We've covered the benefits and pitfalls of configuration management tools like Chef in many articles. But let's assume you've done your homework and decided Chef is the tool for you. How do you get started?
Funnily enough, one of the inspirations for UpGuard was a not-so-successful Chef deployment. Only a poor craftsman blames his tools, so rather than pointing the finger at Chef we reflected on what we had done wrong. The problems we encountered trying to move a large, brown-field infrastructure to Chef, and to get culture, people, and processes to change at the same time, drove us to find a sound method for enterprise automation.
Essentially, we had put the cart before the horse: we started automating our infrastructure before we understood it. Without documentation of existing configuration state and scalable validation for the changes we were making, our automation efforts were bound to lead us in circles.
So, what did we do? We came up with our "three waves" methodology: visibility, control, automation. While UpGuard is built to make those steps as easy possible, we think you'll benefit from following those steps regardless of what tooling you choose.
The first step to making systemic changes to your infrastructure (or even just avoiding outages) is to know what you have. Historically this has been handled through barbaric methods like Word docs and spreadsheets. UpGuard starts by scanning nodes (Windows, *nix, cloud apps, etc) for configuration state, generating total state documentation that is completely up to date.
Once you know what you have you want to be able to anticipate and validate changes to it. You expect test driven development from the dev team so why should there be a lesser standard for Ops? In UpGuard, this just means selecting the changed configuration items from a dev or QA environment and adding them to a policy. Scan data is turned into executable documentation to validate any changes so you know you're never going off the rails.
This is the golden ring, and if you've done the preparatory work you will reap your just reward. (The same goes if you rushed into automation without doing the prep work, but it will be an ironic Twilight Zone reward that's actually bad.) UpGuard has already captured the state of your development environment or existing infrastructure in a machine readable format, so now it's just a matter of selecting "Recipe" from a dropdown to get it as a Chef Recipe.
If you want to compare Chef to other tools in your environment, UpGuard also exports to the syntaxes of PowerShell DSC, Puppet, Ansible, Salt, and Docker. You can see the whole thing in action in this video from TechEd 2014. It's free forever on up to five nodes and doesn't require a credit card to start. If you want to see it in action at ChefConf, come by and talk to us at booth #316.
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