Update November 2013: This post has brought an amazing amount of traffic to my blog, probably because it still seems to be one of the only ENC comparisons out there. Both Dashboard (and Puppet Enterprise Console) and The Foreman have changed quite a bit since I wrote this. Foreman has certainly been developed at warp speed. I’ll try to write an update to this sometime soon, but be advised that the information here is somewhat dated.

At work, we’re in the process of rolling out puppet for configuration management of our servers. It will be an integral part of the provisioning process of all new physical and virtual hosts, and will also be phased in on existing hosts as possible. Right now, we have an initial puppet install that was “development”, but we’re about to move to “production” (new puppetmaster in our production infrastructure, production MySQL, etc.). We’ve been using Dashboard, but just as a report viewer. Up until now, we’ve been using nodes.pp and per-node flat-file manifests. I’ve got a few issues with this, but the biggest is that all of our node definitions (and their classes and parameters) live in the same SVN repository as our modules and other puppet configuration. Not only does this mean a checkout and commit just to change a node parameter or add a module/class to a node, but it also means that for my team members who don’t have previous puppet experience, it greatly blurs the line between administering puppet (developing and maintaining modules) and using puppet (building a node, changing node params or modules/classes), since both tasks are accomplished in the same SVN repository.

So, I’ve been pushing an External Node Classifier (ENC) with a web interface as one of the biggest feature enhancements we need for our puppet install. The complicating factor is that I’ve been given a time frame of approximately 1 week to get the “production” puppetmaster running on our production infrastructure and marked as “done”. That includes the ENC. At my last gig, at Rutgers University, I wrote our ENC in PHP (actually I wrote it for my half-dozen or so boxes at home, and brought it to Rutgers gratis), and it also handled kickstart file distribution and PXE configuration, and was extended to also set DHCP and DNS for the hosts - a one-stop solution. Unfortunately the code is very organization-specific, not terribly solid, and the UI looks awful, so it’s not a fit for the current employer. So I have to find something else that fits the bill. I have a list of initial (“phase 1”) requirements that are a mix of functionality that we require and management requirements:

  • Must support environments, since we make use of them.
  • Must support default values for parameters based on environment, “zone” (a custom fact and variable we define), or a combination of both.
  • For accountability and legal reasons, must have full auditing of all changes by all users (and, obviously, support authentication).
  • Display node last run time and status.

As well as at least the ability to implement some of our phase 2 requirements:

  • Ability to show modules and classes applied to a node, including those required/included through other modules/classes/roles.
  • Should support at least some level of puppet report display.
  • Ability to trigger a node run (kick) from the UI.
  • Some level of permission separation, ACL or RBAC so that we could potentially delegate control of a certain module or parameter, on a certain group of nodes, to the development team.
  • Per-node links to other tools such as Icinga/Nagios or our wiki.
  • Some way of detecting valid classes and modules (and our “role” module) per-environment (i.e. available modules/classes/roles should be pulled from the configs, not manually entered).
  • Ability to display puppet docs from modules/classes

Our current situation makes this even more difficult: we’re an operations team of five (hiring at the moment to fill the position of the sixth), and I believe I’m the only member of the team with any real software development experience. And none of us have experience with Ruby (which Puppet and most of its universe is written in). This means that any in-house solution runs the risk of being unmaintainable should I get hit by a bus (some of our team have various levels of experience with Perl and other scripting languages, but not really from an app development perspective). Because of these reasons, there’s a management aversion to anything that we code ourselves (well, these reasons, and the fact that with a shorthanded team we don’t have much time for projects without an immediate impact).

So, I spent hours looking around online trying to find existing web-based ENC projects, and came up with a pretty small list:

  • Dashboard, the Puppet Labs web UI. It’s the most common web-based puppet ENC as far as I know, and since it’s an official Puppet Labs project (and the basis for their Puppet Enterprise UI), its future is pretty secure. But it’s still very basic (let alone enterprise features), and has a plugin system that is very young.
  • The Foreman is probably the second-most-common puppet ENC, and has also been around about as long as Dashboard. Its features are nice, and it includes support for Kickstart (management of TFTP and DHCP) and DNS, as well as some virtual machine management. Unfortunately, we already have DHCP and DNS infrastructure so I’m sure it would be quite a bit of effort to integrate it with our environment, and for a non-Ruby shop, it has the same problem with maintainability of custom code.
  • initr, a Redmine plugin that functions as an ENC and manages modules. It includes RBAC and leverages Redmine. But since we don’t use Redmine, it’s not much of an advantage.
  • OpenNMS Puppet Node PusherAn ENC script for OpenNMS, which we also don’t use.

I was pretty amazed to see that nobody had written a puppet web UI/ENC in PHP (or Perl or Python), especially since Puppet is now quite popular.

So, I’m essentially left with the following options:

  • Start from scratch and write my own in PHP. By far the worst option, since we don’t have anyone on our team who’s likely to maintain it, and the Puppet community is Ruby-focused.
  • Use Foreman, since it’s the only one that appears to offer audit logging, have a bunch of features that don’t work for us, and hopefully deal with it.
  • Learn Ruby, write plugins for Dashboard, and hope that Puppet Labs or someone else will pick them up and maintain them if I can’t.

At the moment, I’ve decided to investigate Foreman and initr in a bit more depth, and also play around with the Dashboard code and try to pick up some Ruby (as they’re all written in Ruby anyway). I’ll also discuss these options with the team and see how opinions go (keeping in mind that the higher the likelihood of the community picking up/merging my changes, the better).


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