Puppet vsCFEngineWhile most people think of Puppet and Chef when they’re thinking about ConfigurationManagement tools, other alternatives exist. One notable example is CFEngine. In thispost, we’ll compare Puppet to this older, more established configuration managementtool.CFEngine is actually significantly older than Puppet or Chef, dating back to 1993. It wascreated by Mark Burgess and, like Puppet, started out as an open-source configurationmanagement tool, not an an enterprise Configuration Management product. It wasn’tcommercialized in 2008. CFEngine has been described as the grandfather ofconfiguration management tools.So how do CFEngine and Puppet differ from one another?
Complexity and PowerWhile Puppet is heralded to be more “Ops-friendly”, due to its model-driven approachand relatively small learning curve, CFEngine resides more in the “Dev-friendly” side ofthe spectrum.CFEngine runs on C, as opposed to Puppet’s use of Ruby. C is the more low level of thetwo languages, and one of the main complaints regarding CFEngine is that the learningcurve is very steep. It does mean though that CFEngine has a dramatically smallermemory footprint, it runs faster and has far fewer dependencies.Puppet’s model-driven approach means a smaller learning curve, which makes it apreferred option for sysadmins with limited coding experience. The model-drivenapproach also takes on a lot of the responsibility for dependency management. Someargue that this can result in unexpected behaviour though and has its limits.PlatformsPuppet’s edge here is avoiding specific nuances across operating systems, which existwhen using CFEngine. However, Puppet and CFEngine have excellent support acrossplatforms.CFEngine’s supported platformsPuppet’s supported platformsCommunityPuppet and CFEngine both have strong user communities, as they are both maturetools. CFEngine has a strong international presence, headquartered in Oslo, withseveral US offices as well.CFEngine’s site claims that they currently manage more than 10 million nodes. Puppet isless specific about exactly how many servers their software runs on, but they have animpressive list of customers.Documentation
Both Puppet and CFEngine have moved past early missteps (or lack of focus) on thedocumentation front. Both have online references available:CFEngine Reference DocPuppet Reference DocWhatever your choice it is always wise to look to third party reference material to get afull appreciation of the power and nuances of each tool.Learning CFEngineAutomating Linux and Unix System AdministrationPro PuppetPuppet 2.7 CookbookPricingNaturally, due to its open-source origins, CFEngine (like Puppet) has a free open-sourceversion available. Puppet’s Enterprise edition provides 10 free nodes, and then charges$99 per node per year (with bulk discounts available). CFEngine’s pricing after the 25free nodes is unspecified, they require you to contact a sales representative for morepricing information – they offer “promotional pricing” based off of a client’s particularneeds.One key benefit of CFEngine’s pricing model appears to be that its pricing is morecustomizable to a company’s specific needs. CFEngine also offers significantly morefree nodes than does Puppet.ConclusionAt a high level if coding and complexity doesn’t scare you, if small agent footprints andspeed matter and you’ll take control and scale over simplicity then CFEngine may be foryou. If the relatively smoother onboarding and simpler model driven approach is moreattractive then Puppet may well be for you. As always, both tools are available to trial at
no cost so if you have the time choose a representative (if modest) configuration toautomate using each and compare and contrast. Nothing beats hands on experience.