In the first two parts of this series (Part 1, Part 2), we covered server provisioning and application provisioning. Knowing a bit about each of these tools is useful (although one blog is hardly a thorough evaluation of strengths and weaknesses—I strongly suggest you do more research), knowing how they work together is the point of full layer automated provisioning (FLAP). Automating one or the other helps, but automating both—and integrating that automation—brings us to the level of “Oh, engineering needs a new test environment, and it has to be internal …” and, with a push of a button, it is delivered. That should be the long-term end goal for your organization, so staff time is free to attend to some of the many other issues that plague any given IT organization.
The thing is, these tools combine in both better and worse ways. Some are designed to work together as if one product; some take some work to get going but the combination adds value once connected; and some combinations are painful to put together and almost never are worth the effort.
One thing you’ll note is a repeated discussion of OS support for combined solutions. The reason we address it here, even though we have limited words and it’s already been mentioned in product write-ups, is simple: The limitations of these combinations are compounded. That is, if the server provisioning tool doesn’t support Windows, then the complete solution does not, no matter what the application provisioning tool does. This applies both ways, and is an important consideration for most shops, so we mention it here.
Tools Built to be Together
First off, we’ll take the easy ones. These are the combinations that were designed to work together, and do so pretty well. They vary in maturity level, but otherwise, they’re good options if they fit into your environment.
Razor and Puppet
This is the easy one. Razor was built to be the server provisioning part of Puppet. While the solution set is relatively new, and it shows in the installation phase (which has several manual configuration steps both before and after Razor install), it is maturing rapidly, and the two dev teams work pretty closely together. This is one of only two solution sets that uses a single UI for all provisioning—in this case the Puppet UI. Support for operating systems is broad, including all versions of Linux and Windows to boot. (get it? To boot?) If your data center is highly heterogeneous, or you are already a Puppet shop, it is worth looking closely at this combination. You just have to keep in mind that it is improving at a rapid rate, so those things you don’t like likely will change soon.
Satellite + Puppet + Foreman
As of version 6.0, Satellite is a collection of tools knitted together that include Puppet with Foreman. This means that Red Hat has a vested interest in making certain the two tools work well together. And they certainly seem to. While the operating systems support is limited to Red Hat OSes, the solution is pretty rock solid, and like Razor and Puppet, it is improving at a rapid rate since the switch to this new platform. The UI is independent of the tools underneath, and this is the other solution that offers a “single pane of glass” for all installation activities. The one catch with Red Hat, as mentioned before, is that the functionality of underlying systems is only supported when used with Satellite. How that fits into your organization’s plans is up to you.
Close Enough to be Second Cousins
There are some combinations that, while not officially interdependent, have a long history of mutual support, and thus make them strong combinations. These tools tend to come with straightforward directions to make them work together, and those instructions generally work well. Once paired, they can manage complete automation in a relatively integrated fashion.
Note that these combinations are not even a little exclusive. They are pairings the project teams saw made good sense, and have grown out of closeness. Both sides of these solution sets interoperate with other tools (see the next section).
Ansible + Cobbler
Ansible and Cobbler both trace their genesis to Red Hat, and they share some employees/team members—and have for a long time. That makes it natural that the two are closely integrated. Before Ansible started discussing all of the other server provisioning tools out there, it already had Cobbler integration.
As one would expect, there is Ansible setup, Cobbler setup, and then integration. But once combined, Cobbler can do for bare metal, Ansible can do for cloud, and together they provide a full-stack solution. Since both support most operating systems, the final solution does, too.
Juju + MaaS
Juju and MaaS have interoperated for a long time. Both are projects of Canonical, so it is no surprise that their interoperability continues. Years ago this author used them together and it was … difficult. But that was years ago, and just in the last year both projects have made strides in documentation and ease of use. Like most solutions in this category, there are separate installations and then integration configuration. Since both support a large number of operating systems, this solution can manage the full data center also.
Their traditional home, and the one you’re most likely to be comfortable with them in for the short term, is Ubuntu-heavy shops. But they do support most platforms out there, so it’s worth the time to look into them even for non-Ubuntu shops.
The Extended and Mixed Families
Then there are the ones that have not forged solid one-on-one relationships, some because they are forging a separate path and some because they want to interoperate with everyone. Note that some of the above systems meet this category—Puppet is integrated with most of the server provisioning tools out there—but due to space considerations, we’re not going to go over those products again here. This list contains both application provisioning and server provisioning tools not mentioned above.
Chef has put the bulk of its focus on cloud and virtualization, with the notable exception to this trend being in AIX, where it does support server provisioning. “The bulk of its focus” is not absolute, though, and that’s on purpose. Chef has had presenters at the annual conference talk about using it with server provisioning tools, so it isn’t unaware of the integrated solution space, just that’s not where their focus has been.
The Salt crew is happy to support everyone. While they don’t talk loudly about whom they are integrated with, the product is in use with most major server provisioning tools out there. As mentioned in the SaltStack write-up in part two of this series, cloud integration is pretty broad also, making Salt perhaps the most versatile of the application provisioning tools with regard to full data center automation.
Originally built to interoperate with SaltStack, Stacki (disclaimer: this author’s employer) has moved on to support most of the availableapplication provisioning tools. The catch with Stacki is that some are supported with sample integrations and video tutorials at the open source layer, while others require a license and engagement of Stacki core engineers to obtain support. So there is a video showing Ansible and open-source Stacki working together and talking about the integration, but it would require a paid license and negotiation to get SaltStack or Chef with Stacki. Because of the way Stacki is designed, it is perhaps the easiest of all these products to integrate—simply add the appropriate “Pallet” and tell Stacki to include it in installations. It is getting the correct pallet that requires licensing for some platforms.
Since any server provisioning tool that allows users to customize the install can have the agents for a given application provisioning tool be the last step of a given install, these overviews are at least a little bit arbitrary. To be precise, they are easier to use in the given configurations, but all application provisioning tools can be forced to interoperate with any of the server provisioning tools listed.
The point of this series was really to help those looking into full data center automation quickly get up to speed on what’s available in the marketplace, and as much information as a few 1,200-word blogs will allow to help shorten the list to ones relevant to your organization. It is by no means complete, and there are issues and concerns with each of the products that only further research will bring to light, so don’t stop here.