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Chef's latest DevOps tool serves up continuous delivery

The new Chef Delivery tool gives DevOps teams a workflow engine that moves code through build, test and production deployments and much more.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. --  DevOps darling Chef is venturing out of the comfortable confines of IT automation and configuration management and into the world of continuous delivery, providing an alternative to the popular Jenkins open source workflow engine and other commercial tools.

At its annual ChefConf event here this week, the company debuted Chef Delivery, a workflow engine that takes either infrastructure or application code and moves it from the developer's workstation through build, test and production, streamlining software and infrastructure deployment according to patterns that the company has observed at successful DevOps shops.

"We have a significant body of knowledge on how to -- and how not to -- deliver at speed," said Barry Crist, Chef CEO, during the keynote. "We can decrease the time it takes to deliver good software."

A design goal for Chef Delivery over other workflow engines is to provide better visibility into the flow of code changes, and to give users the ability to apply policies for more robust change control and governance. In addition, Chef Delivery keeps a full audit trail of all activity, which will make it possible to perform analytics on the productivity of the development pipeline.

"The best thing that we get out of Chef Delivery is consistency in security and compliance," said Matt Merchant, global managing director for DevOps at GE Capital, which has worked with the alpha version of Chef Delivery for several months. "In terms of security or governance policy, here you have an artifact [code] that is tracked and managed through the pipeline."

Compared to the alternative -- peer reviews and change advisory boards -- "that's a huge benefit because it means fewer manual tollgates," Merchant said.

An on-premises DevOps tool, Chef Delivery integrates with the existing Chef Server, and is intended to scale to large enterprise environments. It can shepherd code to a wide array of operating environments, including public clouds such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, or a Docker container. Chef Delivery works natively with Chef "recipes," but can also call external automation programs and scripts through the workflow process.

It's also still very early days for Chef Delivery. For example, there are many open questions about how well it will integrate with DevOps mainstays such as internal GitHub repositories, using containers as part of the build process, or dealing with pipelines with multiple dependencies, GE's Merchant said. "It's still an alpha product that just came out," he said.

And Chef Delivery enters a crowded field of workflow and continuous delivery (CD) products -- many already in use in enterprise IT shops. GE Capital, for instance, already uses Jenkins and IBM's uDeploy internally. "We're not really sure where the boundary between Chef Delivery and Jenkins will be," Merchant said.

Other CD tools include offerings from TeamCity, Electric Cloud Inc. and CircleCI.

Still, among the Chef faithful here, there was plenty of willingness to explore the new tool as a means of streamlining processes.

"In an enterprise, there are more friction points that come into play," said Jason Walker, an engineering consultant at Target who was intrigued by Chef Delivery. Making processes run faster won't speed things up per se, and that's where Chef Delivery could come in -- by "removing the queue time friction points," he said.

Chef Delivery is available today by invitation only. Pricing will be by subscription, but has not yet been determined.

About the author:
Alex Barrett is Editor-in-Chief of TechTarget's Modern Infrastructure E-Zine. Previously, she was the Senior Executive Editor for the Data Center and Virtualization media group.

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I would like to hear from teams that are using Chef. It does sound like an interesting tool, however our deployments needs are currently being met by Dropkick, which seems pretty convenient to me. What are some of the advantages or additional features of using Chef?
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@abuell: Jon Langemak is a network engineer working with Chef. He's written about the experience here: http://searchdatacenter.techtarget.com/tip/Network-provisioning-finally-joins-the-automation-game and more here: http://searchdatacenter.techtarget.com/tip/An-Opscode-Chef-tutorial-for-beginners
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