The Future of Systems Management? Puppets!
For those who administer a number of unix systems you have probably found there is little out there in the way of tools to help you manage multiple systems in a clean and efficient way. While cfengine is perhaps the most advanced F/OSS offering it is lacking in many areas - I know when I checked it out some time ago I got the distinct impression that the Cost/Benefit break-even point would be somewhere beyond 50 machines - I want something that's worth setting up for the ability to replace (or reconfigure) 10 machines without as much effort as it would take to do manually.
Luke Kanies just might have the answer - Puppet. It's a system management tool (suite?) written in Ruby which aims to abstract away all the OS/Distro-dependant "nigglies" of various systems, and strips out the commonalities, so what you end up with is a flexible way of defining the actual working properties of your systems.
So instead of defining entries in sendmail.cf or your postfix installation, you define that the system has a mail server, it handles these domains, it forwards these etc.
Puppet appears to handle things "The Distro Way" which is one of my personal requirements for any such system, so it handles apt, yum, dpkg, rpm and Darwin ports, even.
My breathless enthusiasm might be premature, I've only just started looking at it but I think this could be a very important tool for so many of us.
You can see a video of Luke presenting Puppet at linuxconf.au/2007 - in fact, videos of all the talks are being prepared, many of which can be found on the LCA07 Programme page (scroll down to wed/thu/fri). If the video download isn't working for you, Luke has a mirror of the Puppet presentation.
Even if you aren't sure you want to install Ruby on all your machines still check out the video - he has some great ideas on how best to manage the problem of system configuration and what he really wants is more brains to be working on the problem - either with him or in competition, as long as people start thinking about tackling the problem in a scalable way.
Computerworld also has an interview with Luke Kanies that is worth a read - it covers some of his background and reasoning behind the birth of Puppet.