Why are people paying 3 to 5 million for configuration management software? 3

Posted by Adam Jacob Fri, 31 Aug 2007 19:18:00 GMT

In John Willis’ response to Puppet, iLike and Infrastructure 2.0, he poses the question:

Maybe I should ask this one more time… and why are people paying in excess of 3 to 5 million a year for this kind of software?

I think the answer revolves around two things.

People don’t realize that manual systems administration is a problem until it’s too late.

By “people” I mean everyone involved… many excellent systems administrators just don’t see the need for it. (“Why would I spend two months building out a configuration management infrastructure when I could just spend a week building my current systems by hand?”)

The result of this is that automation comes in too late in the game, after you’ve already got a couple of hundred (or couple of thousand) systems being managed by hand, huge teams of systems administrators, and entire support structures built around doing it by hand. If you’re a growing startup, this winds up impacting your agility and stability as a platform, and you maybe start looking for tools like Puppet to help out. You talk to companies like mine to help, or at least talking to Luke’s own Reductive Labs to help get you running quickly.

If you are the Fortune 1000, it’s another thing altogether. You start to look for a way out, and someone tells you that a software package and 3 to 5 million in licensing and consulting will get you to the end game. In this case, it’s hard to be nimble enough to realize that Open Source provides a better path here.

You have to see it to believe it.

If you ask anyone working in technology whether they want the ability to rebuild the entire infrastructure, from bare metal, in an afternoon the answer is yes.

What follows, though, is “but our infrastructure can’t work that way because of X”. Or “your systems must not be very complex.” As of today, if we took a poll, the majority of enterprise grade IT environments don’t have this kind of functionality. They’ve never even seen it. So they believe you when they say it, but they don’t have any confidence that it will really work out that way for them.

When you realize you must have it, and you already believe that it’s impressively difficult to do, having someone say it will only work with a 3-5 million investment and a fleet of consultants actually affirms what you already believe.

Your own experience tells you it is that hard, and it ought to require all of that investment. You want to believe it.

Lets hope that the growing movement of practical, real, automated infrastructures being built on Open Source software starts to change that perception.


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  1. matt about 5 hours later:

    The reason the commercial software exists out there and is being licensed and used is for a variety of reasons: 1) support 2) they deal with ugly things the OSS crowd doesn’t usually want to (how well is puppet working for windows clients?) 3) they’re years ahead on some issues (luke is just now adding “environmental support” to puppet)

    Don’t get me wrong. I want the OSS tools to do well. I’d love to work with them more when I get “free time”. I do grow tired of people talking about other solutions without having performed due dilligence. I love it when people say “Product X can’t do A, B, or C” when, in fact, clients have been doing it for years. It reminds me of the “competitive intelligence” the competition used to use which was very out of date. It made POCs a hell of a lot of fun whipping through the “roadblocks” laughing with the customer at how dumb the intelligence was.

  2. Adam about 5 hours later:

    I didn’t mean to say that the commercial software doesn’t do the job, or that the current crop of Open Source tools does everything the commercial tools do. In the end, our responsibility is to choose the right tool for the job. Sometimes that tool costs 3-5 million in licensing and consulting. Sometimes it’s “free as in speech” and might cost you tens of thousands in consulting fees. Which you choose of course depends on your environment, your business, your in-house expertise, and a whole raft of other issues.

    Puppet is not a panacea any more than Tivoli is.

    Thanks for the insight.

  3. matt about 19 hours later:

    By the same token, I do think the commercial vendors have a ways to go as well. I think because the space was kinda reborn several years ago, several things happened:

    1) People saw there was money to be made.

    2) The “new” commercial vendors (not tivoli, hp, etc.) started pushing forward solving what they perceived were problems in the current state of things (with either OSS or “older” commercial products)

    3) Customers reacted and wanted “more more more”

    4) Commercial vendors continue providing more.

    5) The market is beginning to “re-commoditize”.

    6) OSS and others are getting a second push based on this.

    So I think it’s nice as the commercial vendors are doing a lot of the marketing, etc. to show it’s possible, etc. (Your original points in the post) and are pushing forward with finding out what the market apparently desires. As the market continues to move forward OSS can, hopefully, ignore some of the market requests (which are very customer-specific) and build a beautiful mainline product while allowing customers to produce these one-offs on their own.

    At least that’s my hope:)