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Preview: Bring Your Own Configuration Management from RightScale

Cloud computing and automated configuration management are a natural match. The cloud makes it trivially easy to spin up servers on demand, but it would be a prohibitively expensive and likely error-prone process to configure each one manually, especially when operating at scale. Configuration management provides tools to automate the creation of cloud servers and manage their configuration details, saving organizations time when launching new clouds and administering existing ones — and that time savings translates directly into cost savings.

When RightScale first introduced cloud management software in 2006, configuration management was in its infancy and not well-adapted to the cloud, so we built a configuration management solution into our platform. As cloud configuration management solutions have matured and their adoption has increased, we have been evolving the RightScale platform to make it easier for our customers to use third-party configuration management solutions. We call this initiative BYOCM — Bring Your Own Configuration Management.

A Brief History of RightScale Configuration Management

Before I get into the details of what BYOCM is, let’s take a quick look back at the history of configuration management in the cloud and at RightScale. In 2006, we developed RightScript™ technology that used scripts written in Bash, PowerShell, Python, and other languages to configure servers after booting a base image. At the time, there were no established configuration management technologies — Puppet had only been around for a short time, and Opscode had not yet released Chef.

In the following years, cloud innovators began to increasingly use object-oriented, specialized technologies in Puppet and Chef, which provided built-in facilities for idempotency and common utilities for managing server configurations. In 2009, RightScale introduced support for Chef recipes alongside our RightScripts to manage servers and began developing all of our Linux ServerTemplates™ using Chef recipes instead of RightScripts.

Now, in 2013, the RightScale State of the Cloud Report shows that fully one-third of organizations in the cloud use a configuration management technology. As these solutions continue to mature, organizations have more options than ever to take advantage of the tactical benefits of configuration management.

Increasingly in large enterprises, we see a mix of configuration management tools in­ use: One business unit using Chef, another using Puppet, and still others that haven’t started down the path at all. RightScale's mission is to provide an overarching cloud management platform that enables users to choose the right configuration management tool for the job without sacrificing the visibility, governance, time-to-market, and support benefits that RightScale provides.

Our BYOCM initiative is designed to fulfill this mission by providing the full benefits of the RightScale multi-cloud management platform while giving organizations the freedom to utilize the native features and community assets of existing third-party configuration management technologies. The initiative will evolve over the next few months, but here’s a preview of what we have now and what’s coming in the near future.

Client ServerTemplates

BYOCM provides supported ServerTemplates that let you connect easily to existing configuration management systems. Working closely with the Opscode team, we started by releasing a Chef Client that connects to an existing Chef Server (Private or Hosted) to complete configuration on boot. We’ve also just released a Puppet Client that works with an organization’s existing Puppet Master. Both of these ServerTemplates provide you with an easy way to get the benefits of RightScale while maintaining your configuration with the solution of your choice.

To get started, you first import the ServerTemplate into your account and then select a cloud and base image using RightScale. By using a set of simple inputs, the servers connect to your existing Chef Server or Puppet Master to complete their configuration. RightScale continues to provide all the other functions you need for managing your cloud infrastructure: monitoring, alerting, access management, reporting, deployments, analytics, security, and so forth.

The end result is a full-featured, integrated multi-cloud automation platform that provides the freedom to choose and use the technologies that are right for you, allowing you to continuously evolve your DevOps workflow by leveraging the combined strength of RightScale and your community best practices. Of course you aren’t limited to the ServerTemplates that we publish — you could use this same approach for any other configuration management solution that you use by customizing the Base ServerTemplate with the client of your choice.

Management ServerTemplates

Coming soon, we will introduce complementary ServerTemplates for Private Chef servers and open source Puppet Masters that will allow you to run your entire configuration management system inside of RightScale, taking advantage of our built-in high-availability and disaster recovery functions. Using the client and server ServerTemplates together with RightScale will provide a best-of-breed configuration management solution under your full control.

Configuration Management Connectors

Once we have released all of these ServerTemplates, we plan to introduce Connectors that will integrate the configuration management server of your choice directly into RightScale, providing full access to our user interface and API for inputs, monitoring, and other operations. Initially, we will continue to work closely with Opscode and focus support on Chef Server. Then, we’ll extend that integration to include open source Puppet Master. The extensible architecture will allow us to continue to evaluate other configuration management technologies, such as Ansible and Salt, and potentially integrate with them as well.

One of the major benefits of this approach is that RightScale will provide a single pane of glass for server configuration management, allowing you to use any combination of RightScripts, Chef, and Puppet to configure your servers. No matter which technology you choose or which community resources you want to use, you will be able to incorporate them into the servers that you manage with RightScale.

So, if you’re already using Chef Server, import our Chef Client ServerTemplate today. If you’re a Puppet configuration management shop, import our Puppet Client ServerTemplate. As always, we welcome feedback on all of our ServerTemplates and any RightScale topics through our feedback forums.