Open Source’s Deep Dive Into the Enterprise

Server provisioning, configuration management, and automation are the latest examples of where the tech industry is being driven, largely by open-source software. The leading open-source server and IT infrastructure automation frameworks, Opscode Chef and Puppet Labs’ Puppet, sit on the leading edge of significant trends underway in enterprise IT — particularly disruption from cloud computing and DevOps, where application development and IT operations come together for faster, smoother delivery of software and services.

I’ve discussed the importance of open-source software in cloud computing and in trends such as DevOps and polyglot programming. Consistently across all of these trends and the technologies that go with them, there are prominent roles for Chef and Puppet.

Chef and Puppet are a typical starting point for organizations seeking more modern, more automated systems management, particularly when infrastructure is represented by traditional data centers and virtual, private, and public cloud resources. These open-source software tools are used by organizations to more quickly and efficiently provision, configure, and manage clusters of servers.

At DevOps’ Core

Much of the efficiency and automation they provide lies in Chef and Puppet recipes and cookbooks, which are manifests or blueprints of infrastructure and application configurations that can be reused, as well as tracked and refined. This reduces the time and trouble of provisioning and configuring each server or cluster from scratch.

It’s common for large enterprise customers to indicate that Chef and Puppet must be able to integrate or work with other technologies in continuous integration and continuous deployment initiatives, which also represent DevOps implementations. Thus, we see not only customers but also providers facing a decision of whether to integrate and support Chef and Puppet or provide similar server configuration and provisioning capabilities.

Chef and Puppet are important for a few reasons. First, their technologies and communities are a core part of the DevOps trend that joins application development and IT operations efforts for greater speed and agility, improved efficiency, and quality.

In addition, these open source tools can serve as standards in the absence of real standards — an increasingly significant challenge with the polyglot programming trend that translates to more languages, frameworks, databases, tools, infrastructure, and general variety in developing, deploying, and managing today’s applications.

While they may be the leaders, Chef and Puppet (both written in the Ruby programming language) are not the only open-source options in the market. There’s CFEngine, a server automation framework that is written in C. SALT, a similar framework written in Python, is another option. Juju, from Ubuntu Linux distributor Canonical, is yet another similar toolset in the market.

Going Mainstream

The community growth of tools such as Puppet and Chef — evidenced in part by efforts such asAmazon’s new OpsWorks, as well as the commercial growth of Opscode, Puppet Labs, and other vendors in the space — is indicative of the DevOps extension beyond Web 2.0 and technology firms to more mainstream enterprise verticals such as financial services, telecommunications, retail, pharma and health, and the public sector.

These large enterprise organizations are piloting and expanding DevOps implementations as they seek to respond to much faster software iteration cycles, demanding consumers, internal users, and other open source, free or inexpensive options for enterprise developers that lead to so-called “shadow IT operations” — not something the ops team wants to hear about.

Further evidence of these tools and practices going mainstream lies in expanded integration and support for Windows management and Microsoft environments, which represent a growing number of customers for CFEngine, Opscode, and Puppet Labs.

In true enterprise open source form, these tools and enterprise use are forcing a response from large, traditional, and mainly proprietary systems management vendors. Some of these players, which include HP, IBM, BMC, and CA, are responding with their own integration and support for Chef, Puppet, and other tools — but they are also extending to serve DevOps customers the way they have always responded to disruption: by acquiring companies with the key technologies.

Chef sponsor Opscode and Puppet sponsor Puppet Labs are indeed among the most interesting potential M&A targets in the tech industry today, but both companies are more focused on growing commercial business and community, which seems to be sustaining their success.

While the industry typically asks which player will win in such a scenario, I would argue — as I did with Xen and KVM — that both projects, both companies, both customers and providers, and open source, in general, all benefit from not just one, but two credible options for enterprise technology and capability.

It’s clear there is some opportunity in the management of virtualized infrastructure since two-thirds of companies in the market are either in planning or in pilot or do not yet have solid plans for server provisioning and configuration technology, based on 451 Research’s customer research via TheInfoPro.

Given what we hear from customers and vendors and some of the alignments taking place, such as VMware’s recent investment in Puppet Labs, it seems clear Chef, Puppet, and open-source software will continue to play a prominent role as more organizations take on managing and automating their virtual and cloud infrastructure.

LinuxInsider columnist Jay Lyman is a senior analyst for 451 Research, covering open source software and focusing primarily on Linux operating systems and vendors, open source software in the enterprise, application development, systems management and cloud computing. Lyman has been a speaker at numerous industry events, including the Open Source Business Conference, OSCON, Linux Plumber's Conference and Open Source World/Linux World, on topics such as Linux and open source in cloud computing, mobile software, and the impact of economic conditions and customer perspectives on open source.

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