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Puppet unveils event-driven IT automation plans

Puppet's IT automation system Relay, now in beta, offers an event-driven take on IT workflows, but the vendor must clearly establish the product's value over competing DevOps systems.

Puppet revealed its roadmap for an event-driven IT automation system this year with the release of its Relay product to public beta, but still must work to distinguish it from the many DevOps control plane products already offered by IT vendors.

Relay, a SaaS application that links together DevOps tools into a centralized workflow, offers a more comprehensive approach than other IT vendor toolchains that focus on CI/CD pipelines or IT infrastructure automation, according to Puppet.

Puppet Relay incorporates Tekton and other open source frameworks to orchestrate IT resources. Tekton is a CI/CD execution engine which emerged from Google's Knative event-driven computing project. Tekton and Knative perform orchestration between cloud-native infrastructure systems that adapts to changes in signals from sensors and other real-time monitoring components. This event-driven architectural approach has become more popular with mainstream IT shops as they learn to manage microservices applications broken down into many discrete components.

IT pros can also use event-driven tools such as AWS Lambda or Confluent's Kafka in addition to Tekton or Knative to tie together similar workflows themselves, but correctly setting up such systems can be difficult, said Alex Bilmes, Puppet's VP of growth.

"Lambdas are totally one-off, so you're building an individual Lambda function, and it's not reusable, you can't share it and you can't abstract the individual steps away -- if something changes, you have to replace the entire Lambda function," Bilmes said.

Other frameworks such as Amazon Simple Workflow Service and tools such as Kafka message queues can fill those gaps too, but linking together multiple instances of such systems is also tough for many enterprises, Bilmes added.

"There's a number of eventing systems relatively well-understood by developers… and now they're trying to connect a function tool like Lambda to a messaging framework like Kafka," Bilmes said. "Let's just say I've seen some situations where that doesn't go according to plan."

In addition to shouldering the workflow integration burden for customers, Puppet's Relay will offer insights and recommendations to improve workflow performance based on its observance of events within the system, Bilmes said.

Puppet faces stiff competition in DevOps automation

One industry analyst expressed skepticism that Relay will provide enough advantages to differentiate from other DevOps workflow tools already on the market, particularly CI/CD pipeline tools that offer value stream mapping and links to IT infrastructure automation systems, such as CloudBees SDM, GitLab and GitHub Actions.

Tom PetrocelliTom Petrocelli

"I'm trying to find a use case here," said Tom Petrocelli, an analyst at Amalgam Insights. "Something else still has to build and deliver code to the infrastructure. That 'something,' which is CI/CD, should be what creates changes in the [infrastructure as code] system."

Another analyst sees it differently. Relay is more directly competitive with products such as StackStorm or AppViewX, said Paul Delory, an analyst at Gartner. These products offer graphical workflow builders that encompass both CI/CD pipelines and infrastructure automation in response to IT incidents.

"CI/CD pipelines are very important as a trigger for an automation workflow, but I view that as a separate process from Relay," Delory said. "If you have a monitoring tool where you see a web tier is too busy, and you want to build a new web server and add it into a load balancer based on an event in the monitoring tool, that's a different process… [Relay] potentially offers another way to interface with that platform toolchain."

Cohesive GitOps toolchains that drive infrastructure automation through code are the ideal for many DevOps shops, but still far from reality, Delory added.

Gartner clients use an average of eight [IT automation] tools. They do need something to serve as the glue between them.
Paul DeloryAnalyst, Gartner

"Gartner clients use an average of eight [IT automation] tools," he said. "They do need something to serve as the glue between them."

Petrocelli remained unconvinced.

"It seems odd to listen for signals when DevOps automation tools are meant to be intentional and  increasingly declarative," he said  "In a declarative system, you define what the system should be -- that seems counter to waiting for another system to hear of a change and set off a workflow."

Puppet must play catch-up in IT automation circles

Puppet has undergone several changes in executive leadership and product direction since its founding CEO, Luke Kanies, stepped down in 2016. Like most configuration management vendors that established themselves before containers and Kubernetes rose to popularity, it has sought to reinvent itself.

Puppet's historic rival, Chef, rose to this challenge somewhat earlier with the introduction of Chef Automate and Habitat in 2016, which added broader approaches to IT automation. In the meantime, companies such as IBM Red Hat have incorporated Ansible infrastructure as code (IaC) tools, Kubernetes container orchestration and Tekton event-driven IT automation into their own DevOps control planes, such as Red Hat OpenShift.

The competition for Puppet doesn't end there -- in fact, most vendors that previously specialized in one part of the DevOps and IT automation toolchain have similarly expanded their focus in the last two years, from artifact repository management specialist JFrog to software project management vendor Atlassian. All take varying approaches, but linking together previously disparate toolchains into a centralized workflow is the high-level goal for all of these players.

"In the end, [Puppet] seems to be thinking 'last decade,' when you had a ton of different tools and nothing to connect them," Petrocelli said. "That's not how modern CI/CD tools, not even Jenkins, behave."

Delory was more optimistic, acknowledging the company has gone through many changes but pointing to the recent hiring of co-CTO Abby Kearns as a big step in the right direction.

"They do have a fairly large install base, and they do still have credibility from that perspective," Delory said. "I'm very impressed in particular by Abby Kearns… she's only been there for a few months, but I've noticed the impact -- she brought a few other people in as well, and they're a lot more comfortable [positioning] Puppet as a platform play."

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