Review: SaltStack shifts devops into high gear

SaltStack Enterprise 5.0 draws on high-speed messaging for superior scalability and control, but the web UI is still catching up

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At a Glance

The only sane and efficient way to manage a large numbers of servers—or even a few dozen, if they change often—is through automation. Automation tools have to be learned and mastered, so they exact a significant up-front cost, but they dramatically reduce the administrative burden in the long run. Perhaps most important, they provide a staunch line of defense against the fatal fat-fingered mistake, which even the most sophisticated cloud operators struggle to avoid.

Configuration management tools such as Puppet, Chef, Ansible, and SaltStack hold the key to automating server provisioning and management tasks. Puppet and Chef are long-established, feature-rich tools that handle the complete lifecycle of IT operations regardless of the hardware platform, OS, application, and configuration model. Ansible is a relative newcomer distinguished by its simplicity and ease of use. SaltStack is neither as convenient as Ansible, nor as feature-rich as Puppet or Chef. But with a highly scalable architecture, powerful orchestration of services, and reliable performance, SaltStack stands tall among these competitors.

SaltStack is an enterprise-grade, commercially supported configuration management tool based on open source Salt. To the Salt core, SaltStack brings a management GUI, role-based access control, LDAP integration, dashboards and reports, auditing, and other advanced features. Salt and SaltStack support a range of platforms, including AIX, Solaris, MacOS, Linux, and Windows.

This review is based on SaltStack Enterprise 5.0, which comes with a completely new GUI, custom dashboards and reports, an integrated database for encrypting sensitive data, and a new multimaster architecture that brings greater scalability and redundancy. SaltStack 5.0 also includes a comprehensive library of modules for handling a wide range of orchestration and automation tasks. You’ll find SaltStack easy to integrate with enterprise IT solutions such as HPE, Nutanix, VMware, Zenoss, and ServiceNow.

Salt and SaltStack were created by Thomas S. Hatch, who had worked for Puppet and Chef, but become dissatisfied with the heavy reliance on Ruby and the slow communication in those earlier tools. Using the power of the ZeroMQ messaging system, Hatch built a fast and highly scalable Python-based system that is now giving Puppet and Chef stiff competition. LinkedIn, NASA, Comcast, and Rackspace are a few notable customers of SaltStack.

The Salt architecture

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