expedite this onboarding. Why should it take a new developer so much time to set up his system when the very same activity has been done a couple of times before by earlier developers.

A little bit of ‘googling’ made me stumble upon some thing called Vagrant. Perhaps I was too ignorant before, but now I realize there exists better ways to handle this problem. The activity that took our developer hours can be finished in a few minutes.

Here is how Vagrant can help you set up your development environment in minutes.

  1. Install the latest version of Vagrant from https://www.vagrantup.com/downloads.html. You can download the version for your OS. You can also read more about Vagrant from https://www.vagrantup.com/docs/getting-started/
  1. After installing Vagrant, you will need to install VirtualBox from https://www.virtualbox.org

Now that you have installed Vagrant, and the Virtual Box, lets play around a bit with it.

From your bash shell you can run the following commands

$ init hashicorp/precise64

$ vagrant up

After running the above commands, you will have a fully running Virtual Machine running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS 64 bit. You can SSH into the machine with

vagrant ssh

, and when you are done playing around with your newly created virtual machine, you may choose to destroy it by running; vagrant destroy

Next Steps

Now that you have created a virtual environment, lets see how we can get started with creating a new vagrant aware project.

New Project

Setting up a new project would require us creating a new directory, and then running the init command inside the directory.

$ mkdir new_vagrant_project

$ cd new_vagrant_project

$ vagrant init

The last init command above will place a new file Vagrantfile inside the current directory. You may also choose to convert an existing project to make it vagrant aware by running the same vagrant init command from an existing directory.

So far all you have in your directory is one single file called Vagrantfile. But where is the OS? We have not yet installed it. How will my project run in my favorite OS?

Answers to above questions lie in the VirtualBox. Virtual Box is the software, which is the container for your OS. Instead of building the virtual machine from scratch, which would be slow and tedious process as all the OS files will need to be downloaded every time, Vagrant uses a base image to quickly clone the virtual machine. These base images are called boxes in vagrant, and as Vagrant website also says “specifying the box to use for your vagrant environment is the first step after creating a new Vagrantfile”.

The virtual box type or the OS need to be specified in Vagrantfile. Below is how you can tell Vagrant that you would like to use Ubuntu Precise 64 to run your application on.

Vagrant.configure(“2”) do |config|

config.vm.box = “hashicorp/precise64”

end

Vagrant gives you a virtual environment of a server with any OS of your liking. In this example, we added Precise 64 version of the Ubuntu OS. However if you would like to add anything else, you can search for options here

https://app.terraform.io/session

Its time to bootup the virtual machine. It can be done using

vagrant up

Next we can log in to the machine by running

vagrant ssh

When you are done fiddling around with the machine, you can destroy it by running vagrant destroy.

Now that the OS is ready, its time to install necessary softwares, and other dependencies. How do we do that?
Enter Ansible!!

Ansible helps us in provisioning the virtual machine booted up in the steps above. Provisioning is nothing but configuring, and installing different dependencies required to run on your application.

Ansible (http://docs.ansible.com/ansible/index.html) can be downloaded, and installed on your machine from http://docs.ansible.com/ansible/intro_installation.html#installing-the-control-machine

Please note that Ansible is not the only provisioning tool that can work with Vagrant. Vagrant works equally well with other provisioners like Puppet, Chef, etc.

The provisioner, Ansible in the current case needs to be configured with the Vagrant so that virtual machine knows how it should provision the machine after boot up.

The basic Vagrantfile Ansible configuration looks like

Vagrant.configure(“2”) do |config|

config.vm.box = “hashicorp/precise64”

config.vm.network ‘private_network’, ip: ‘192.168.1.x’

config.vm.network ‘forward_port’, guest: xxxx, host: yyyy

config.vm.provision “ansible” do |ansible|

ansible.playbook = “playbook.yml”

end
end

The configuration ‘private_network’ will give an IP to your virtual machine so that traffic can flow from/to the virtual machine.

The ‘forward_port’ configuration enables us to specify that requests coming on a port xxxx to the virtual machine from outside will be routed inside the VM on an application listening on port yyyy.

Playbook is a very integral component of Ansible. Playbook contains instructions that Ansible will execute to ready your machine. These instructions can be a list of softwares to be downloaded, and installed, or any other configuration that your application requires to function properly. Playbooks are expressed in YAML format. Each playbook is composed of one or more ‘plays’ in a list.

The goal of a play is to map a group of hosts to some well-defined roles, represented by ‘tasks’.

Here is a playbook example with just one play.

- hosts: webservers

vars:

http_port: 80

max_clients: 200

remote_user: root

tasks:

- name: ensure apache is at the latest version

yum: name=httpd state=latest

- name: write the apache config file

template: src=/srv/httpd.j2 dest=/etc/httpd.conf

notify:

- restart apache

- name: ensure apache is running (and enable it at boot)

service: name=httpd state=started enabled=yes

handlers:

- name: restart apache

service: name=httpd state=restarted

A playbook can also have multiple plays, with each play executing on a group of servers. You can also have multiple plays in a playbook, with each play running on a different group of servers as in http://docs.ansible.com/ansible/playbooks_intro.html

In the next part of this series, I will take a real example where an application requires multiple software, and configurations, and how we make use of Vagrant & Ansible to run it in the developer’s machine, and then automate deployment to the cloud servers.

In case, you any queries on Virtualizing Your Development Environment To Make It A Replica Of Production, feel free to approach us on hello@mantralabsglobal.com, our developers are here to clear confusions and it might be a good choice based on your business and technical needs.

This guest post has been written by Parag Sharma Mantra Labs CEO.

He is an 14 year IT industry veteran with stints in companies like Zapak and RedBus before founding Mantra Labs back in 2009. Since then, Mantra has dabbled in various products and is now a niche technology solutions house for enterprises and startups.

Mantra Labs is an IT service company and the core service provided by the company are Web Development, Mobile Development, Enterprise on the Cloud, Internet of Things. The other services provided by the company are Incubate start-up, provide Pro-active solutions and are Technical Partners of Funds & Entrepreneurs.

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MantraTalks Podcast with Parag Sharma: Delivering Digital-first Health Experiences for Patient Care in the New Normal

6 minutes read

The healthcare industry took the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic from the very beginning. It was, and still is, a humongous task for hospitals to deal with the rising number of COVID patients as well as handling the regular consults. 

To delve deeper into the state of healthcare in the COVID times, we interviewed Parag Sharma, CEO, Mantra Labs Pvt Ltd. Parag shares his insights on how technology can help in delivering digital-first health experiences for patient care in the New Normal.

Parag is a product enthusiast and tinkerer at heart and has been at the forefront of developing innovative products especially in the field of AI. He also holds over ten years of experience working in the services line and has been instrumental in launching several startups in the Internet & Mobile space. His rich domain expertise and innovative leadership have helped Mantra climb to the top 100 innovative InsurTechs in the World – selected by FinTech Global. 

Catch the interview:  

Connect with Parag- LinkedIn

COVID-19 and Its impact on Healthcare Organizations

Considering the COVID situation, according to you how has COVID-19 impacted the IT & service operations among healthcare organizations?

Parag:  Since the onset of COVID-19, the healthcare sector has been deeply impacted. Institutions are facing a serious crunch in manpower. IT support systems which were usually manned and managed by a large team of IT professionals are not available in the same strength. Resource allocation’ is one of the biggest concerns due to physical and mental exhaustion of the healthcare workforce. 

Hospitals are facing issues such as operational disruption due to staff quarantine, supply-chain delays and sudden decline in patient footfalls, difficulty in sustaining fixed costs, etc. People are not comfortable getting out of the safety confinements of their homes due to the rising risk of getting infected with the virus. Hospitals will have to reassess their future strategy and budgets in light of the uncertain economic situation.

Preparing for the Future

What can hospitals do to ensure the continuity of their customer-facing operations in the wake of a second Pandemic wave?

Parag: There are many things that hospitals can do to manage themselves in this hour of crisis. Being more digital than what they are would be one step forward for all of them. They can bring their IT systems to the cloud so that the person can access data and manage their work remotely. They can enable their patients to book appointments and enquire about services through apps and chatbots which won’t require them to call the reception or come to the hospital. These are some of the services which hospitals can provide to their customers with minimum physical contact. 

Related: Manipal Hospital’s move to a self-service healthcare mobile application

Hospitals can extend Telehealth services to their patients. Recently, telehealth has proved to be useful especially when there is asymmetry between the number of patients and healthcare providers. I think it will be very useful for healthcare institutions to deploy telehealth solutions to provide medical facilities to people who have so far been outside the benefits of healthcare.

New Expectations in Health Experiences

Is consumer behavior defined by the ‘new normal’ going to change the way we access healthcare from this point on?

Parag: Yes, people will expect a completely different way to access healthcare services from now on. Hospitals should gear-up and rise to this occasion. The pandemic has also provided a new opportunity to adopt a completely different approach in the way healthcare is delivered. They always felt that medical care cannot be provided remotely but now this is happening and people are appreciating remote healthcare services. Hospitals and healthcare institutions are convinced that telehealth and remote care will be more successful soon.

Technology in Healthcare can Bridge Operational Gaps

What are the operational challenges, as far as digital capabilities go, that hospitals are facing currently? And, what steps must they take to bridge these gaps?

Parag: Operational challenges are not just digital challenges. But a lot of these challenges can be addressed with technology. For example, Electronic Health Records which hospitals manage within the premises can be moved to the cloud so that the person can access these records on the cloud itself and need not come to the hospital. 

Related: Medical Image Management: DICOM Images Sharing Process

Secondly, if you deploy telehealth and telemedicine solutions, irrespective of where your patients are or doctors are, hospitals can deliver the required care to its patients. You can even extend your diagnostics services to your patients by giving them an application through which they can seamlessly book appointments for consults, diagnostics, or pathological services and resolve their queries, etc. Simply by giving a seamless interface either through bots or applications can go a long way in providing better health experiences to the customers.

Role of Chatbots in Superior Customer Experiences

According to you, what role does chatbots powered by Artificial Intelligence have in the Healthcare CX landscape?

Parag: Chatbots are the simplest example of the implementation of AI-based technology in healthcare. There are a lot of things which bots can do simplistically. For example, if a patient wants to book an appointment with the doctors, instead of going through a complex web applications and interfaces, what if I can simply write “I want to book an appointment with the doctor Dr. XYZ at 4 pm” and the bot can figure out in case the time slot is available with that particular doctor, it will confirm the appointment followed by a payment process if the payment has to be made upfront. 

Apart from this, you can extend your bots to provide e-consultations where doctors can do remote consultations via audio and video features of a chatbot. So there is a huge scope for bots beyond answering routine queries by customers or booking appointments. It does not stop just there. You can extend chatbot functionalities to support functions such as admin, HR, finance, and business process efficiency so that they can provide better services to their customers.

Related: Healthcare Chatbots: Innovative, Efficient, and Low-cost Care

Chatbot Use Cases in Healthcare

Could you tell us some possible bot use cases for delivering better customer experiences to digital health users?

Parag: Apart from booking appointments and resolving customer queries, these bots can conduct remote consultations, internal processes, health symptom checker, out-patient video consultation, second opinion consultation, ordering medicines, psychological counseling & mental wellness, scenario-based risk advice, Heroism Recognition for employees, etc. Also, it can be further extended to help patients enquire about health insurance related queries, and all the interactions between insurance companies and hospitals can be provided to the patient. 

Related: Healthcare & Hospitals Use Cases | Digital Health

The Road Ahead

COVID-19 has forced hospitals to revise patient support strategy with limited operational staff that is bringing every day a new challenge. A way out is to heavily rely on digital innovation.

In India we have a disparity between the no. of healthcare providers and care seekers. Without technology, I don’t think there is any way healthcare institutions will be able to scale to a level where they can provide meaningful services to such a large number of people. Hospitals can invest in setting up an information exchange; making the process as seamless as possible; and removing all possible inefficiencies from the supply chain through technology.

Future growth for hospitals will come from digital technology because patients will opt more for digital platforms. And it is up to hospitals to catch up with the pace at which modern technology is developing. We, at Mantra Labs, have achieved several use cases including hospitals/diagnostic centers that are able to deliver superior health experiences.

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