Rakuten picks Chef over Puppet for its healthy open source community

When Japanese retail giant Rakuten was thinking about bringing in devops tooling as part of a global operations initiative, it was the community support that swung it for Chef.

Technical coordinator and vision lead manager for global operations and automation at Rakuten, Graham Weldon, tells Computerworld UK that despite not having the hardware partners compared to Puppet at the time, the community features were a strong sell.

“I began using Chef when I joined five years ago initially on our platform as a service product, Cloud Foundry,” says Weldon, speaking with Computerworld UK at ChefConf in Austin, Texas. “I was employed to build a PHP runtime for cloud foundry, and about a year or so later finished that project and started to branch out, globalise our operations department, and build out what we now call global operations.

“We identified automation was required, and that was the first part of a global operations initiative. As part of that we assessed a couple of tools in particular, Puppet and Chef - we eventually chose Chef, after initially choosing Puppet, and assessing it we looked at a few different things of the community features and where it was headed, settled on Chef and used it ever since.”

Rakuten is an enormous retail and e-commerce business headquartered in Tokyo, with global operations including a number of sites in the UK.

Chef didn't have the hardware integration and partner support that Rakuten needed at that time to automate their data centres and physical infrastructure, but Weldon spotted signs the company was heading down the right path. Puppet won at hardware integration and partner support, but there were ways around this and Chef has “made a lot of progress since then and they have the hardware support we need now.”

Weldon explains that while the tooling piece is, of course, useful, one of the most important factors was the community and open source resources available, including all of the events.

“The open source community around Chef is just phenomenal,” says Weldon. “There’s a lot of really passionate, insanely intelligent people contributing to open source around Chef and they’re very welcoming and helpful. That’s important because we want to be contributing back to open source as well.”

Using Chef tooling has got the time down between requests and deployments to a few minutes compared to a number of weeks with more traditional infrastructure approaches.

But aside from time saved with automation there are other benefits too, in particular the engagement from Chef around customer success engineering support that came with the enterprise licence.

“This is something I didn’t even factor in to the purchase of a licence,” says Weldon. “They helped us build an internal community that previously would not have happened on its own. Rakuten is quite a large company and we have a lot of departments, even our operations department is split in different roles.

“But Chef brought us together to talk about common problems, issues and solutions. After a period of about two years we now have a strong, internal, self-sufficient Chef community that gets together and talks and shares work, when previously it was siloed and we had a lot of reproduction of code.

“The benefits we get out of Chef go way beyond the tooling, that’s the first thing people jump to. They are beneficial but we see a lot from the customer success engineering and engagement we have with that.”

On the tool side of things, Weldon says that Rakuten is constantly looking at devops transformation, along with making the business more agile, to deliver, and be compliant at velocity.

“And they continue to release new product tools and services that support that,” he says. “One of the things I love and hate about Chef is I’ll often be thinking ‘I need something’, be three months down the road of developing it - compliance is a good example - and they’ll announce it at the next conference. They’ll say ‘hey, we’ve got a tool that does all those amazing things’, which makes all of my work redundant but it’s great. They have got engineers that are working on that dedicated and can definitely do a better job than I can do on my own.”

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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