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Data visualization specialist Reflect enlivens the growing Puppet DevOps tool portfolio, but it's unclear if Puppet's wares will catch enterprise customers' attention in a busy marketplace.
The purchase of Reflect, a startup company based in Portland, Ore., shows that Puppet has little choice but to reinvent itself as containers pull users' attention away from traditional configuration management, analysts said. Data visualization, a way to portray data so that it's easily understood by people, will also be increasingly important as microservices architectures expand and IT management complexity skyrockets.
"The ability to paint pretty pictures [of data] is not just a 'nice to have' feature," said Charles Betz, analyst at Forrester Research. "It's important as microservices become more difficult to visualize and manage."
Puppet didn't specify its plans to integrate Reflect's software with its Puppet Enterprise, Puppet Discovery and continuous delivery tools, but competitors in DevOps pipeline tools, such as Electric Cloud and XebiaLabs, recently added monitoring and visualization features to illustrate the health of pipelines. It's a safe bet Puppet DevOps tools must also move in that direction, Betz said.
"Puppet has non-trivial data stores already, a lot of it systems configuration data that's very close to the metal in Puppet Enterprise's core data repository," he said.
Puppet lacks a data warehouse or data analytics offering to feed into Reflect's visual tools, but company CEO Sanjay Mirchandani declined to say whether another acquisition or internal IP will fill in that layer of the architecture.
Containers, infrastructure as code invade configuration management's turf
Enterprise IT shops are overwhelmed by a wall of marketing noise from vendors that want to be their one-stop shop for DevOps. But one vendor or one tool won't necessarily solve technical problems in infrastructure automation, said Ernest Mueller, director of engineering operations at AlienVault, an IT security firm based in San Mateo, Calif., which plans to reduce its use of Puppet's configuration management tools.
"As we move to Docker and immutable infrastructure deployments, our goal is to cut the lines of Puppet code we use in half," Mueller said. "We're trying to shift configuration management left -- adding it at the end just creates problems, because if you try to do the same configuration operation on a thousand different servers, it's bound to fail on one of them."
Mueller monitors upgraded capabilities from vendors such as Chef and Puppet, and is interested in a CI/CD process for infrastructure as code. Puppet's reusable manifests appeal to Mueller more than Chef's community-maintained cookbooks, but competitor Chef InSpec's continuous integration-style security and compliance testing intrigues him for infrastructure code.
Overall, though, infrastructure as code testing and deployment still needs a lot of development, and tools are still emerging to help, Mueller said.
"You can't just apply an application CI/CD tool to infrastructure code," he said. "In our application unit tests, for example, the best practice is never to call a public API, but what if the code is creating an Amazon Machine Image? The nature of infrastructure as code means there's no one answer for CI/CD today, and figuring out how to stitch together multiple tools takes a lot of work, without a good reference architecture."
Andy Domeierdirector of technology operations, SPS Commerce
Presumably, the Puppet DevOps portfolio means it will expand its CI/CD tools' integrations and coverage beyond Puppet Enterprise code, but right now Continuous Delivery for Puppet Enterprise doesn't cover other infrastructure as code tools such as HashiCorp's Terraform, which Mueller's shop also uses.
A former Puppet user that switched to Red Hat's Ansible infrastructure automation tool said despite Puppet's acquisitions he likely won't re-evaluate its CI/CD tools.
"We're more interested in things like Netflix's Spinnaker, which plugs in well to Kubernetes [for container orchestration]," said Andy Domeier, director of technology operations at SPS Commerce, a communications network for supply chain and logistics businesses based in Minneapolis. Spinnaker is a multi-cloud continuous delivery platform open sourced by the same company that made Chaos Monkey.
"Distelli is good for heavy Puppet users, but I wish it had been around earlier. Now there's just a proliferation of tools to consider."
Puppet and Chef face game of DevOps musical chairs
As containers and container orchestration tools begin to replace the need for server-level automation in enterprise data centers, configuration management tool vendors such as Puppet and Chef have refocused on higher-ordered IT infrastructure and application automation. Chef has attacked the space with its homegrown Chef Automate, Chef Habitat and Chef InSpec tools, which add application-focused IT automation to complement the company's configuration management products. Puppet has expanded its product portfolio through acquisition under Mirchandani, who took over as CEO in 2016. Puppet bought CI/CD and container orchestration vendor Distelli in 2017 and rereleased some of Distelli's software as Continuous Delivery for Puppet Enterprise, which performs continuous integration testing and continuous deployment tasks for Puppet's infrastructure as code, in early 2018.
"Puppet hasn't had much choice but to develop a strategy that moves into some adjacencies -- otherwise Kubernetes is an existential threat," Betz said.
In addition to Chef, Electric Cloud and XebiaLabs, a Puppet DevOps bid must fend off a horde of competitors from Red Hat to Docker to AWS and Microsoft Azure, and all seek revenues in a relatively small market, Betz said. Forrester estimates the total DevOps tools market size at $1 billion, compared to $2 to $3 billion for application performance monitoring, another relatively niche space. Both those markets are dwarfed by the market for IT service management tools, which Forrester estimates to be an order of magnitude bigger.
"It's a game of musical chairs, and many of those chairs will be suddenly pulled out, especially if the economy even hiccups," Betz said. "There's no question this market will further consolidate."