Chef shifts towards app automation with 2.0 release

Automation specialist Chef has signalled that it is shifting focus from infrastructure automation to application automation. The difference is subtle, but important to the vendor.

Julian Dunn, director of product marketing at Chef told Computerworld UK during a pre-brief last week that "where the world is going is app centricity, organisations are more interested in quickly delivering business apps".

Dunn says that customers were increasingly stretching Chef's software from its original purpose of infrastructure automation to do app automation and compliance.

This led to the acquisition of German compliance automation specialists VulcanoSec in 2015, creating the InSpec compliance automation tool, and then released Habitat, a tool for automating apps in production regardless of where it runs, making them more portable and infrastructure agnostic.

Read next: Chef sidles up to security for bringing automated compliance to devops

Now, with the release of Chef Automate 2.0 during Chef Conf in Chicago this week, the company is focusing on building a platform on these three pillars: infrastructure, apps and compliance, setting the company up for wherever the future takes it.

The 2.0 release is a “ground up rebuild” of the software on a Go-based microservices architecture, which “unifies infrastructure and applications work and enables enterprise organisations to rapidly and securely build, deploy and manage any application, legacy or modern, in any environment”, as the company put it in a press release. This enables a “closed-loop ‘detect, correct, automate’ process for infrastructure management everywhere”, it added.

As Dunn puts it: ”Automate was built around infrastructure automation, and we tried to layer things on top and at a certain point we decided that we want a platform here, with a base layer of data and additional experiences for things we haven't even thought of yet. So we worked to bring Habitat into that world, but what about serverless or IoT in the future? We need a platform to support that.”

New features include new visualisation tools., like a streaming event feed, trend graphs and a rich query language, to help users analyse infrastructure and compliance automation data from a single dashboard.

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The company also announced some enhancements to Habitat and InSpec.

With Habitat Builder on-premises customers can now use the app automation tool behind their firewall. Chef has also updated the Kubernetes Operator for Habitat, allows for the export to Azure Container Service (AKS) and enhanced integration with Splunk for operational analytics.

Referencing some recent data the company commissioned, Dunn said: "Customers have to iterate four to five times on any idea before shipping and with Habitat our aim is to get that to nearer one."

For example, "Alaska Airlines use all of our kit but Habitat to package apps for different data centres with bare metal or VMWare and run the same with rich characteristics and even in hybrid environments.”

“In today’s world, supporting containers and microservices is a necessity,” said Steven Mullinax, director of infrastructure engineering, Alaska Airlines. “Habitat can help get us there with applications that run anywhere.”

InSpec 2 can now be used to evaluate cloud configurations with AWS, Azure and Google Cloud via an API.

Speaking on stage on the opening day of the conference, Chef CEO Barry Crist spoke about the need for enterprises to compete with digital native companies like Google and Amazon, all hinging on scalability and repeatability when it comes to software.

He says the three foundational elements to this are: effortless infrastructure, automated compliance and making software in one way across the organisation, or "any app, anywhere" in Chef's marketing department's words.

Wrapping up his keynote, Crist admitted that the release of Habitat was a bit of a leap into the dark for the company, but he feels like they are on the right track. "We rebuilt Chef around where we think the new world is going," he said.

"When we released Habitat I know the market didn’t understand and half the company didn’t understand, but I want to thank you for believing in us and for listening so that we can drive these very things we are talking about."

Automate 2.0 is available immediately at

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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