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[As you may recall, a few months ago PuppetLabs gave me a few free admission tickets to give away. One of the recipients was Jennifer Joy, who wrote this conference report. -Tom]

Conference Report: PuppetConf 2013, by Jennifer Joy

It has been a long time since I was in the sysadmin space. Any further clarification would reveal I have been through far too many iterations of technology (I'm pretty sure you can date sysadmins with a swift core sample and counting the rings caused by each swing between centralized and decentralized architectures).

The problem of managing large numbers of systems, especially diverse systems, is not new. Having been out of the systems game for over 10 years (ok, now you know, but I'm not telling you when I started!), I wasn't sure what to expect at this conference. Being one of those exceptionally lazy people who hate to do repetitive tasks, I'd glommed onto cfengine and used the heck out of it long before it was fashionable. I understood those basics, but now I'm back in the systems world and dealing with virtual machines which seem to multiply like rabbits. Puppet seemed to have a buzz, and I was excited to learn about it. How was it different, what was new, what is so great about it?

I can answer that in a word: momentum (forums, conferences, devotees, enthusiastic employees, continuous change and improvement). Router vendors (Juniper and Cisco) are beginning to integrate it - if we can have IT and Developers getting along (more about this later) can you imagine the systems and networking folks on the same page? Yes, this needs to happen. If you have a super complex environment: Puppet. If you have a super simple environment: Puppet. Just do it. I'm new to it, so I can't give you the low down techie reasons, yes there are modules and an abstraction layer and in my programmer's mind I know that's good. If you know a lot about Puppet and want to know more, just quit reading now and search for YouTube in this post and go watch the more advanced videos!

What was I totally not expecting: a conference with a side of DevOps. I'm not going to spend too much time on definitions, since probably most people reading this already know and if you don't, you know how to find out more because you are my people - you know how to find answers to questions, solutions to problems and where the best bar is in a given 25 mile radius. A nutshell version would be: breaking down the barriers between developers, IT and QA in part by being able to quickly react to developer needs. And one way to do that is automation.

I will say this, if you've been under a rock like me, you might want to pursue some of these titles:

And maybe read this page as well.

DevOps sounds really cool and something I'd like to be in, because to me there is no greater thrill than trying to make people more efficient in their jobs. Yeah, I have really exciting Friday nights, too. Now, I don't work in a software building world, but my ears were perked throughout the day and my mind was keyed in because while my environment has nothing to do with software development the principles are the same, and maybe this is true for you as well.

I started a new job in April, and my team is currently in 100% Hair on Fire mode. My current tasks are trying to make some changes in how things are done, including production data analysis and improved testing (of a vendor's product we deploy) which are definitely not Hair on Fire tasks. I have found it extremely frustrating because my boss only works in pure interrupt mode, my team won't return instant message-based questions half the time (because they aren't about things burning ) and emails go straight into the fires of hell, which I assume are what are keeping the hair on fire, but I'm not entirely sure. If everyone is so busy trying to put out fires they can't stop for a moment to bring a new team member up to speed or even help move tasks forward that will pay off in the long term, and not short term, red flags should be going up. Let's just say I see a sea of red.

This is the acid test for an organization. Let's circle back to IT/Ops. If your boss does not recognize that something like Puppet is a necessity, even though it is a diversion away from immediate gratification (for example, tickets closing like falling dominos), then it's time to put on those walking shoes. This is a bad place to be. For that matter, if closing 100 tickets a day is more important than figuring out why they are 100 tickets to close every day, join the rats leaving the ship. (I accidentally wrote shit, maybe that's more appropriate.) Things like Puppet are gateway drugs to DevOps because that means you are in an environment that gets it. If you want things to get better, somehow you have to keep spinning the daily grind but be allowed to go sideways before you can move ahead. Automation is basic; if you can't get this going your organization is critically ill. However, automation is but a small piece of a highly political world that requires exceptional communication skills, understanding of processes and method of the people you support and a never-ending adaption to a moving target. Nobody said it would be easy.

I probably should have said this earlier, although no one has ever accused me of linear thinking. PuppetConf 2013 was awesome. And if you want to get in on the awesome, they will be putting talks up on YouTube although they aren't there yet, but if you can't wait, you can see talks from previous conferences now. Aha - just announced: 2013 talks are at I may be an introvert, but meeting fellow travelers on the same road is a shot in the arm I can't get anywhere else. Maybe I don't do what you do, but your passion and problems are going to enlighten me if I listen. And perhaps I can help you, although this time I was the sponge.

Again, stepping off to the side, this hotel was one of those fancy ones with stores full of things for rich people who can buy pretty things. I walked into one that carried Chinese art (mostly old, and mostly jade carvings) on one of the breaks, and had a long and interesting conversation with the proprietor and in the end I walked out knowing a lot more about jade and with a signed copy of one of his books as a gift. My point is simple: Don't zombie-walk through life or a conference. Go to a conference with a mind to solve your problems, but also talk to people and see what they're doing. You never know when an indirect approach will help you and I have never found it boring to listen to people when they talk about things they care deeply about. Passion is perhaps tossed around too often these days, but I could feel passion at this conference and it is a good thing.

For automation 101 start with this one: Getting Started with Puppet . I have some notes, and if people are interested in me writing them up as a blog post, badger me in the comments section. If you think you do not have time for this talk, again, you have to move sideways before you can move forward. Find at least one hour in the day for going sideways. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn in life is all the work is going to be there and if you don't look out for you, no one else will.

Having been the ridiculously young, female person in the crowd, it was a little harsh to realize, while I'm still female, I am no longer young. I'm not old yet either, but I wanted to <god help me> pinch the cheeks of those dyed hair, tattooed young ladies, and those who were not dyed or tattooed, but certainly young, and tell them, don't lose the faith -- be strong, grow more women in the field, mentor everyone <all genders, all races>. But they exuded a confidence I did have not at that age, and I'm not worried about them, although we should all be concerned that the tech fields are inclusive. And yes, women's shirts - women's conference shirts, women's vendor shirts, WHAT?! Thank you. For a culture that embraces the diversity of its people, that's a first for me: clothes that fit. Nice! Bonus: one of the nicest looking conference shirts I've received, I like it.

I don't have a solution to the problem of what to do if your company doesn't pay for conference like this (I was stuck paying my way and was exceptionally grateful for the gift of a free entry). Of course, yes, this is red flag time. PuppetConf, USENIX Lisa, and others (would love to know about them) aren't a boondoggle, they aren't just an escape from work, they are an infusion of new ideas, new people to stay in touch with and, in my opinion, they are a critical part of escaping company culture so you can improve company culture. One person I met a long time ago at a USENIX conference was the author of this blog, and I wouldn't trade that connection for anything.

--Jennifer Joy

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in ConferencesPuppet

If you are sad you can't attend PuppetConf 2013 this week, start planning for Puppet Camp DC. It is co-located with the Usenix LISA conference, which is Nov 6-9, 2013 in Washington D.C.

Puppet Camp DC is a community-oriented, regional gathering of Puppet users and developers. You'll have the opportunity to talk to a diverse group of Puppet users, benefit from presentations delivered by prominent community members, and share experiences and discuss potential implementations of Puppet with your peers.

Registration for Puppet Camp is free, but space is limited. To continue your "Automation" education USENIX is offering a discount to all Puppet Camp attendees. If you register for Both Puppet Camp DC and LISA you will receive a $75 discount on the 3-Day Technical Session Pass. Use Discount Code: LISA13PUPPET during your LISA registration.

To register, find out more about the event, or propose a talk, go here

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in PuppetUsenix

The fine folks at PuppetLabs have given me two tickets to give away!

Puppet Labs wants to send two of my readers to PuppetConf this year in San Francisco (happening August 22 - 23rd). The two lucky winners will receive free admission (travel, hotel, meals is for you to provide... though super discounted hotel rates are available if you book by July 16).

PuppetConf 2013 is set to host 2,000 attendees this year and include speakers from VMware & RedHat. It will take place at the Fairmont Hotel, located in the heart of downtown SF, where a ton of other social events around the conference are set to take place. The 3 days prior are full of training and developer meetups.

How to win:

  • Step 1: Fill out this form by noon on July 14th (east-coast time): LINK
  • Step 2: At that time I will pick two entries randomly... though my random number generator may be affected by really awesome answers.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Puppet

Instant Puppet 3 by Jo Rhett is 50 pages long and a delight to read. The ebook is available for $9.99 from Packt (pronounced "packed") at

For those of you that are unfamiliar with Puppet: Puppet is a system for describing what the configuration of a machine should be and then the "puppet agent" will update a machine to have that configuration. If there is no work to be done, the agent does nothing. If you need to make a change globally you could, in theory, make one change to the description and soon every machine will be updated with the Puppet agent doing the right thing on each machine depending on what operating system it is running. This is called "Configuration Management" or ConfigMgmt or CM. Settings can be global or for a particular machine or anything in between. The hallmark of good CM systems is that you specify what you want ("Package foo version x.y.z should be installed") not how ("apt-get install foo-x.y.z"). CM systems are good for maintaining dozens or thousands of machines.

About the book:

Imagine you need to learn Puppet quickly and you have a friend that is a Puppet expert. Imagine that he or she has offered to sit down with you for a few hours and help you go from zero to a running configuration. This ebook is like having that experience in the form of a book. It starts with the fastest way to create a server, a client, and get them talking to each other. Now you use the system to move through a series of exercises that teach you all the rudimentary features that you should know: Installing packages, copying files, using templates to generate files, and so on.

To make the book so compact Jo employs a number of techniques. First, he assumes RedHat or CentOS. This makes the descriptions more concise and uncluttered by the distracting exceptions for other operating systems. If you don't use either of these OSs he has advice on how to apply what you've learned to a different operating system after you are done. Second he focuses on the knowledge needed to take you on the shortest path from no Puppet to a simple Puppet server with a few clients with some typical configurations. Third, he uses thoughtful examples that replace the need for pages and pages of verbiage. Lastly, he saves pages (and your time) by covering advanced topics with an overview, an example, and a pointer to where to learn more. The last section is a "Top 5" list of advanced features that you should be aware of. After reading the overviews and examples of each, you feel like you are conversant enough in the topic to know if you need this feature.

Earlier I said this is like having an expert walk you through the process in person. It is actually better than that. I can't imagine an informal in-person walk-through having such good planning. I mean... when I walk a person through something I always get to a point where I realize I need to backtrack a little! The ebook, however, is excellently planned. Each concept flows from one to the next linearly. Technical books often build a concept hierarchy that becomes a "house of cards": if you forget or don't understand one concept the entire house comes tumbling down. Instant Puppet 3 simplifies the concepts and avoids obfuscation resulting in an approachable learning experience.

As a result, the analogies are well-crafted and the examples are clear.

One particularly good analogy stood out. It can be confusing for a beginner to decide if a new policy should be put in the "site manifest" or in a "module". He writes:

The site manifest expresses what you want. The modules are like butlers and maids; components which implement policy without bothering you with the details. You will find that this approach enables you to do more, faster, and easier than ever before.

That analogy helped me understand the issue better and I've been using Puppet for a while!

As I said before, the examples are also well-crafted. They demonstrate what is needed at this point in the narrative rather than trying to show off every possible feature. (This is a major pet peeve of mine: authors that use examples to show how complex and configurable a system can be and end up confusing the reader with unrealistic examples. To be clear: this book doesn't have that problem.)

The book is not without faults. I found some editing errors but over-all it was well-edited. The author has already updated the errata page on the book's website.

I would recommend this book to anyone that needs to get up to speed quickly with Puppet. If you are managing more than 2 machines, you should be using a CM system: whether it is CfEngine, Puppet, Chef, Bcfg2 or anything else. If you choose Puppet, this is a great way to get started.

The book is compact and straight to the point. The ebook is available for $9.99 from the publisher:


P.S. You can enter to win a free copy at the author's website:

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in PuppetReviews

My friend Jo Rhett's new book is called "Instant Puppet 3 Starter". In 50 pages he gets you up and running with Puppet3. I haven't read it yet, but if it isn't good let me know and I'll kick his ass.

P.S. Just kidding. Jo could kick my ass any day. I'd find some other punishment. Luckily I won't need to because I'm sure it is a great book.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Puppet