Opscode gets more venture dough for its Chef

Cooking up cloudy treats for 'insatiable and unending' capacity hunger

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Opscode, the maker of the open source Chef tool that the company says can help system administrators "rule the cloud", has lured more big backers as momentum builds for that tool's open source, hosted, and licensed versions.

The $19.5m infusion is Opscode's third round of financing, led by Ignition Partners, and with existing investors Battery Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson kicking in some more dough.

Opscode has raised $31m to date, and Opscode CEO Mitch Hill tells El Reg that the funding round was over-subscribed, and that the investments will be used to build up its software engineering team. If you are a hot-shot coder and you live in either Seattle, Washington, or Raleigh, North Carolina, Opscode is looking for you.

"The world's appetite for capacity is insatiable and unending," says Hill. "But building infrastructure and managing it is becoming a more and more complex problem."

Here's what system administrators are up against:

Opscode server complexity over time

Opscode: Increasing scale and complexity means we need admin automation (click to enlarge)

Server counts are on the rise, and apps span physical boxes and virtual machines scattered on both sides of the corporate firewall.

The Chef management framework is designed to make a sysadmin's job easier by letting them build "recipes" for cooking up software stacks to run on n-tier physical and virtual servers, creating what is called a "cookbook". Chef is experiencing rapid uptake because, unlike other system management tools, it was designed with both types of scenarios from the get-go, and for the basic functionality available in the open source variant, it is free.

Chef was created by Adam Jacob, an independent consultant who built infrastructure for 15 different startups and got sick of doing the same thing over and over again. Christopher Brown, formerly the architect and lead developer of Amazon's EC2 compute cloud and now CTO at Opscode, is driving Chef today. The idea is to create a stack programmatically, not by running a zillion individual commands, and to let administrators use the scripting languages that are familiar to them to do so.

You can save these cookbooks inside of Chef and also share them with other data centers that use Chef to create and administer servers, if you're feeling generous. The Chef community site has over 11,000 registered users, and over 500 people and 100 organizations are contributing to the open source effort behind Chef. The user and contributor count is more than double what it was in 2010.

At the heart of the tool is the Chef Server management console, which is backed up by a CouchDB database and which feeds data over a RabbitMQ messaging system into an Apache Solr search engine. Solr is a faceted, natural-language search engine that makes the deployed system configurations as well as and the recipes and cookbooks searchable, which turns out to be a very useful thing.

This Chef Server is accessed through the Chef client, which has REST-based APIs as well as a command line interface called Knife and an interactive shell called Shef. While Chef is written in Ruby, with the support of Windows machines last October, Chef was able to execute PowerShell scripts within a recipe.

Hill says that users have downloaded north of 800,000 copies of Open Chef, the open source tool, and that the rate of adoption is accelerating. Compared to the download rate in September 2010, when Open Chef first became available, the download rate right now is an order of magnitude higher.

The company has a version of the tool that it hosts, SaaS fashion, on behalf of customers, called Hosted Chef, which Hill says has thousands of customers using it and hundreds paying for support contracts. The basic Hosted Chef service covers up to 20 nodes (physical or virtual) and costs $100 per month. The standard Hosted Chef costs $300 and cover 50 nodes, while the enterprise Hosted Chef costs $700 and covers 100 nodes, This latter version has a lot more options and it costs more, depending on the options you choose. Hosted Chef has been available for a little more than a year.

If you want to run Chef inside of your own firewall, you buy Private Chef, which costs $106 per node under management, plus a 22 per cent annual service-and-support maintenance contract. Opscode now has a dozen or so companies using Private Chef, says Hill, and these are not mom-and-pop shops, but big media and financial services companies that are wrestling with very large distributed systems and complex management and configuration issues. Private Chef was announced last July and started shipping at the end of 2011.

While "a dozen or so" may not seem like a lot of customers for Private Chef, when they are big enough it's a very big deal. Revenues are "increasing by multiples as opposed to 30 per cent" per quarter and Private Chef "is driving the hockey stick," according to Hill.

"We work with companies that manage tens of thousands of servers with hundreds of different configurations including both hardware and software variations," explains Hill. "At some point, just as was the case in something like motherboard design, it just gets too complicated and you automate. This is what we do. And by the way, finding infrastructure engineers is very hard. This is not something you can go to school for."

As part of the Series C funding, former Microsoft CFO and current Ignition Partners, uh, partner John Connors will join Opscode's board. ®

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