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Google, VMware, Cisco stuff Puppet with $8.5m

Sysadmin tool, not Muppet movie

Security for virtualized datacentres

Puppet Labs, the upstart system administration toolmaker founded in 2005 by CEO Luke Kanies "out of fear and desperation" has some influential friends in high places – and with deep pockets. To be specific, Google, VMware, and Cisco Systems have just signed up to kick in a portion of the $8.5m in Series C financing that Puppet Labs has bagged.

Puppet has raised just under $16m in financing in its three rounds, with venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, True Ventures, and Radar Partners leading the funding and Gene Kim, author of VisibleOps and founder of Tripwire, also putting in some cash. With that infusion and a new enterprise-grade product, Puppet is poised to take a run at the established system management vendors, which like to live in their silos and are often tied to their own systems and switches.

The company's first enterprise-grade product, Puppet Enterprise 1.0, was announced in February, and was just a roll-up of all the components of the tool plus enhancements that allowed it to scale to concurrently manage 50,000 nodes. With The Enterprise 2.0 release in September, the company added support for managing server images on Amazon's EC2 compute cloud as well as virtual machines running on VMware's ESXi hypervisor.

Kanies tells El Reg that it has over 250 customers so far. The open source version of the Puppet tool has tens of thousands of users worldwide, Kanies estimates, but because the company doesn't track distributions or installs, they have no way of knowing the precise number.

"There's way more opportunity out there than we have reached," says Kanies. "There are a lot of people out there who are unhappy with their tools. And while Puppet brings automation, a human is still doing things. It's this great middle ground between complete automation and no automation."

Puppet Labs doesn't like to have its approach to sales called "open core," a style of commercializing open source software where companies curtail some key functionality in the open source product unless customers shell out some cash for support.

The open source version of Puppet will scale across 50,000 server nodes, managing their configuration, just like the extended Puppet Enterprise 2.0 release does, which is not open source. But if you want to have the Puppet system management console link into a trouble-ticketing system, or provision virtual machines atop VMware hypervisor, then this added functionality is part of the enterprise edition, not the open source edition. (You can see the differences between the open source and enterprise editions here.)

The enterprise edition rolls up Apache, Ruby, and other components underneath the Puppet sysadmin tool and keeps them updated as a unit, which is why you pay for an enterprise license. Otherwise, you have to maintain this yourself – and that takes time and is a hassle.

Puppet puts an agent on your machines, and the central tool called Puppet Master (of course) sniffs out all of the servers, PCs, packages, users, and groups on the network so you can see them. Once you know what is out there, you can provision software across nodes so they are all installed consistently and then patch and manage them.

Google is a big user of Puppet, and Nigel Kersten, who used to manage one of the largest Puppet installations in the world inside the Chocolate Factory, is now a product manager at Puppet Labs.

Dell and Rackspace Hosting are also big Puppet users, as are Zynga, Twitter, NYSE, Disney, Citrix, Oracle, Constant Contact, Match.com, Shopzilla, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Stanford University. Puppet integrates with the OpenStack and Eucalyptus cloud frameworks, and it already worked with the KVM and Xen hypervisors. (You can see the support matrix here.)

That extra VC money will come in handy for expanding operating system support beyond Linux and Solaris for agents to include Windows, and maybe even a few more Unixes and the Hyper-V hypervisor.

Puppet Enterprise costs $100 per node per year – whether it is a physical node or virtual machine node doesn't matter, you pay for each unique managed entity. The first ten nodes are free with volume discounts as you put more nodes under the control of the Puppet Master. ®

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