IBM Cooks Up OpenStack Cloud Platform With Chef

IBM’s new OpenStack-based SmartCloud Orchestrator features support for the Chef systems integration and management framework.

LAS VEGAS – IBM's new OpenStack-based SmartCloud Orchestrator is a big win for Chef, the open-source systems integration and management framework.

As part of its announcement of IBM SmartCloud Orchestrator, Big Blue also announced support for Chef and Chef recipes, which prompted at least one analyst and open-source software watcher to gush over the news.

"This is a big deal," said James Governor, analyst and co-founder of RedMonk, noting that Opscode, the maker of Chef, stands to benefit from IBM's move. Governor spoke with eWEEK at the IBM Pulse 2013 conference here where IBM announced its new SmartCloud Orchestrator.

"Perhaps OpenStack was the big news, but a key part of the announcement was IBM's support of Chef and Chef recipes with its Orchestrator," Governor said. "They are doing this with the assistance of Opscode, and I see it as a selection of Chef over Puppet. This is big. I would not be surprised to see IBM invest in if not acquire Opscode."

Later, Governor went a bit further, tweeting, "IBM is totally going to buy @opscode = provides chef support for the new SmartCloud Orchestrator, yet another openstack session."

In a meeting with eWEEK, Kristof Kloeckner, general manager of Rational Software at IBM, said IBM has a tendency to support open source projects that have strong community support.

"We have no set plans here, nor are we trying to pick a clear winner," Kloeckner said. "We can clearly support Puppet as well, but we prefer Chef. At the same time we prefer Git over Subversion; we prefer Hudson over Jenkins. ... What we look for is that there is a clear and substantial amount of user support behind a project, but we don't try to pick winners or influence projects. We look at what works best for us."

Chef is a configuration management tool written in Ruby and Erlang. It uses a pure-Ruby, domain-specific language (DSL) for writing system configuration "recipes" or "cookbooks." Chef was written by Opscode and is released as open source under the Apache License 2.0. Chef is a DevOps tool used for configuring cloud services or to streamline the task of configuring a company's internal servers. Chef automatically sets up and tweaks the operating systems and programs that run in massive data centers.

"IBM's OpenStack news wasn't a big surprise -- the company has been a booster for some time now, and its 400 customer advisory panel is impressive," said Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT. "More importantly, I think placing OpenStack in the context of IBM's history of supporting other open-source initiatives like Linux and Apache was a great strategy.

The initial 1998 initiatives, followed a couple of years later by the $1 billion Linux investment, were hugely influential. Prior to that, Linux was an intriguing science project of interest to relatively few folks outside the IT industry. IBM's support essentially legitimized open source for the commercial market and gave it a huge boost."

The company obviously hopes to do the same with OpenStack, and could well achieve that, King added.

Yet, “The decision to cross-leverage Chef and its own PureSystems 'patterns of expertise" deployment methodologies was fascinating technologically but should also increase OpenStack's momentum," King said. "In the end, businesses want two things from IT solutions—predictability and replicability. Builders of closed solutions, whether they're enterprise-centric vendors like Oracle or more ambitious players like Amazon, typically claim they're best suited for the driver's seat. IBM's strategy around OpenStack is decidedly more customer-focused and friendly. We'll have to see whether the effects of the company's efforts around cloud are as profound as its early open-source initiatives, but right now the odds are looking good."