Tuesday, July 27, 2010 | Posted by Jamie Duncan at 5:38 PM

The Players in the Game

You would imagine there would be a clear-cut industry leader in how to keep POSIX-based servers and other system's configurations sane and centrally managed over medium and large networks. After all,  that issue alone is the source of half, if not more, of the told by sysadmins on Friday nights in darkened pubs while sipping obscure Scottish ales.  It's awful.  Hours of down-time for a business that were ultimately attributed to missing a sinlgle missing symlinks.  Database configuration that were not identical that ended up causing datacenter (and customer) chaos during a simple failover.  Any admin with scars have these stories.  So you would assume that they would also have their go-to application.  An "Apache" for configs, or "squid" for centralized package management... of course it has to be.
But amazingly there is no clear consensus within the community.  With the lack of a recognized industry standard to lean on, that means the first step in the saga is research.  Exhaustive, over-the-top research.  The first step is to figure out who the players in the game really are.
  • BCFG2 - an open source application from Argonne National Laboratories, it purports itself to be the closest thing to a true "diff & patch" solution for systems-management as there can be out there.
  • Puppet - While there's not a standard, Puppet is the closest thing Linux has to one.  With the biggest part of the market-share, it's open-source, but you can buy support (a la the Redhat business model).
  • CFEngine - the "granddaddy" of the group, Puppet was created off of the basis of CFEngine.  This product has both community and paid versions (a la MySQL)
  • Chef - Definitely the newest member of the club, Chef describes itself as "running programs instead of issuing commands".
  • Homebrew - The good old, tried and untested, rsync and scp and pyfab and Lord-knows-what-else conglomeration that we all have tried, but none of of admit to in public.
  • RH Satellite / Fedora Spacewalk - the Redhat/Fedora Project System Administration Apparatus
This was the list we started with in order to pick our product to begin testing.  One other entrant, AutomateIT , was eliminated early on due to its extremely Ruby-centric attitude (we tend to be a more pythonic shop).

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