Challenges scaling Node-RED with DIY tooling

Node-RED is very easy to get up and running for your first instance but what about your 100th?

| ZJ van de Weg

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In this post, I'm going to share some of the challenges customers face when scaling Node-RED with Do-It-Yourself tooling.

Specifically, we'll talk about common threads in their journey building their own tooling around Node-RED, its flows, and deploying them. Node-RED is a visual programming environment for wiring together hardware devices, APIs and online services in a single application. It's great because it's flexible enough to be used by both beginners and experts alike; however, going from one instance of Node-RED to 100 isn't for the faint-hearted.

Zero to hero in a few days

If you’re new to Node-RED and are just getting started, the first step is simple: go to nodered.org, download, install and run. There’s no need to configure anything or set up credentials or security or alerts. You can get started with Node-RED straight away by simply running it on your machine. The guides and scripts provided on Node-RED or are more than enough to get started. You'll dive right in and start developing your flows.

Onto the second instance

The next instance is a simple copy of the first. You'll need to make sure that you are installing the same version on both instances, and that any configuration files (such as the settings.js) are also in sync.

The second instance improves the first equally. Docs are read again, improvements are made, and copied over. Life's good! Although there's a slight itch to start automating the setup, it's ignored. Just too many open questions on how to achieve it: write scripts in bash? Or can we use Node-RED to manage Node-RED? Automation can wait, there's new flows to implement!

Wake-up call; how many of them do we have?

There's nothing like a good ol' wake-up call to get you back on track. One of our team members asked a questions about a buggy flow you've got no recollection of. During the investigation there's issues left and right; it's running a much older version, missing standard packages, the settings are out of date, and the timezone not set to UTC? Adoption of Node-RED is going quite well, it's useful and effective. Gets the job done without fuss. But now there's toil in maintaining them; ensure the right tooling is build, properly documented, it needs dashboards and overviews, lots of work to be done. Not quite business related, but Node-RED is important for the company, the bosses sure would approve spending 2 months building these tools!

But then something happened—there was a higher priority project to be picked up. Some tooling could be written for a couple of hours a month, but not two dedicated months to get it in tip top shape. Better than nothing! Built a dashboard in Node-RED to keep track of all devices, there's some scripts and a few flows that aid in monitoring and maintenance. Scaling further is possible, but confidence in the tooling isn't sky high.

Data extraction at scale; now there's over 100

At FlowForge we've got regular conversations with customers managing 100s of devices. Scaling to that many devices and runtimes requires hours of development each week alongside monitoring, maintenance, and auditing.

As a side effect of investing more time into Node-RED and its ecosystem the organisation has developed a few standards. Standard custom nodes that are pre-installed (👋 moment.js), a style guide published for developing flows, maybe even flow linting: https://github.com/node-red/nrlint

The security model is fairly decent. One just hopes the CISO doesn't inspects them, but it's a fair bet they won't; we're far away from the headquarters, right?

Many other edge cases itch in the back of our heads, but we can't focus on those right now.

Conclusion

Node-RED is a great tool, it's got many built-in features that make it easy to get started with no coding experience necessary. Running it at scale, in a production environment can require a lot of sys-ops and dev-ops time and we think FlowForge is a great solution to keep that admin and tech debt in check.

If you're running into these challenges we believe we can help, you can adopt our free and open source edition.

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