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Opscode files down steep learning curve with Chef 11

Opscode's Chef 11 beckons to enterprises with better scalability and new usability features for systems management automation.

Opscode Chef 11 will appeal to large enterprises with new change-modeling features, subscription support options and a code overhaul that boosts scalability.

Opscode did a complete overhaul of Chef's underlying codebase, swapping out CouchDB for PostgreSQL and the Ruby coding language for Erlang. The result is beefed-up scalability in which a single Chef server can be used to configure more than 10,000 nodes.

Few customers require that kind of scale, but one Chef software partner, cloud HPC provider Cycle Computing, found it handy for a recent job that required 39 compute years of processing and 10,343 Amazon spot instances scheduled on the fly using the Condor scheduling engine and provisioned using Chef 11.

Before, this kind of scale would've required a master-slave setup involving a number of subservers running Chef, according to Jason Stowe, CEO of Cycle Computing.

"It would have had us jumping through a bunch of hoops," he said.

What's new in Chef 11

In addition to better scalability, Chef 11 includes the Pedant Testing Suite, which automates tests to ensure the Chef server is installed and working properly.

It's a feature that novice Chef users welcome.

"One of the challenges with Chef has been kind of a steep learning curve," said Kate Matsudaira, CTO of, an e-commerce website that uses Chef. "Adding tests means people can verify, 'Is what I did right?'" has plenty of Chef expertise in-house, but Matsudaira said that enterprises, even big companies, tend not to have more than one or two experts on the software.

Cooking with Chef

Chef software automates configuration and provisioning tasks for large numbers of servers at deployment, then runs a continuous-verification service to make sure servers stay in line with configuration specs.

One-click installation and the Pedant Testing Suite are both welcome additions for, according to John Esser, director of engineering for the genealogy website. "Before, when you went to install it, there were several little pieces you had to install, dependent Ruby packages and things like that," he said.

The Pedant Testing Suite is especially useful to the primarily Windows-based, because it includes automated testing on seven different versions of Windows.

Two editions of Chef have been updated with enterprise-friendly features based on Chef 11 code, including the enterprise-focused Private Chef and Open Source Chef.

Private Chef now features a new management console, an activity-reporting dashboard, role-based access control, multi-tenancy and "push" client runs, which allows admins to specify an action for groups of servers to execute and track the status of the action as it progresses.

Private Chef will also move to a subscription pricing of $6 per node per month. Previously, Private Chef was priced as a perpetual software license.

Open Source Chef now includes commercial support, which previously was only offered with Private Chef or the SaaS-based Hosted Chef.

The new support options for Open Source Chef come in a standard level, priced at $3 per node per month, and premium, priced at $3.75 per node per month. Standard support includes live support from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST and a 60-minute monitored response time for high-severity problems; premium support is 24/7 and promises a 30-minute response time.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for and Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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Do you use systems automation tools such as Chef? Which ones?
Puppet because it was quicker to pick up
We use puppet