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One Puppet to rule the cloud?

As cloud computing takes off, serious challenges to managing virtual servers in the cloud are cropping up. As virtualization via tools like Reductive Labs' gets sexy, so does IT management.

What with all the virtualization hype, one would think that virtual servers had the option of parting the Red Sea or walking on it.

While there's a great deal of promise in virtualization, there's also the peril of managing virtual servers, as Luke Kanies, founder of the Puppet project, points out in a blog post.

You have significant problems when you rely on golden images (i.e., virtual images complete with all necessary services): image sprawl, updating your images, and image state vs. running state...Maintaining these (virtual) images is more like managing a foil ball: it's difficult to pull apart, difficult to press back together, and if you get too many of them, they just get into the way.

It's perhaps not surprising that Kanies sees Puppet as the answer to this image sprawl and confusion:

If, instead, you use a single, base image for all of your work--I call these images stem cell images for what are hopefully obvious reasons--and then use a tool like Puppet to configure them, once they're running, you avoid all of the above problems: you have one image to maintain, and it's necessarily simplistic, you use the same tool and the same configuration base across all images, and Puppet keeps your machines updated within 30 minutes of any central change.

His point is good. In moving from physical machines to virtual machines, we've tended to gloss over the complexity that this introduces, preferring to focus on all the efficiency gains virtualization promises.

In other words, the sexier that virtualization becomes, the more important (and, dare I say sexy?) systems management becomes. Suddenly, Hyperic, Reductive Labs (the company behind Puppet), RiverMuse, Zenoss, GroundWork, and other IT management companies take center stage as virtualization, and the cloud-based computing trend it enables, become de facto IT strategies.

As this new competition emerges, however, the IT management companies that know the cloud best will do best. So far, crowns probably go to Reductive Labs and Hyperic, as both have aggressively targeted cloud-based computing. Over time, however, this may change.

Regardless of the eventual winner, it's good to see IT management gaining some sex appeal.