Review: Chef 12 fires up devops

A rich dev and test toolchain, collaborative end-to-end workflow, and improved Windows support put Chef in a league of its own

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At a Glance
  • Chef 12

Two of the most important tasks in a datacenter are server provisioning and configuration management. At one time, administrators spent a significant amount of time physically deploying servers and network infrastructure, followed by even more minutes and hours manually configuring hundreds or even thousands of nodes. Then they spent an additional chunk of the day troubleshooting and fixing the errors they introduced by configuring all of these systems with their fat fingers.

Today, thanks to automation software such as Chef, administrators are able to provision servers, deploy software, and set a nearly endless number of configuration items in a blink, without lifting a finger. And they do so in a way that is more scalable, more repeatable, and more immune to human error.

Although widely considered a configuration management product, Chef seems to think bigger than comparable tools on the market. Chef was designed with a devops culture in mind, and in addition to automating the provisioning of server infrastructure, Chef can automate the provisioning of runtime environments, applications, and containers. This is a comprehensive tool that provides not only configuration management but end-to-end IT automation.

At its most basic (the free open source version), Chef combines a development kit for creating “cookbooks” (think “recipes” for system configurations), a client that runs on managed nodes, and the Chef server, a central repository for cookbooks and the means of applying the recipes in cookbooks to nodes. Chef's open source community marketplace provides a vast repository of cookbooks that can speed up delivery time. Advanced features -- including high availability, a web-based management console, and reporting and analytics -- are free for up to 25 nodes.

After that you have two supported commercial options to choose from: Hosted Chef and Chef Automate, which cost $72 and $137 per node, respectively. Chef Automate comes complete with team workflow capabilities that extend the automation across the entire application lifecycle, from development and testing through staging and production.

A Chef overview

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