Chef’s open source tool lets applications automate infrastructure provisioning

Chef, a company that has made a name for itself developing infrastructure automation software products, released a new open source project named Habitat this week that it says is defining a new category: Application automation.

Habitat is a way of packaging an application in a way that lets the app provision the infrastructure it needs to run. This process gives Habitat the ability to run on any type of infrastructure, from physical to virtualized servers, in data centers or in the cloud.

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“Our great discovery was simply that the automation must travel with the application, rather than be provided by the platform," explains Chef CTO Adam Jacob in a blog post describing Habitat. “Deploy the app, deploy the automation.”

Habitat gives developers a way to package applications and their run-time dependencies into a common form factor. Dependencies such as the configuration of the infrastructure, the topology of the stack and security auditing can all be dictated by the application. Jacob says this is a fundamentally different view of the market. Too often applications have to be built to the infrastructure specifications they will be running in: An app running in a cloud must have certain characteristics; one running on bare metal would have another. The idea of Habitat is that the application would dictate its run-time needs, and it would integrate with a cloud management platform, a container scheduler or Chef’s infrastructure automation tools to provision those resources.

Another unique thing about Habitat is that any type of application can be run in this framework; it doesn’t necessarily have to be new, cloud or container native apps. Existing, legacy applications can run in Habitat and provision their own automation too.

“I see this as another play in the orchestration platform wars," says IDC analyst Al Hilwa. He calls it a "new take on the genre" that is not centered around containers specifically. "Most of the orchestration solutions out there are focused on cloud native apps and tend to require way too much change and re-architecture work for existing applications. I think Habitat is a creative new approach to solving the orchestration problem that employs a lot of built-in smarts in terms of managing the distributed workload with less operator intervention."

By releasing Habitat, Chef is attempting to move into the application management arena beyond its core infrastructure automation tools. The company also has a security automation platform. All three – the infrastructure, application and security automation platforms - are open source projects. Chef commercializes those projects and offers support, management and monitoring of their implementations.

Habitat, the newest one, is an Apache-licensed project.

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