Chef, Puppet, And JumpCloud Server Management Tools

By Rajat Bhargava Posted June 12, 2014

“JumpCloud is like a screwdriver and Chef/Puppet are like wrenches. Both are excellent tools, but you need to use the right tool for the job.”

Alan Shimel, Editor-in-Chief, DevOps.com

We often hear how JumpCloud® compares to Chef and Puppet. For that matter, we are compared to all of the rest of the configuration automation / management solutions. So, how do we compare? Simply put, we each do something different. Chef and Puppet programmatically manage your infrastructure. They build your systems and ensure that your configurations are correct and updated.

What is JumpCloud?

JumpCloud is an IT admin tool that is a core user and device management system that, at its core, is a Directory-as-a-Service®. In other words, we automate IT admin tasks such as managing users and devices. While it’s easy to read that last statement and say, “OK that makes sense”, let’s peel the onion back a few layers to illustrate what we really mean:

  • User management – JumpCloud’s core use case is as a cloud-based directory service that manages users. This can happen on your server infrastructure with SSH keys and multi-factor authentication. It can be your virtual identity provider for laptops, desktops, applications, and networks. There is no code to write or interaction with users to centrally manage user access across all of your IT resources, including your cloud server infrastructure at AWS, Mac and Windows desktops / laptops, web applications, legacy on-prem applications, and WiFi.
  • Command execution – executing tasks on all of your devices can be challenging, especially with desktops and laptops. The configuration management tools are focused on the server infrastructure and not on the internal IT environment. JumpCloud’s goal is to provide cross platform GPO replacement functionality.

On the other hand, Chef and Puppet handle the “traditional” system admin tasks of configuring a system and ensuring the configurations are always correct. Where is the boundary line? What tasks would JumpCloud be the right tool for?

Modern-Day IT Administration

Before we get really tactical with what you can do with each solution, let’s discuss how the overall landscape has evolved, especially with the cloud. Admins today are managing their servers in a four-step lifecycle:

  1. Provisioning servers – first through API calls and software. Once these servers – often now virtual or in the cloud – are spun up, they can be a clean OS install, or based on a preconfigured image (such as an AMI or VMDK).
  2. Automating the installation and configuration of the software.
  3. Instrumenting these servers with tools to monitor their performance and health.
  4. Operational management of these servers.

How to use server management tools like Chef and Puppet effectively with JumpCloud

Now, let’s get really granular about the best way to use each group of tools. While this isn’t a comprehensive, exhaustive list, it does illustrate the categories or areas where each tool excels.

Chef/Puppet

  • Build out your server infrastructure – install and configure your operating system software and application software
  • Manage your configuration files – ensure that they are exactly what you want and that changes propagate through and stay consistent
  • Update your software build and propagate that to all servers (can include software updates, patches, etc.)
  • Push standard, updated images and configurations to all devices

JumpCloud

  • Secure, centralized user management without coding / scripting and user self-service infrastructure
  • SSH key management
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Ad hoc system administration tasks across the server infrastructure
  • Centralized cron management
  • Secure user management
  • Write scripts in whatever language you want across Windows, Linux, and Mac

If you are interested in keeping your systems in a consistent state, use the configuration automation tools. If you need centralized user management and command execution functionalityuse JumpCloudHopefully, this helps make sense on where you can leverage JumpCloud alongside of your Chef or Puppet implementation. Finally, please feel free to email us comments, questions, or thoughts!

Rajat Bhargava

Rajat Bhargava is co-founder and CEO of JumpCloud, the first Directory-as-a-Service (DaaS). JumpCloud securely connects and manages employees, their devices and IT applications. An MIT graduate with two decades of experience in industries including cloud, security, networking and IT, Rajat is an eight-time entrepreneur with five exits including two IPOs, three trade sales and three companies still private.

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