Chef muscles up with Microsoft, Amazon

Chef 12 now interfaces with Amazon's block storage and Microsoft's configuration management software

Chef, a popular open source software program for managing the configuration settings of servers, software and other IT components, now can reach deeper into the data center with the help of some intertwined services from Microsoft, VMware and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Chef 12, released Monday, also comes with a new licensing model that should make it easier for customers to add or remove premium features.

The Chef IT automation software provides a way for administrators to write scripts, often called recipes, to configure and deploy a new piece of equipment or software. Recipes can be used to automate the management of large numbers of assets.

Since its initial release in 2009, Chef has been downloaded over 10 million times. It is used by companies such as Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, Rackspace, AirBnB and others.

To extend the capabilities of Chef, the company has leveraged resources offered by other IT vendors.

For instance, a backup copy of Chef can now be stored and run on AWS' Elastic Block Storage (EBS).

Should the main Chef server go down, operations can shift to EBS. Organizations can set up copies of the Chef server in different geographic areas, for extra protection in times of disaster.

Eventually, Chef will also support block storage services from other cloud services as well.

A new replication feature allows users to synchronize configuration data across multiple Chef servers, which can provide a single set of policies across all the locations being managed by Chef.

"You could use a single Chef server as a central location for developing policies for configuration and management," said Colin Campbell, Chef director of patterns and practices.

"You could have individual Chef servers in different geographic regions, or in different data centers, and these distributed servers will periodically poll the primary Chef server for changes," Campbell said. "This allows you to maintain a single world view across different locations, and ensures consistency across your entire network."

Chief 12 is also the first version to work with Windows Desired State Configuration (DSC), a new Microsoft set of commands for managing Windows components through PowerShell. Administrators can now evoke these DSC commands from within Chef scripts.

"DSC is a big initiative for Microsoft," said Jay Wampold, Chef vice president of marketing.

Chef has also geared its software to work with the VMware vSphere virtualization platform and the VMware vCloud, which is VMware's federation of vSphere cloud service providers.

This pairing of Chef and vSphere provides an easy way for an organization to centrally manage the assets of hybrid clouds, in which some operations take place in the cloud and other operations are executed in-house.

The company is also delivering Chef in a new way starting with release 12.

Previously, the software came in two editions, the open source community edition that was available at no cost, and a separate commercially supported edition with additional management features.

The company now just offers a single edition of the software, with all the capabilities included in the package. Users can download a single package at no cost, and just use the core free of charge, or turn on the premium features with a paid subscription.

"We wanted to create a single code base so everyone can download Chef," said Barry Crist, Chef CEO. Previously, companies that wanted to move between the free and commercial installations had to reinstall the software.

Premium features include analytics, federation, management console reporting and a set of Chef development tools.

Chef now comes in three editions.

Chef Essentials is the free edition. The premium features can be turned on at no cost for up to 25 nodes, and up to five nodes for the version that Chef, the company, itself offers as a hosted service.

The standard Chef subscription starts at US$6 per node per month.

A premium annual license agreement, called Chef Enterprise, provides additional hours of support and assistance in building Chef recipes, among other perks.

Also with this release, a couple of features that used to come with the paid edition are now available for free, namely support for multitenancy and role-based access control.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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