Puppet: The Good, The Bad, And The Config – Part 1

I work for a large visual effects company and manage a decent sized network of machines (a few hundred Linux, Mac and Windows workstations, a few hundred headless render nodes and tens of servers). A configuration management system is obviously crucial and I’d been using cfengine2.

Recently several friends at other facilities had started singing the praises of Puppet and since I was reviewing our cfengine install anyway, I took a look. First impressions were not good. Puppet seems to leak (two links) and their own website tells you not to use their built-in webserver for more than 10 machines (link) which seems a bit crazy since you’ve got to figure that the majority of people looking for a system like this will have more than that.

Now you can stump for Puppet Enterprise where they apparently wrap it all up and make it easy for you along with packaging the nice web-UI bits. If you’ve got the budget, great, we went with the do-it-yourself option.

All that said, the syntax and concepts are really nice and its failings seem easy to work around, so I figured we should try setting it up and having a go. Here are some tips:

  • Use the Puppet repos rather than those supplied with your distro. They’re the official, supported repos and will be up-to-date.
  • Go straight for Passenger setups backed by Apache. Why set yourself up for failure by using the server they tell you won’t scale? (benchmarks)
  • Install Puppet Dashboard – It’s a faff to get it working, but worth it. Again, this is where Puppet just doesn’t feel very polished, it really shouldn’t be this hard to set up but I guess this is how they’ve decided to convince people to pay for Enterprise.
  • Get a copy of Pro Puppet. Although there are lots of docs on their site and all over the web, this seems to be the howto guide. Written by one of the Puppet Labs guys, it’s helped a lot.
  • Have a read of some posts about different configurations and work out how best to represent your facility’s nodes

In the next post, I’ll start putting the specifics of how we set the various components up along with how we mixed and matched the ideas in the posts linked above to best work for us.

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