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Opscode Chef gets a hand from Facebook

The Chef 11 configuration management software can now manage 10,000 computers from a single server

For a complete rewrite of its flagship Chef configuration management software, Opscode got a hand from one of its largest customers, Facebook.

"Facebook deployment requirements actually accelerated this work," said Jay Wampold, Opscode vice president of marketing. Facebook field tested the new version of Chef and, before that, the social networking service's scalability requirements helped define how the new Chef should be written, Wampold said.

Facebook uses Private Chef, the enterprise version of the software, to manage and update the configurations of its front line Web servers, which number in the thousands (Facebook won't divulge the exact number of servers). Facebook production engineer Phil Dibowitz, in a statement, praised Chef for being flexible enough that the social networking giant did not have to change its workflow in order to use the software. 

"It's one of the largest infrastructures on the planet," Wampold said of the Facebook's deployment. "So it's a really significant win for Opscode and a poster child for this kind of scale."

In its requirements, Facebook stressed how it needed the software to be able to manage a very large number of machines, as well as manage a large number of configurations for these machines, Wampold said.

For version 11 of Chef, Opscode rewrote the code base entirely, moving from Ruby to Erlang, and deploying Postgres for the database. Now, the software uses a tenth of the memory that earlier versions required, the company claims. As a result, one copy of Opscode can now manage up to 10,000 servers.

Chef 11 comes with a number of other new features as well. Chef 11 has a new testing suite, one that can execute more than 2,000 system tests from the command line, including tests for Windows clients. The software also comes with a new installer, one that simplifies deployment, according to the company. 

In addition to releasing Chef 11, Opscode also updated Private Chef. It can now support multitenancy, in which multiple parties, such as separate business units, can all use the same copy of Chef while maintaining their own data. Private Chef now features a new GUI (graphical user interface), which offers bulk action grouping, advanced data filtering and customizable views. A new dashboard offers a wealth of information about the servers being managed, such as uptime, trouble spots and historical data.

Opscode now also offers commercial support for the Chef. Previously, the company only offered commercial support for its enterprise version, Private Chef. The support for the open source version starts at US$3 per node per month.

Like Puppet, Symantec's Altiris and other configuration management products, Opscode's Chef allows organizations to compose scripts, called Recipes in Chef's case, that automate the process of deploying and managing computers and software. Opscode also touts Chef as a way to manage cloud deployments. For instance, a large unnamed pharmaceutical firm used Chef, along with utility software from Cycle Computing, to run a cancer research investigation across 10,000 servers on Amazon Web Services.

Chef 11 can be downloaded at no charge. Private Chef costs $6 per node, and the hosted version of Chef, called Hosted Chef, costs $6 per node per month.

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