Chef cooks ups infrastructure testing tools

A new Chef package can test a complex system in much the same way software is tested

Borrowing a technique from the software development community, Chef, maker of a popular system configuration tool, has released the first commercial software to support a new and supposedly more effective approach to managing hardware and software, called test-driven infrastructure.

"This is something relatively new," Colin Campbell, Chef director of patterns and practices, said of test-driven infrastructure. "Treating infrastructure as code produces a workflow that effectively can use the same testing process used for other types of software."

Chef's namesake software, which helps automate the management chores associated with enterprise hardware and software, is open source, with contributions from a global base of volunteers. Over the past several years, a number of tools have been built for finding bugs and other issues within complex systems, as if they are software programs.

When a number of Chef's largest commercial users began using these tools, the company took notice.

Enterprise software provider Rally Software, for instance, has been using the test-driven infrastructure tools to more tightly bind the operations of its development team with that of its operations team.

Rally has been able to test a new set of servers before they go live as well as new internal applications.

Tools that were developed include a unit testing framework, in which new systems are subjected to a simulated workflow to evaluate their stability. Another tool, for system acceptance testing, helps determine if a system meets all of its requirements.

Another checks to see if any component being installed relies on other components, either of the software or hardware variety, and assures that these dependencies, as they are called, are in place.

Chef has bundled all of these tools into a free downloadable package, called Chef DK (development kit). The company will also offer commercial support for the software.

"We found that in adopting open-source solutions, enterprises need partners they can rely on," Campbell said.

Chef has also released a number of other optional packages for its commercial users. One package reports on administrator actions within a system, which can be useful for auditing and security compliance checking. This software is based on technology Chef acquired in the recent purchase of analytics software provider Tower 3.

The company has also released a package for managing Docker containers, a hot virtualization technology favored by Google, IBM and other hosted service providers.

Chef is a configuration management tool often used to deploy and then manage hardware and software in bulk. Facebook, Target, Yahoo and GE Capital have all used the software to automate management of their IT infrastructures.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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