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Puppet automation aims to capture surge in DevOps adoption

Puppet's CEO, brought on in April 2016 following substantial software automation growth, vows to build a bridge from legacy infrastructure to the bleeding edge for enterprise IT.

Puppet automation will be the unifying thread that stitches together the enterprise IT infrastructures of the past with the technologies of the future, if the company's newly minted CEO has his way.

Sanjay Mirchandani joined Puppet as president and chief operating officer in April, and in late September took over the CEO role in place of founder Luke Kanies, who remains on Puppet's board of directors.

Prior to Puppet, Mirchandani was at VMware, overseeing business in the Asia-Pacific region for two and a half years, and was an eight-year veteran of EMC, with five of those years as global CIO.

Mirchandani has become the Puppet master as the company experiences explosive growth -- it's added more than 6000 customers in the last year and has more than 34,000 companies using its configuration management software. Overall, the company has grown roughly four times in the last three years.

SearchITOperations.com caught up with Mirchandani last week at PuppetConf in San Diego to talk about his plans to harness the enterprise IT market's next stage of growth, Puppet automation with Docker, and what Puppet customers are demanding from their vendor as software takes over the world.

SearchITOps: What brought you to Puppet? What has the transition been like so far?

Sanjay Mirchandani: At EMC when I was CIO, we used Puppet, and that left a pretty positive impression with me of what Puppet did. When I came on board initially as president and chief operating officer six months ago, Luke's whole message to me was, 'We're ready to scale, and I need you to help us scale this business out.'

Sanjay Mirchandani, CEO, PuppetSanjay Mirchandani

There's been fairly substantial growth, and that comes with growth in people, locations, scaling systems, and so my initial focus has been to bring our capabilities to scale. The first thing is I've brought a few executives across the business that have the scale experience. Mike Guerchon is our chief people officer, and Mike came on board after over a decade with Riverbed, where he saw them go from almost zero to over a billion dollars and 2,800 people in 40-plus countries, and so he's seen what it takes to go build a global workforce. We're growing double-digits in our workforce, and it may not be 2,800 people, but I can see us rapidly getting to the point where it's a bigger number. The second person I brought on board recently was Gary Green, as our worldwide head of sales, and Gary over the last decade-plus has done senior roles within the go-to-market capabilities at VMware, most recently leading the software-defined networking product they have, NSX, to market, and others.

What's driving that growth?

Mirchandani: Software has become the catalyst to most technology adoption. It's not just technology, it's software. We as a company [believe] that software will install, monitor and manage all other software. It's compounded by certain shifts both from a business point of view and a technology point of view. If you look at technology, cloud without automation is not a cloud. It's as simple as that.

The second piece is, companies that are embracing technology in the services that they bring to market are more competitive and are doing better. How they do that is DevOps, and we're right in the crosshairs of both things. So that has shown us a lot more adoption ... both in the open source side of things as well as on the enterprise side.

What are the differences in how you approach the market at scale or going forward from how Puppet has approached things historically? Is there anything you'll do differently?

Mirchandani: I'm not changing the fundamentals. The fundamentals got us this far ... we're now really investing in our partner community to make sure they are ready to take on that growth. We are investing in technical partnerships as well as indirect routes to market, making sure we've got breadth of channel and partners all over the world. In the past we didn't need it; the time is right for us to double down on some of that.

You've publicly mentioned a plan to substantially increase your investment in open source. Can you provide any further details?

Mirchandani: We've got a great community, over 4,300 modules out there and growing. ... There are times when customers want us to do things at a pace that we need to drive better and in this case, that's why we spun up Project Blueshift back in April. We realized we had to put a stake in the ground with [Google] Kubernetes and CoreOS and the newer technologies and work with the container ecosystem, and our community internally. [We're now on] the second rev of some of the things we created back in April. And we put most of that if not all of that into open source ... we're putting more people internally to focus on our community.

Puppet has announced new support for containers throughout the year, including the Puppet Docker Image Build released this week. How do you see the container space evolving in the next few years, and Puppet's place in it?

Mirchandani: There's a lot of work to get containers adopted. There are a few companies around the world that are using variants of containers in production, while most of our customers today definitely have containers in their R&D environments. They're testing things, they're building on it and are looking to figure out the right way to bring them into production at scale. It's not in isolation -- it has to be production at scale with existing infrastructure. That's where we're focused, on making sure that bridge to the future is as seamless and easy as we can. There's a lot of work to be done there. Are containers going to be mainstream? Absolutely. Today, the value of them in the development environment is huge. We just have to figure out how to make them production-scale ready and manageable and so forth.

In many ways, the challenges of managing infrastructure don't change that much -- it's the nuances of what you're managing. In this case you've got thousands, millions, pick a number of containers with lots and lots and lots and lots of microservices that have a shelf life that's much smaller than historical infrastructure. I find it hard to believe that managing that state, managing what was happening, managing what was being done with those containers -- if it is truly a mission-critical enterprise-type application -- isn't important. All of that has to come to fruition.

Is there anything left on the to-do list with Docker?

Mirchandani: We've only scratched the surface. We're going to be coming out with a ton more. For us, deploying Docker and applications on Docker should be no different than deploying an application set on OpenStack or VMware or Linux; it doesn't matter. We will just keep extending the infrastructure-as-code concept to anything that becomes mission-critical and mainstream.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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