If you’re even a little familiar with DevOps concepts, you’ve probably heard of Chef. If you’ve started experimenting with or implementing DevOps, there’s a pretty good chance you’re using Chef. Chef is an awesome platform for managing a DevOps environment, but it isn’t perfect.
Thankfully, missing features or gaps in the capabilities of a platform like Chef are just opportunities for other developers to step in and save the day. For some organizations, that may be a double-edged sword. It can be overwhelming to investigate the myriad options out there, and to choose tools that add value, without also adding more complexity and headaches than they’re worth.
Let’s take a closer look at four of the most popular open source tools you can use in conjunction with Chef to make your life easier.
One of the coolest things about Chef—at least from a geek humor perspective—is how the various tools and features all seem to have food-related names that play off of Chef. For example, Foodcritic.
The goal of Foodcritic is to make it automate checks for common problems in your Chef cookbooks. The idea is to be able to analyze code quality, and identify issues that will cause Chef to have heart failure if you try to deploy them. Foodcritic ensures that your cookbook code is clean, and flags issues before you deploy them and cause Chef to blow up.
Foodcritic can be configured to work with continuous integration tools like Travis and Jenkins as well. Doing so enables you to combine the automated checking of Foodcritic with the automated deployment pipeline of Travis or Jenkins to keep everything running smoothly.
2. Test Kitchen
Continuing with the Chef / food-related naming conventions, next we have Test Kitchen. Just as restaurants and food companies have test kitchens where chefs can experiment with new flavors and recipes without disrupting food production or affecting the menu, Test Kitchen offers DevOps developers a means of executing a Chef cookbook without actually running code on the Chef Server.
Test Kitchen has drivers and plugins that allow it work with most cloud platforms and virtualization technologies, including Amazon EC2, Blue Box, CloudStack, Digital Ocean, Rackspace, OpenStack, Vagrant, Docker, LXC Containers, and more. It is also designed to support testing frameworks like Bats, shUnit2, RSpec, and Serverspec right out of the box.
The food / Chef connection is a bit more of a stretch on this one, but once you understand what it does it makes more sense. A chef typically has cookbooks, and those cookbooks are stored on a bookshelf. A Chef deployment also uses cookbooks, and those cookbooks can be managed using Berkshelf. Do you see what they did there?
Berkshelf ensures that the right versions of Chef cookbooks are being run by managing how the cookbooks are fetched and deployed to the Chef Server. While there are some unique elements to each Chef cookbook (It wouldn’t make sense to have a completely identical cookbook), there are still common elements as well. It is tedious to manually copy those common elements every time you want to use them so Berkshelf simplifies the process.
You might be wondering if Nagios is some exotic food, or perhaps a tool used by gourmet chefs that you’ve just never heard of. It’s not. Sadly, Nagios breaks the trend of cooking or food related naming. The name Nagios is actually a recursive acronym that stands for “Nagios Ain’t Gonna Insist On Sainthood”—a reference to its original name, NetSaint, which was changed following a legal / trademark dispute.
Nagios is also less Chef-centric than the other tools listed here. It is an IT infrastructure monitoring tool—a pioneer of sorts in the field of continuous monitoring that is gaining in popularity now. Nagios monitors your IT infrastructure for changes in order to spot problems before they occur, and alert the appropriate personnel.
Continuous monitoring has a variety of potential benefits. The data gathered from Nagios can help reduce downtime and business losses, or help organizations plan and budget for IT upgrades. It is also an effective tool for detecting security incidents because the continuous monitoring can identify anomalous activity or unauthorized changes and issue alerts in real-time.
If you are using Chef in your DevOps environment, check out these four tools. As great as Chef is, you might find these tools valuable in helping to streamline and maintain a stable infrastructure.