DevOps automation tools can be tremendously useful in virtualized data centers, but their reliance on coding skills has caused limited adoption. New tools from Puppet Labs and VMware aim to ease more virtualization users into this emerging world.
DevOps tools can save significant time by automating common, repeatable tasks, such as provisioning virtual machines (VMs) and configuring hosts. They require some programming and development knowledge, however, and that takes time for IT operations staff to learn.
"I find myself in a sort of chicken and egg situation," said Rod Gabriel, an IT infrastructure engineer at United Financial Services Inc. in Grafton, Wisconsin. "It takes some time to ramp up."
The major vendors in the DevOps community, including Puppet Labs and Opscode, offer enterprise versions of their software that cut down the amount of programming involved. Still, "you're probably going to have to write some of [the code] yourself," said Bob Plankers, a virtualization and cloud architect at a large Midwestern university.
Puppet, VMware release DevOps automation tools
The new tools from Puppet Labs and VMware Inc., released last week, automate vCenter initialization, VMware High Availability and Distributed Resource Scheduler configuration and ESXi host cluster management. A second set of tools automates various vShield Manager tasks.
"VMware admins that have not played with Puppet need a way to start," said Nicholas Weaver, a VMware automation architect, in a blog post about the tools.
Plankers called these tools a "good first step."
Traditionally, data center administrators configured every physical server individually and had no easy way to keep track of changes and updates made over time. The rise of virtualization amplified the problem, despite the availability of deployment templates, as the number of VMs steadily rose and they began to outlive their physical counterparts. The new Puppet VMware automation tools address some of those challenges, Plankers said.
"You move from having a whole collection of individual servers to a cluster of servers that you know is configured correctly," he said.
DevOps automation tools improve reliability, because changes made to a VM or host can have negative consequences if not applied consistently. To attain that goal, however, operations teams need to become more familiar with development and vice versa, said Chris Wolf, a research vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.
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"There's still a complete disconnect between IT ops and development," he said. "Some ops teams don't even understand the concept of what tools like Puppet are trying to achieve."
Meanwhile, Gabriel said he'd like to see tools that address the more pressing needs of his organization, which has 10 ESX hosts and will grow from 200 to 350 VMs by the end of this year.
"We're a small enough, static environment that the need isn't necessarily there to automate [configuration management]," he said. "Patching [VMs] is more time-consuming. It has to be more automated."
Wolf cautioned that IT pros don't need to automate everything, however.
"They just have to automate the right things," he said.
The new tools are part of Puppet Labs and VMware's plans to integrate Puppet with VMware's management products -- an initiative launched in January when VMware invested $30 million in Puppet.
VMware also has its own configuration management technology, Host Profiles. Many customers were not impressed by the feature when it debuted in 2010, and problems remain.
"Host Profiles are weak; they're buggy; they don't work very well," Plankers said.