Top 7 Configuration Management Tools

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A common trait across both virtual infrastructure as well as software is that there are always configuration options. In an increasingly distributed IT landscape with deployments that can be short lived, in the data center or in the cloud, there is a real need to manage configurations at scale.

Configuration management software is a broad category of tools and services that enable administrators to manage configuration at scale in a policy driven, repeatable and automated approach. Key factors like infrastructure monitoring come into play.

Software Configuration Management (SCM) was originally a category of software specifically about application and server software. In recent years, configuration management has evolved to become even more expansive. With infrastructure increasingly used as a virtual service in the cloud and on-premises, there has been a movement to define infrastructure-as-code, which is a place where configuration management tooling is played a staring role.

Configuration Management Tools: Key Features

There are a number of key capabilities that the top configuration management tools support.

  • Configuration: By definition, configuration management tools all enable users to configure the options needed for deployment and operations.
  • Automated deployment: The ability to automatically deploy software and virtual infrastructure, in a policy driven approach with defined configuration is a key attribute.
  • Policy compliance: Keeping infrastructure and software inline with policy is a valuable feature for most organizations.

How to Choose a Configuration Management Tool

When choosing a configuration management service, there are several key considerations:

  • Scope: Identify what type of software or infrastructure that needs to be managed and make sure it's supported by the tool
  • Complexity: Some tools are easier than others to manage both in terms of onboarding and ongoing control. Be sure to try out a tool in limited deployment before committing.
  • Cost: Is the solution something that scales to cover different use-cases while remaining cost-effective?

Top Configuration Management Solutions

In this Datamation top companies list, we spotlight the vendors that offer the top configuration management tools.

Chefchef

Value proposition for potential buyers: Chef now has a suite of configuration management and automation tools that can help to enable an organization of any size embrace a policy driven approach to deployments.

Key values/differentiators

  • At the core of Chef are cookbooks and recipes that provide guides on how software should be configured and deployed.
  • Visibility into running systems with Chef Automate is very useful for administrators to figure out what needs to be configured.
  • Helps to accelerate deployment of software and infrastructure in a consistent, repeatable manner.

CFEngineCFengine

Value proposition for potential buyers: CFengine provides a powerful open source approach that is well suited for developers that need rapid configuration management across both large and small scale deployments.

Key values/differentiators

  • CFEngine is one of the longest standing open source configuration management projects, dating back to 1993.
  • Speed is a key differentiator for CFEngine, thanks to the fact that its written in the C programming language and has a small memory footprint.
  • Configuration is done via "promises' which are written in a declarative language to define policies.
  • There are open source and Enterprise editions, with the enterprise edition available for free for up to 25 connected hosts.

Hashicorp Terraformhashicorp

Value proposition for potential buyers: Hashicorp has a full suite of infrastructure management tools including Terraform which can help organization to define infrastructure as code.

Key values/differentiators

  • Hashicorp is one of the leaders in the space and just announced on March 16 that it raised $175 million in a Series E round of funding, valuing the company at $5.1 billion
  • Terraform enables organization to write declarative configuration files for how infrastructure should be configured as well as providing automated provisioning capabilities.
  • A key differentiator for Hashicorp is the Terraform Cloud service that brings collaboration and a SaaS model to configuration management activities.

Puppetpuppet

Value proposition for potential buyers: Puppet is an open source based configuration management vendor with tools that can help enable configuration management as well as continuous compliance for regulatory requirements.

Key values/differentiators

  • The company's flagship Puppet Enterprise platform enables automation and configuration management across both on-premises and multi-cloud infrastructure.
  • A key differentiator for Puppet is the emphasis on enabling a policy-as-code mode that can identify potential drift and then provide automated remdiation.
  • Auditability and visibility is another area of strength for Puppet with well integrated dashboards to manage status.
  • Change management and the ability to understand and assess the impact of a potential change is strong feature in Puppet.

Red Hat Ansibleredhat

Value proposition for potential buyers: Open source based DevOps automation and configuration management technology that works well with Linux, container and cloud deployments.

Key values/differentiators

  • Red Hat acquired Ansible back in October 2015, while Red Hat itself was acquired by IBM in 2019.
  • Ansible Engine provides the core technology for configuration management while Ansible Tower brings broader enterprise management and control capabilities.
  • Ansible's core approach for enabling automation and configuration management is encapsulated in the concept of Playbooks, that define actions that need to occur.
  • A key differentiator for Ansible is the integration of networking automation and configuration.

SaltStacksaltstack

Value proposition for potential buyers: SaltStack's configuration management tooling is well suited for both infrastructure automation as well as security operations use-cases.

Key values/differentiators

  • SaltStack is based on the Salt open source project, which is written in the Python programming language.
  • SaltStack Enterprise can be used to help enforce configuration management and infrastructure automation across both on-premises and cloud environments.
  • A key differentiator for SaltStack is its integration with security operations to help provide continuous compliance.
  • Integrations with ServiceNow for IT Service Management (ITSM) and Tenable for vulnerability scanning are powerful additions for mid to large size organizations.

Vendor Comparison Chart

Features

Key Differentiator

Chef

  • Cookbooks and Recipes for configuration policy definitions
  • Automated deployment capabilities

Visibility into running system configuration

CFEngine

  • Configuration handled via "Promises" written in a declarative language.
  • Developer focused configuration management

Configuration update speed

Hashicorp Terraform

  • Automated provisioning across on-premises and cloud providers.
  • Declarative configuration for infrastructure configuration

Full suite of infrastructure-as-code capabilities

Puppet

  • Change management impact analysis
  • Policy-as-code configuration management

Continuous compliance capabilities

Red Hat Ansible

  • Enterprise-wide configuration management with Ansible Tower
  • Application and infrastructure configuration control

Network automation and configuration

SaltStack

  • Infrastructure automation for deployment
  • Configuration management definition and enforcement

Integration with security operations



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