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I’ve always liked configuration management. I simply can’t understand how anything works if you don’t know what assets you have, where they are, who looks after them etc. And perhaps even more important are the relationships, from assets to real people, business outcomes, key products, other assets and so on. This is a cultural and process thing as much as technology, but technology is a key enabler, because it reduces the burden of doing things properly. I’ve always had a soft spot for the configuration management automation company, Puppet, which says it “empowers people through infrastructure automation – automation unlocks the ability for IT operations teams to scale infrastructure at the largest companies in the world”. Really, however, the reason that you want and need Configuration Management is that it is what lets you sleep at night after making changes – that is, to move fast without breaking things.
Puppet was acquired by Perforce, another company I like, in 2022, and I’ve been catching up with Puppet, to see how it is getting on. Puppet has a firm basis in Open Source and, together with Perforce and other “commercial Open Source” tools, provides a strong DevOps automation portfolio.
My main takeaway from chatting with David Sandilands, Principal Solutions Architect in the Puppet team, was how mature the Puppet organisation now is, especially with regard to people issues. Puppet says that it does more than just configuration management as some traditional vendors in this field see it and is also focused on solving top-level business problems with a larger offering that encompasses infrastructure automation, infrastructure management and compliance. Perhaps this is best exemplified by its commitment to the provision of training. “We’ve built these classes to accommodate someone who is just starting in this space, or looking to expand Puppet knowledge within their business,” says Beth Weinberger, Puppet’s VP of Operations and Education. “This new hands-on experience with infrastructure automation in real environments helps with job advancements and placement.” I’m sure it does, and companies who give their employees transferable skills (and on company time) suffer less churn, I believe, because people who are confident of being kept up-to-date won’t see the need to move now, before their skill-set becomes outdated. There is also the issue that more automation implies that good practice, not bad practice, is being automated – so a mature company will ensure that everyone, especially a new entrant, is trained in good practice, without simply relying on what they say on their CV or how much work they are prepared to put in on their own time.
Read more about Puppet education here, especially if you want to learn more about what configuration management and infrastructure automation are and why you need them; gain an understanding of the field of infrastructure as code (IaC); or even just to level up IT skills in your organisation.
Now, just a final point. I’ve said that Puppet shows good maturity and sees beyond just code. Many commercial Open Source tools vendors do. Nevertheless, most Open Source contributors remain fairly code-focused, even if they can also talk about the human and management issues around facilitating business outcomes, and this may intimidate people who can’t (and don’t need to) talk at the code level. Being rooted in solid code has its advantages, but I’d love to also see Open Source communities focused mainly on building business outcomes at a higher level.