DevOps Expert – Chef and Puppet

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Necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes, necessity also gives birth to new movements. DevOps is a similar movement born out of the need to improve the speed of IT service delivery. The DevOps movement encourages and emphasizes communication, collaboration and integration between software developers and IT operations. It aims to establish a culture where developing, testing, and releasing a software can happen rapidly and reliably.

Catering to the DevOps movement, new software tools have sprung up to assist enterprises automate testing and create a streamlined development and release pipeline. For example, Puppet and Chef for configuration management, GitHub for storing code, Nagios for monitoring the effect of code changes to the environment and Splunk for operational intelligence are a few among such tools.

In this article we will discuss about two configuration management DevOps tools, Chef and Puppet.

Chef and Puppet

Chef and Puppet are configuration management tools that come handy while dealing with frequent deployments of largely identical services in a decentralized and cloud-based infrastructure. They are both quite mature technologies that are widely deployed. The difference between the two solutions lie in the fact that Chef caters to the developers while Puppet seems more helpful to system administrators.

Let’s take a look at each of them separately:

Chef

It is an open source configuration management tool, designed to cater to developers. Chef operates as a master-client model, with a separate workstation that controls the master. Based in Ruby, it uses pure-Ruby, a Domain Specific Language (DSL), for writing system configuration “”recipes”” or elements. The Chef has a transparent design and works by following the instructions given to it.

The main components of Chef are as follows:

  • Chef Server: The hub where Chef propagates and stores recipes and cookbooks (i.e., system configuration information and policies).
  • Chef Client: Installed on every managed node, it performs configuration tasks on the local machine.
  • Workstation: Enables designated workstations to write/test/maintain cookbooks and upload them to Chef Server.
  • Chef Analytics: A platform, which provides real-time visibility to actions happening in the Chef Server.
  • Chef Supermarket: An open source directory of cookbooks contributed by communities.

When to use it

Using Chef requires familiarity with Git and Ruby, which are required for configuration and writing in it respectively. It is preferable for development-focused teams.

Advantages:

  • Provides full open-source capabilities, including gratis reporting and analytics.
  • Offers huge collection of configuration recipes and modules.
  • Offers full support for test-driven development tools.
  • Code-driven approach gives flexibility and better control over the configurations.
  • Comparatively cheaper, easy to deploy and scale.
  • Knife’ tool, that leverages SSH for deploying agents from workstation, makes it easy to install.

Disadvantages:

  • It is difficult to use if you are not familiar with Ruby and procedural coding.
  • It can lead to large code bases and complicated environments.
  • Chef does not support push functionality.

Puppet

Puppet is also an open source DevOps tool and boasts of being one of the long standing tools in the configuration management space. It is based in Ruby, but uses a customized DSL, resembling JSON for working within it. As mentioned earlier, Puppet is considered to be an operations and system-admin-oriented solution. It functions as a master-client setup and uses a model-driven approach.

The core components comprising Puppet include:

  • Puppet Server: the central server to manage Puppet nodes.
  • Puppet Enterprise Console: a web-based GUI to analyze reports and control infrastructure resources.
  • Puppet Agent: client software installed on the nodes being managed to enable communication and synchronization with the Puppetmaster.
  • PuppetDB: data storage service for the data produced by Puppet.

When to use it

Puppet is a preferable choice if stability and maturity are key factors. It is useful for large enterprises with a heterogeneous environment and a varied range of skills on the DevOps team.

Advantages:

  • Contains the most mature interface and can run on nearly every OS.
  • Puppet Labs provides support through its well established community.
  • Easy to install and simple initial setup.
  • Has the most complete Web UI in the configuration management space.
  • Provides strong reporting capabilities.

In Puppet, dependencies are explicit allowing reordering of resources freely in the code without affecting the order of application.

Disadvantages:

  • Requires the usage of the CLI, which is Ruby-based, for advanced tasks.
  • The Puppet code base has the potential to grow large and complex, making it difficult for new users.
  • Model-driven approach offers less control when compared to code-driven approaches.

Choosing the right configuration management tool depends greatly on identifying each platform’s core competencies and aligning them with the unique needs and preferences of the enterprise and its environment. Both the IT automation platforms, Chef and Puppet, have matured greatly as enterprise solutions are anticipated to help the IT industry with a speedy service delivery.

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