A Christmas Story: Using DevOps to Streamline Gift Delivery at the North Poleby@dan-garfield
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A Christmas Story: Using DevOps to Streamline Gift Delivery at the North Pole

by Dan GarfieldDecember 18th, 2020
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The first breakthrough came when they switched Elf-driven production into automated pipelines.

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Last year the North Pole barely pulled off Christmas. Between growing populations and a fixed budget, they needed a new approach to build and deploy gifts, they needed DevOps. 

If you are familiar with Santa, you might know that he and his elves gather the wishes of every child in the world and deliver those wishes in the form of gifts based on a child’s niceness. On Christmas night Santa will fly across the world, jump into every chimney that he can find, and deliver gift by gift. Let’s call this the traditional gift release.

“We’ve been shipping gifts the same way for a long time,” said Santa Claus, Chief Christmas Officer. “But as populations have grown, it’s put an incredible strain on the team. We can’t just double the number of elves working, and the truth is the bottleneck is actually in the delivery of the gifts.”

Using Automated Pipelines 

For inspiration, Santa looked at DevOps and technologies like Kubernetes. The first breakthrough came when they switched Elf-driven production into automated pipelines. “Instantly our error rates went down. Every year we had things like dolls with too many arms or car toys that would run backward once they touched the race track.” With automated pipelines, they were able to catch these kinds of bugs using integration testing. Now the elves can spend more time focusing on toy design and creating a larger variety of toys.

Gifts as code

Instead of hand-rolling gifts, Elves now describe their toy designs using Yaml that works with a CRD they call “Yulenetes”. Once described, the toys can be created and torn down on demand. “Getting the hang of Yaml was tough but imagine our surprise when describing one bike allowed us to spin up thousands instantly!” Said Flooper Noopers, a lead Elf engineer at the North Pole production facility.

Progressive delivery

The next big innovation came from the idea of using feature flags. Rather than doing a single large release once a year, they could release presents using feature flags. The presents would effectively be at the homes of their recipients but they could be remotely switched on and revealed to children no matter where they were. 

“It felt a little weird to deliver presents in March, we’re normally stuck in logistical planning at that point in the year,” said Santa. “We started off with monthly releases and moved to weekly and finally daily. For our traditional users nothing has changed, they still “receive” the presents on December 25th or the evening of the 24th, depending on the locale. Once we flip on the feature flags, the presents appear. Now we can more easily match the traditions of each family.”

The results - 30% reduction in errors, 95% faster deployment cycles, and a 90% reduction in build times.

Productivity is through the roof, and beyond the business benefits, there’s a big benefit to mental health. “Normally this time of the year I’m dealing with a lot of burnout from our worker elves,” said Dr. Mantis Tobaggan, an elven doctor specializing in productivity. “Now the elves are happy and incredibly productive; the automation has taken the stress off and allowed them to branch out and flourish creatively.” 

What’s next?

Santa promises that they’re not done innovating. “Once we started adopting DevOps, everything changed. We’re now looking at the next generation of technologies,” promised Santa. First, they’re investigating GiftOps, a way of using Gift reconcilers to make sure each home approaches the desired state of gifts without any manual work. And more controversially, Giftless, a method of spreading holiday cheer that doesn’t require the physical presence of gifts even though Santa assures us the gifts will still exist somewhere. Santa is calling the entire process “Christmas-as-a-service” or CaaS for short. 

About Dan, GitOps, and Codefresh

Dan is the Chief Technology Evangelist at Codefresh is a DevOps automation platform designed for cloud-native applications. They recently launched the first components of GitOps 2.0, bringing visibility and scalability to the software delivery process that is helping engineering teams confidently ship code more often. You can get a free account to use GitOps, CI/CD, and observability courtesy of Santa at