DevOps IT Automation Software Chef Goes Freemium

Latest release merges free and enterprise versions into single open source code base

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

September 8, 2014

3 Min Read
DevOps IT Automation Software Chef Goes Freemium
Image: Chef

Chef, the company behind the popular IT automation software for DevOps, has merged the open source version of its software and the one with premium features built for enterprises into a single open source code base.

Until now, if a company wanted to use premium Chef features, such as multi-tenancy and access control, they had to buy a separate software package. Now, anybody can simply download the open source software package and turn those features on or off as they need, paying accordingly.

But that’s for large enterprises. Smaller users, ones with 25-server deployments or smaller, can just use the enterprise features free of charge.

“That’s all now come together as a single downloadable thing,” Chef CEO Barry Crist said in an interview. “It’s [all] open source and it ships with premium features that are accessible through an API.”

There are both business and technological reasons for merging the two versions of Chef into a single code base. Both reasons have to do with ease of transition between the two.

“Rather than being free-to-premium, it was more free or premium,” Crist said. In other words, the free version was not a gateway drug to the paid one as the company’s leadership had hoped.

Chef CTO Adam Jacob said it was also hard for a customer technologically to upgrade from free to premium or to stop using the premium features once they had started. “Once you had them, it was hard to get rid of them, and if you didn’t have them it was hard to migrate to them,” he said.

Keeping the two separate was also not very healthy for progress of both. As the open source version would improve, the enterprise version would stay behind and vice versa, Jacob explained.

In addition to open sourcing Chef’s enterprise features, the latest release – Chef 12 – includes new high-availability options, policy replications between servers, data centers or different cloud environments, workflow automation for Docker containers, integration with Windows PowerSHell and VMware vSphere and vCloud Air.

Also, since several months ago, Chef has included an analytics platform, which logs activity on the Chef server and serves as a starting point for development of future audit and compliance features.

Jacob founded Seattle-based Chef (originally Opscode) together with tech entrepreneur Jesse Robbins in 2008. Many of the world’s largest companies, including the likes of Facebook, Disney, Nordstrom, General Electric, Fidelity Investments and Goldman Sachs, use its software to automate server configuration in their data centers.

Chef is one of the major forces behind the so-called DevOps movement, which is essentially about bringing IT and developers closer together and building tools to make roll-out of new software features faster.

While DevOps principles have been employed extensively by web-scale companies, such as Facebook, which constantly deploy new features, there is now pressure on more traditional enterprises to adopt the same approach.

The enterprise space is responsible for most of Chef’s revenue today. “Seventy-five percent of our revenue now comes from the enterprise, and they want premium features; they want a throat to choke; they want someone to be there,” Crist said. “But, interestingly, increasingly they also want open source, because they want the code.”

Forward-thinking enterprises want to be able to customize their software tools for their environments.

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