Q&A: Puppet Labs CEO Kanies Explains How DevOps Is Shaking Up Enterprise IT

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Luke Kanies, founder and CEO of Puppet Labs, is a popular figure among enterprise systems administrators. The open source configuration management software he created automates time-consuming data center tasks -- and lets admins have lives outside of work.

Kanies is a driving force behind DevOps, a term that describes the trend of software developers and IT operations people having shared business goals, instead of wildly different ones, and working together to reach them. The collaboration that's driving the DevOps movement is seen as a key to unlocking the value of large-scale cloud projects.

This spirit is also evident in Kanies' leadership style. He holds all-hands meetings with employees after every Puppet Labs board meeting to make sure they're aware of what's happening in all areas of the company's business. The way he sees it, informed staff are more likely to step up with a game changing idea.


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Kanies also has a dry sense of humor -- his bio on the vendor's website claims he started Puppet Labs in 2005 "out of fear and desperation."

Puppet Labs, which inked a $30 million deal with VMware in January, is anything but desperate these days. It held its third annual user conference -- called PuppetConf -- in San Francisco last month. While the first event attracted some 300 attendees, this year's drew 1,300 -- with an additional 3,700 people watching the live stream.

CRN sat down with Kanies at PuppetConf to talk about the startup's growth, its relationships with traditional enterprise vendors, and how its technology is affecting the day-to-day work of systems administrators. Following is an edited transcript from the interview.

DevOps people love what Puppet Labs is doing -- what's driving their enthusiasm?

Developers and operations have very different needs. Developers' goal is to build new features, while operations is judged on whether downtime happens. But, developers don't care if there's any downtime because that's not what they're measured on.

DevOps is about having shared goals that are tied to business goals. It's especially important for companies that are looking for more agility. It's for people that need to double the size of their production environment without doubling the size of their team. It's also for people who've made long-term investments in technology and are realizing that there are these major cultural changes they need to make.

With VMware, it's great to be able to deploy a thousand virtual machines in five minutes. But if it takes you six weeks to get them to do anything useful, then you clearly still have a major problem. DevOps is about continuous delivery of your changes into production without having to have artificial barriers and six weeks of change control rules.

How would you explain the value of what Puppet Labs does to the uninitiated?

The vast majority of people don't have an automation solution in place today. So, it's not about hey, you should replace this thing that doesn't work well with something that's better. It's hey, there's this opportunity in the market, there's this thing we could be doing better, and here is the way to do it.

The best way to do that is to say: 'The reason you're not seeing any trouble tickets in our market is that we automated our entire department six months ago. That's why I'm only working 8 hours a day instead of 12. And, that's why users are getting their requests responded to in 30 minutes instead of 3 weeks.'

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