Puppet Labs founder Luke Kanies talks about Puppet Enterprise and DevOps

Chris Mayer

Just before heading off to EclipseCon, we talked to Puppet Labs CEO and founder Luke Kanies about their latest release of sysadmin aid Puppet Enterprise and the rise of DevOps in general.

Yesterday, those guys at Puppet Labs deployed their latest generally available release Puppet Enterprise 2.5, enabling system administrators to manage heterogeneous IT environments of Linux, Unix and for the first time Windows systems. With close ties to their Puppet Forge online marketplace, Puppet Enterprise 2.5 also facilitates DevOps giving cross-functional IT teams a common framework that allows rapid, continuous deployment of applications.

We caught up with Puppet Labs founder Luke Kanies just before he went to EclipseCon to talk about the release and how it fitted into the infrastructure picture…

JAX: So Puppet Labs Enterprise 2.5 is here. Can you tell us about what is new within this version?

Luke Kanies: Puppet Enterprise 2.5 is our fourth release of Puppet Enterprise since it launched in 2011, and follows on from the major 2.0 release in November of last year. First in the release is support for Windows, which allows Puppet users to use a single language and platform to manage their entire infrastructure, from Red Hat servers on EC2 to Windows servers on physical hardware, and even including the Cisco networking hardware and F5 load balancers.

Next is integration with the Puppet Forge, where users can find, download, install, and manage more than 300 freely downloadable pre-built solutions in Puppet. These solutions stretch from MySQL and Apache to Hadoop and OpenStack, and provide the fastest way to automate solutions to new problems. Because they are built and maintained by our wonderful community, they are also a way of sharing and benefiting from community best practices, so everyone learns together rather than in separate silos.

Lastly is our big data for infrastructure work, which wraps up all of Puppet’s open data, formats, and APIs into the Puppet Data Library, which is perfect for building applications on top of Puppet and integrating it into existing infrastructure. This includes data like hardware and software inventory, run reports that tell you everything that’s happening on your infrastructure, and our configuration graph which tells you not just what you’re managing but what it’s related to. With the Puppet Data Library, our users have applications like a warranty report that uses discovered serial numbers to automatically determine when a piece of hardware goes off warranty.

Why was Puppet Labs Enterprise created in the first place? Was it a response to the sluggish cloud computing infrastructure of old?

Puppet Enterprise was more a response to the fact that the software around at the time wasn’t useful enough for people to even bother with it. When we started with Puppet, there were multiple commercial products and tens of open source projects in the space, but fewer than 20% of companies ever used any of them, and those that were used were barely so at that.

Part of the problem was just that these tools were meant to be all-encompassing solutions that took 12-18 months to deploy, but they also didn’t make life easier or better for the sysadmin, they just changed the job. I wanted a solution that sysadmins would love, that would allow them to move away from firefighting all the time and focusing on strategic work, and that would allow operations to become a source of leverage for the organization rather than just a cost center.

The fact that Puppet has been at the forefront of DevOps, and a big enabler in the cloud, is a testament to how important this better tooling really is to moving forward and quickly.


What do you feel are its best features, something that Puppet Labs 2.5 offers differently to others?

I think the best features of Puppet Enterprise revolve around its simplicity and abstraction. The simplicity means that anyone can get started with Puppet very easily, and it’s worth doing even for small problems. We have some customers who began using Puppet by just managing a single file on a small pool of machines, but within a few years they were managing hundreds of servers. Puppet’s abstraction means that sysadmins and developers can focus on the high-level problems in their infrastructure, rather than spending time on problems like how a package manager works, or what the format of a configuration file is.

Even if Puppet doesn’t directly support a tool, it’s easy to build this support into Puppet via its many extension points, so at worst you pay a small extension cost and from then on the plugin is again a source of leverage.

What exciting modules are we seeing pop up in Puppet Forge?

There are really all kinds of modules there, and in fact we run a blog series called Module of the Week, where we highlight something special that week. We’ve been focusing for the last few weeks on a module called ‘stdlib’ that was built by our community and includes a ton of useful extensions to Puppet. I like that one because it both provides a lot of functionality and showcases how easy and valuable it really is to extend Puppet.

There are also the OpenStack modules, which have been getting a lot of attention recently. Many of our customers and partners have been collaborating on them, and it’s been impressive how useful they’ve been given the early state of OpenStack.

Was the decision to provide Windows support logical progression for Puppet Labs Enterprise?

Puppet Labs grew up as a mostly Linux/Unix shop, and all on the command line, so moving into Windows is really a response to customer demands. Our customers are excited because it will allow them to use a single tool and a single language to manage their entire infrastructure, rather than having each team or platform having its own silo. Even better, you can build a single solution that builds and manages a service across both Linux and Windows.

DevOps has long been a sort of buzzword, but a lot of enterprises are coming round to the idea. Do you feel the future for development teams is DevOps and if so why?

As I’ll be speaking about at EclipseCon this week, DevOps is more about operations than development, but I think it’s absolutely the future. I think it is to operations as Agile development was to the developer world – refocusing on the customer, on the problem, and finding the best, shortest way to solve the problem rather than focusing on processes and controls.

We think it’s a critical part of getting IT past being the gatekeepers of technology and instead having them be a great source of innovation and leverage. We’ve already seen that in some organizations, like Google and Amazon, operations is a real competitive advantage, and DevOps practices are exactly how they got there.

What is the biggest challenge for DevOps do you feel?

I think like all movements, DevOps has to stay just edgy enough for people to care deeply about it but just mainstream enough that it can really spread. We’re starting to see a lot more DevOps consulting – in fact, we offer some forms of it – and while that can help people get up and running quickly, it can also provide a kind of false conversion to some organizations, similar to what has happened in Agile. Just because you have iterations doesn’t mean you’re agile, and just because your sysadmins are talking to your developers doesn’t mean you’re practicing DevOps.

What things have Puppet Labs got lined up in the future, or is the focus simply on 2.5 for the time being?

At Puppet Labs, we like to work to the future but talk in the present. We’re very excited about 2.5, but we’ve already been working for months on our next major capabilities. You’ll be able to see the direction of our releases from our upcoming open source release in May, but you’ll have to wait a few months after that to see our next major Puppet Enterprise release. You can bet that all of these features will be focused on making Puppet more powerful but less complicated, and easier to use by newcomers but providing more long-term value to veterans.  

In other words, it will all be about well-designed software, by sysadmins for sysadmins.

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