Opscode Chef configuration automation tool aids cloud management

Chef and other configuration automation tools go hand-in-hand with cloud management for some shops, though integration can be tricky.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Configuration automation tools like Opscode Chef aren't just for DevOps anymore.

They also come in handy for provisioning resources at the speed of cloud, according to attendees at ChefConf 2013 here this week.

We would need another person to do what I do without having good configuration management.

Matt Lanier,
keeper of keys and grounds for Tout

"Half the time, our developers don't know where CloudStack ends and Chef begins," said Joshua Miller, Linux administrator for Edmunds.com, a publisher of automotive information websites based in Santa Monica, Calif. Edmunds uses a plug-in for Chef's knife tool as a command-line interface for developers to provision resources in CloudStack.

"Developers are spinning up and blowing away systems at a rate of dozens a week and hundreds per month," Miller said. "If the operations team had to handle all that, we couldn't deliver on it."

Instead, the ops team focuses on improving the integration between Opscode Chef and CloudStack, and other higher-level duties than provisioning and configuring servers, Miller said.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) users also find Chef useful for rapid configuration of resources in the cloud.

If not for Chef, the team at Tout, a short-form video delivery firm based in San Francisco, would have had to build a similar tool from scratch, according to Matt Lanier, keeper of keys and grounds for the company.

If forced to configure Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) manually, Lanier said he could manage, but then he wouldn't be able to also focus on code development.

"We would need another person to do what I do without having good configuration management," he said.

As a one-person developer and operations team, Miah Johnson of Hotel Tonight, a last-minute lodging reservation service based in San Francisco, Calif., also finds Chef configuration essential for managing more than 100 AMIs solo.

"It takes out the repetitive, error-prone work," she said.

However, one session presenter warned, expect to do integration work if you want to use Chef with AWS' Auto Scaling groups and CloudFormation.

Chef's knife-ec2 plug-in didn't integrate with these services out of the box when Adobe Systems Inc. set up its Creative Cloud service last year, so John Martinez, cloud operations engineer for the software maker based in San Jose, Calif., reverse-engineered the way the tool does bootstrapping into AWS to make it work with both services, as well as with Hosted Chef.

"Knife requires you to have cloud credentials," Martinez explained. "AWS doesn't have access to your knife credentials, nor would you want them to."

Instead, when configuring a new AMI, Chef credentials are downloaded from an encrypted S3 bucket, and identifying information about each server (such as whether it is a Web server, a cache server, etc.) is read from EC2 user data. All this information is then sent to Hosted Chef to complete the process.

"It's sort of stateless, where knife is usually stateful," Martinez said. This integration enables Adobe to use Auto Scaling to launch thousands of instances at a time if necessary.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for SearchCloudComputing. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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