Chef vs Puppet: Major Differences and Similarities

DevOps, a design philosophy that combines software development and information technology operations, has a vast selection of tools to choose from. Chef and Puppet are two of the more popular DevOps tools out there, but the big question that arises is, which choice is the best for you?

We want to help DevOps designers make a knowledgeable decision. To that end, we present this article, which outlines the differences and similarities of the two configuration management tools. There are plenty of articles out there that do these kinds of comparisons, should you want to do more research. But regardless of how much research you decide to do, by the time you’re done with this article, you will certainly have a better idea which of these two specific tools is best suited for your unique situation.

So let’s dive right into Chef vs. Puppet!

What Is Chef?

To quote the designers, Chef is “…a powerful automation platform that transforms infrastructure into code. Whether you’re operating in the cloud, on-premises, or in a hybrid environment, Chef automates how infrastructure is configured, deployed, and managed across your network, no matter its size.”

Chef is an open source cloud configuration that translates system administration tasks into reusable definitions, otherwise known as cookbooks and recipes, which is why it’s named Chef. Makes sense, no?

Chef runs on a solid mix of platforms, including Windows; enterprise Linux distributions; AIX; FreeBSD; Solaris; Cisco IO; and Nexus. In addition, Chef also supports cloud platforms including Amazon Web Services (AWS),

Google Cloud Platform, OpenStack, IBM Bluemix, HPE Cloud, Microsoft Azure, VMware vRealize Automation, and Rackspace.

What Is Puppet?

According to the designer’s website, Puppet is an open source systems management tool created for centralizing and automating configuration management. It includes its own declarative language to describe system configuration. 

Puppet runs on the following platforms: Red Hat Enterprise Linux (and derivatives), SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, Microsoft Windows (Server OS), Microsoft Windows (Consumer OS) 10 Enterprise 7, 8, 10, macOS 10.12 Sierra, 10.13 High Sierra.

Puppet and its prerequisites have been reportedly run on the following platforms, though Puppet does not provide official open source packages or perform automated testing:

Other Linux: Gentoo Linux, Mandriva Corporate Server 4, Arch Linux

Other Unix: Oracle Solaris version 10 and higher, AIX version 6.1 and higher, FreeBSD 4.7 and later, OpenBSD 4.1 and later, HP-UX.

How Do Puppet and Chef Stack Up Against Each Other?

Now that we have an idea where each of these tools is coming from, how do they compare? Are they more similar or different, and which is better for you?

We will get our answers by breaking down the tools based on some important characteristics:

  • Availability: In this context, availability is defined as how accessible the tools are during unscheduled service interruptions. If Chef’s primary server goes down, a backup server takes up the slack. Puppet incorporates a multi-master architecture, so if the active master is down, there’s another master to fill in for it.
  • Terms and Concepts: Since the configuration managers abstract the configuration files, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the terms unique to each tool. Chef has you working with cookbooks and recipes, while Puppet works with manifests and modules. Recipes and manifests, as a rule, describe single concepts, while cookbooks and recipes describe more general concepts.
  • Enterprise Cost: Chef Automate has an annual fee of $137 per node, and that price gives you everything you need to build and deploy. Puppet prices range from $112 per node/year if you choose the standard support plan, up to $199 per node/year bundling in the premium support plan.

What They Have in Common

So much for the differences. What do these two tools have in common?

  • The Setup: Chef functions with a master-client architecture, with the server running on the master machine, while the client runs as an agent on every client machine. Chef also includes an additional component called “Workstation”, which handles all of the configurations that are tested by storing then pushing them to the central server.

Puppet uses a master-agent architecture arrangement as well. The Puppet server runs on the master machine, while Puppet clients runs as an agent on each client machine. In addition, there’s an agent-master certificate signing that takes place aafterward

So in other words, both tools are difficult to install.

  • Managing the Tools: If you’re using Chef, then be ready to access your programming skills because you will need them in order to successfully manage configurations. Chef’s client pulls configurations from the server, and those configurations are in Ruby DSL.

Puppet isn’t any less involved, unfortunately. It uses its own language called PuppetDSL (Domain Specific Language). The process is oriented towards system administrators, and features non-immediate remote execution.

Bottom line, both tools use pull configurations. That means that the slave nodes automatically pull configurations from the central server without the need of any commands. This is as opposed to the push configuration, where all the configurations present in the central server are pushed to the nodes.

  • Scalability: Both Chef and Puppet are very easily scalable. They can both handle large infrastructure, provided the user provides the IP address and host name of the nodes that need to be configured. The tools will handle the rest.
  • Configuration Language: Chef uses Ruby DSL (Domain Specific Language), a developer-oriented language that’s challenging to learn. Puppet employs the above-mentioned PuppetDSL, another difficult to learn language.
  • Interoperability: Both the Chef server and the Ruby server work only on a Linux/Unix machine. Chef Client and Workstation can run on Windows, and Puppet Agent is compatible with Windows.

The Pros and Cons of Each Tool

In order to paint a simple, straightforward picture, let’s take a look at a sample of the pros and cons of Chef vs Puppet.

  • Puppet Pros:
  1. The most complete User Interface
  2. Powerful reporting capabilities
  3. Grants access to a well-established support community
  • Puppet Cons:
  1. Support for pre-Ruby versions is in the process of being scaled back
  2. Its model-driven approach equals less control when compared to code-driven approaches
  3. Advanced tasks require CLI, and since it is based on Ruby, you’ll need to be familiar with the latter
  • Chef Pros:
  1. Its code-driven approach means greater flexibility and control of configurations
  2. The “Knife” tool lessens installation headaches
  3. Provides you with an extensive collection of configuration and module recipes
  • Chef Cons:
  1. Does not support push functionality
  2. If you don’t already know Ruby and procedural coding, get ready for a steep learning curve
  3. It’s a complex tool

In the final analysis, the ideal DevOps tool depends on the needs and goals of your organization. Chef has been in existence for a long time when compared with most other DevOps tools and demonstrates an excellent capability for handling extremely complex tasks. If your organization has development-focused teams and environments, then Chef is the ideal choice.

Puppet has also been around for quite a while and has been deployed and well vetted in a selection of large, demanding environments. Based on this, Puppet is a good choice for larger enterprises who favor well-tested and long-standing tools.

The final choice comes down to realizing what’s important for your business.

Are You Intrigued by DevOps?

If all of this talk of DevOps and the best tools for implementing it has interested you, then Simplilearn can help you learn more. Whether you’re already in DevOps and are merely seeking to upskill, or if you’re a neophyte who wants to enter this field, there’s a program ideal for you.

Perhaps you want to learn more about Puppet. The Puppet Foundation Training Course is perfect for anyone who wants to automate their IT infrastructure. The course enables you to do that and much more, such as implementing scalable solutions to your software and the system that runs that software.

Available either as a corporate training solution or self-paced learning, the course consists of four lessons conducted through three and a half hours of expert training. Once you complete the course, you will earn your certificate that proves that you have mastered the fundamentals of Puppet.

If you want to fully immerse yourself in DevOps, Simplilearn has just what you need: the DevOps Training Course.  The course will prepare you for a career in DevOps, making you into an expert in the principles of continuous development and deployment, automation of configuration management, inter-team collaboration and IT service agility, using modern DevOps tools such as Git, Docker, Jenkins, Cucumber, Ansible, TeamCity, and Nagios.

Available as a corporate training solution or by Online Classroom Flexi-Pass, you will gain the benefits of 56 hours of in-depth blended learning, two dozen live demos of the most popular DevOps tools, over ten industry projects with integrated labs, and 24/7 support.

The program, consists of eight highly informative lessons, and once you have completed the course, you will earn your certification and be ready to face the challenges (and rewards) of DevOps. 
No matter what you want with DevOps, Simplilearn is here to help you take that next step. Check them out now, and either enhance your current DevOps skillset, or embark on a new career!

About the Author

John TerraJohn Terra

John Terra lives in Nashua, New Hampshire and has been writing freelance since 1986. Besides his volume of work in the gaming industry, he has written articles for Inc.Magazine and Computer Shopper, as well as software reviews for ZDNet. More recently, he has done extensive work as a professional blogger. His hobbies include running, gaming, and consuming craft beers. His refrigerator is Wi-Fi compliant.

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