Puppet ups the ante to remain relevant in a rapdily changing world

As the world gets ever-more excited about microservices and containerization, companies that provided the first generation of cloud infrastructure automation are scrambling to remain relevant.

We are at something of a transition point when it comes to cloud infrastructure. Only a few years ago, it was generally accepted that customers were looking for tools that would allow them to automate server management simply and repeatably. A number of vendors arose that were focused on this problem space - their solutions were all about creating templates or recipes for server types, and helping organizations quickly and easily deploy and manage those servers. Vendors Chef and Puppet are perhaps the two best-known of these sorts of vendors.

But the world is changing. Organizations are increasingly looking to microservices as the future of their infrastructure. Instead of deploying servers per se, organizations want to manage a rapidly increasing selection of disparate services. The parallel rise of containerization in general, and Docker in particular, has helped this approach grow to dominance.

Of course, this presents challenges for the incumbent management vendors - if your approach is focused primarily on servers, you're not really in an ideal position to be managing microservices. Sure, you can do it; you can segment your solution to be more applicable by users of microservices, but it still feels a little like shoving a square peg into a round hole. And with a bunch of initiatives looking to closely align with the management of containers, these vendors are starting to look perhaps a little heavy for the task at hand.

Which is why new releases of these vendors' products are always interesting to watch. Puppet Labs is no exception, and today it is releasing Puppet Enterprise 2015.2. The release is aimed at giving DevOps teams more clarity and simplicity over the management of the infrastructure they control. Interestingly, and inline with what other vendors are seeing as a key need, Puppet is delivering a visual representation of the models defined by customers' code. The idea being that providing a visual representation makes it far easier to react to the changes that happen with increasing frequency in microservices-based applications.

"One of the fundamental tenets of DevOps is to manage your infrastructure as code. It makes practices like unit testing, peer review, version control, and continuous delivery possible," said Nigel Kersten, CIO of Puppet Labs. "Users can now visualize their code — actually see the models they build. This kind of visualization and insight will become more important for teams as they manage an increasingly complex set of technologies and infrastructure."

Alongside the visual representation tool, Puppet is increasing the different infrastructures it supports. In addition to the obligatory Amazon Web Services (AWS), Puppet supports Docker, Microsoft SQL Server, Tomcat, and more. As part of the 2015.2 release, Puppet Labs is announcing availability of three new Puppet Supported modules:

  • Cisco. A new, native Puppet Cisco NX-OS agent and a Puppet Supported module bring infrastructure as code to software defined networking (SDN) for Cisco Nexus 3k and 9k switches, with 5k and 7k switches to be supported later.
  • Citrix NetScaler. A new Puppet Supported module enables application delivery controller devices to match the same defined configurations as computing infrastructure.
  • VMware vSphere. A new Puppet Supported module accelerates provisioning of virtual machines and allows IT teams to launch and configure virtual machines and manage CPU, memory, and machine configuration over time.


Of course this is important. Existing organizations both want to increase the range of solutions that their management tools support AND the simplicity with which they can approach their management tasks. Puppet is delivering this with the new release.

But at the same time I sense some headwinds in front of Puppet and its ilk. Microservices really have changed the way people work. The deafening roar of adoption of containerization is a direct response to the real benefits that microservices bring. Of course, microservices and containers are not the same thing, but containers do tend to make a microservices-based approach easier to follow. And the benefits that microservices brings are undeniable.

It strikes me that organizations will soon be delineated into a couple of pools. It won't be so much a "cloud versus on-premises" debate, but instead we will have organizations that have legacy applications on virtual and physical hardware and others who have jumped headfirst and wholly into microservices approaches. For these "all in" customers, I struggle to see significant value to be gained from using a traditional infrastructure management product as opposed to a solution like Kuberentes or one of the other nascent container-based tools.

Which introduces some challenges for these vendors - do they shoe horn containerization into their solutions, as they have been doing to date, or do they look at new approaches that forego the heft and complexity of traditional management tools in favor of svelte and slimline solutions that mimic the simplicity of the containers and microservices they are managing?

Time will tell, and it will be a fascinating development to watch. For now, however, this release from Puppet is a good one, and delivers some short term benefits and customer needs. It is the long-term questions which now beckon.

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