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Popular Linux automation tools embrace Windows

CFengine now natively supports Windows, and Opscode Chef does too. But will Windows shops accept their advances?

Open source configuration management and automation tools like Opscode Chef and CFEngine have taken the hint: supporting only Linux and Unix operating systems doesn’t cut it.

This week, both Opscode and CFEngine announced new versions of their tools that support Windows environments. Specifically, Opscode Chef 10.6 supports server instances running Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server 2008 R2 by executing PowerShell scripts. CFEngine Nova 3.0, meanwhile, now natively supports Windows instead of relying on the Cygwin Windows emulator, allowing it to apply policies to the Windows Registry, access control lists, services and applications.

While Linux and Unix form the core of the demand from their traditional customers, support for Windows follows close behind, said Thomas Ryd, CFEngine CEO.

“Linux, Solaris and Windows are the top three operating systems that our customers are asking for,” he said. CFEngine also supports HP-UX, IBM AIX, Macintosh and FreeBSD.

Feature-wise, there’s nothing CFEngine Nova can’t do on Windows that it can do on Linux, Ryd said, but that doesn’t mean it’s a shoe-in for Windows-centric shops. “If there are a lot of Windows people, it’s a fairly easy sell for us,” he said, but if the reverse is true – a predominantly Windows shop – CFEngine’s lack of wizards and point-and-click GUIs can make it hard to swallow. “It’s a bit of a learning and acceptance curve,” he conceded.

The heterogeneous enterprise
Certainly for some enterprises, Windows support by open source automation tools comes as too little, too late.

TASC is a third-party administrator for employee benefits programs in Madison, Wisc., that last year deployed UC4 One, a cross-platform automation platform targeted at mid-size and large enterprises.

“There are a lot of great open source tools out there, and if our environment were limited to [the LAMP stack], they would have been fine,” said Karl Richards, TASC CIO. But Richards needed an automation tool that could integrate with not only Linux, but also Windows and Java workloads, plus Software as a Service applications like and NetSuite.

At first, TASC used UC4 to help it speed up and improve the completion of its batch processes, edging it to 99.98% success rate. However, Richards said IT staffers have since started using UC4 in previously unimagined ways.

For instance, they use it to automate its production build and deployment process. “We run a production Web portal accessed by thousands of customers,” he said. “Dropping the build cycle from four or five hours to a half an hour means a lot to us.”

More recently, the infrastructure team has started using UC4 to help with log file cleanup, while developers explore how they can leverage Amazon EC2 for production. These new use cases are gratifying to Richards. “It started out with me being the champion; now, it’s got legs of its own.”

Regardless of what automation platform you decide on, Richards recommends taking the automation plunge sooner rather than later.

“As I look at these kinds of problems, I really think you’re better off addressing [automation] early on,” he said. “If you don’t do it early, it can become a large stumbling block and hard to untangle.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, Executive Editor at, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.

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