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Cfengine Launches Commercial Open Source Company

Starting in 2009 popular, autonomic configuration management tool, Cfengine will be commercially supported by a company formed by Cfengine author, Mark Burgess. Cfengine has a laundry list of brand names that are using their software –AT&T, Bloomberg, IBM, Nokia, and many more. I suspect that many of them would pay for commercial support:

Here’s the news from the newly formed Cfengine AS:

Following 5 years of research and development under the technical direction of its long time author Mark Burgess (a professor of Network and System Administration at Oslo University College), the recently formed support company Cfengine AS today released a major upgrade of the Open Source, self-repairing software cfengine based on its innovative Promise Theory technology.

Unlike would-be alternatives, cfengine is not about producing alarms and reports to notify about errors and misalignments in the Data Center: it is a fully self-repairing maintenance engine capable of fixing them without human intervention. Cfengine users know that systems are compliant and maintained even when humans are unavailable, because they have made all the important decisions in advance.

Cfengine is open-source (GPL) software for configuring, monitoring and autonomically maintaining computers. It’s been around for over 15 years and is pretty prevalent among Unix administrators with a lot of machines to manage.  The concept around CFengine involves having a centralized configuration that can propagate out to servers a common use would be to develop a template or set of templates that can be used to “build” a server.

Configuration management is one of the most difficult and complex aspects of IT infrastructure management and there is no clear leader for this type of tool. The largest commercial company dedicated to solving this problem is ConfigureSoft since others got acquired (Bladelogic is now  owned by BMC) and Opsware is now owned by HP sold as HP Data Center Automation). Other ways people are solving the problem is by creating virtual machines rPath’s Conary system makes it relatively simple to provision them. Open source OpenQRM is another open source favorite for management of virtual machines. Red Hat’s got their own tool for building virtual machines or software appliances, Thin Crust. Ubuntu’s platform for virtual appliance devleopment is JeOS (just enough operating system). However, the bottom line is that the creation and configuration of servers is a tought problem and making the process manageable is a problem that no one has solved yet.

As far as open source goes CFengine is probably the most widely known configuration management tool but Reductive Labs developed Puppet has been gaining a lot of mind share lately. Puppet is an automated administrative engine for your *nix systems, performs administrative tasks (such as adding users, installing packages, and updating server configurations) based on a centralized specification. In a nutshell Puppet solves the same kinds of problems that Cfengine does but in a slightly different way and relies on the very popular Ruby on Rails for client-server architecture. It seems like a lot of people are using it including Google, Speakeasy.net, and Harvard and as I have attended the USENIX Large Installation Systems Administrators Conference the past three years it seems that talks given by Luke Kanies, the Puppet project lead, have been very well attended by administrators who are often managing thousands or tens of thousands of servers.

I know that Reductive Labs does a lot of consulting on Puppet and that Cfengine is going to be releasing a commercial version of Cfengine 3. I am not sure that they could ever find a model like Red Hat’s update service since configuration management is so complex but I do think there’s a very good consulting business there for both companies and perhaps a nice tool to add to a bigger company’s repertoire. Anyhow it’s nice to see one more commercial open source company come to market. I wish Cfenigne AB the best of  luck, I am sure they will receive plenty of interest.

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