VMware Invests $30 Million In Puppet Labs

VMware reaches deeper into the data center with support for popular open source configuration management firm. But there's a string attached.
Two years ago, VMware made a small, tentative investment in OpenStack collaborator Puppet Labs, as one of six investors providing the firm with $8.5 million. Wednesday, VMware extended its support with another $30 million investment in Puppet, and there is a string attached.

VMware will appoint one of its executives to the Puppet Labs board, as happens frequently in cases of major venture capital investments. Update: VMware later disclosed that the board member will be Raghu Raghuram, senior VP and general manager of virtualization and cloud platforms. The increased funding from the virtualization market leader clearly shows it has a more direct interest in the open source code firm's work this time around; it's seeking a closer alignment of their respective product lines, not to mention a rapprochement with the open source community.

Puppet Labs founder and CEO Luke Kanies said in a blog post Wednesday that over the past year Puppet was already working closely with VMware. Its commercial product, Puppet Enterprise, is a configuration management system that lets system admins automatically commission, configure and manage virtual machines, making use of VMware's vSphere API. VMware's vFabric Application Director has been integrated with Puppet Enterprise to help provision application workloads.

[ Want to learn more about Puppet Labs' ties to OpenStack? See Puppet Labs Tools Up For OpenStack Clouds. ]

Since May 2010, Puppet has hosted a website that is a central repository of workload deployment instructions. It contains 750 ready-to-run application configuration modules, according to information on the Puppet website. The modules are sets of instructions assembled by a Puppet user to do a standard IT function, such as setting up a database or Web server, with certain characteristics.

The free sharing of instruction sets makes it easier for users to deploy applications to particular environments, and integration with vFabric Application Director makes it easier for VMware customers to benefit from the library. Puppet in effect helps VMware become a supplier of automated, private cloud provisioning mechanisms.

Kanies said in a press release accompanying the announcement that Puppet Labs "will collaborate on addition product integrations" between Puppet Enterprise and the VMware product line, including one with vCloud Automation Center, VMware's virtual system management in vCenter Operations, and vCenter Configuration Manager.

Puppet is both a widely popular open source code in its community release and a successful product in its Enterprise release. It increasingly appears as a key ingredient in getting to DevOps, where the work of the development team meshes more closely with the needs of the operations team. In a virtualized environment, a deployed workload may be more easily patched and frequently updated through the virtualization management console than it has been in the past. An updated workload can be run in a duplicate, but walled off, virtual environment for a period of time to test the update, before releasing the change into production.

That's another concept that brings VMware a step closer to its stated goal of using virtualization to create the software-defined data center, with automated IT processes and frequent but controlled changes to the IT infrastructure. Rivals derisively term the software-defined data center a VMware "marketing term," not a reality, which is still the case. But VMware's $30 million investment in Puppet seems to show that it is earnest about achieving the goal.

Kanies, in his blog, had no trouble advancing the theme: "Our shared goal in this relationship is to help IT organizations better manage and automate their infrastructure ... Our customers have to move faster than ever, and they need to do it all while maintaining the same standards in security, compliance and uptime."

The VMware spokesman for the deal, Ramin Sayar, VP and general manager of virtualization and cloud management, is a young executive who frequently shows up on point when a new initiative needs to be explained. "Puppet Labs is at the forefront of IT automation and is a catalyst in the DevOps movement," he said in the deal's announcement. "This strategic investment and partnership will further accelerate the software-defined data center."

For reasons that were not explained, neither the press release nor either executive's blog mentioned the fact that VMware would receive a seat on the board of directors. Companies tied to open source projects are sometimes sensitive about how much influence a commercial company, such as VMware, might have over the company's proceedings. VMware, through its hands-off policy with its Cloud Foundry, based on open source code, and membership in the OpenStack project, has tried to signal it can play fair with open source projects.

Predictably, Sayar said the Puppet partnership will lead to greater automation of VMware-based clouds, whether public or private. But in an unusual move for a VMware spokesman, he said the partnership will also aid the management of Amazon and OpenStack clouds from the VMware virtualization console. VMware knows it will not be the basis for running every part of the data center. But its Puppet investment shows it is bidding to manage it all from a VMware core.

Other reasons given for the deal included giving Puppet Labs the ability to accelerate its product development. It is currently a small, Portland, Ore., company of about 100 employees. The investment will also allow Puppet to more vigorously offer its Enterprise product in more regions of the world, the announcement said.

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