There is one Chef Server, and it is Open Source

Chef is used by companies of all shapes and sizes, from tiny startups to the largest companies in the world, to create businesses where infrastructure moves as fast as software. One thing that binds all these different companies together, regardless of size, is this critical fact:

The people who build and manage infrastructure are the people who best understand the unique requirements that make their businesses special.

That means that, when it comes to deciding how infrastructure automation should work, in the end, the people who run the business are the experts. I may be great at using Chef to tackle all sorts of interesting problems, but how to apply that knowledge depends entirely on the unique requirements of that business.

It is this reality that is leading most of us to build the future of our businesses on Open Source software. We just aren’t interested in waiting for, or pretending, that a closed source vendor understands our needs better than we do. We know it isn’t true.

In the largest of organizations, there is another reason: they are tired of being locked in to relationships with vendors that are no longer providing real and lasting value. The era where we looked at doing perpetual software license deals, along with enormous consulting engagements so that experts could solve our problems for us, has passed. We know that it rarely works, and, importantly, we know that in the world we find ourselves today, these IT vendors just couldn’t possibly be experts in our problem. They don’t live in our proverbial houses.

Chef Software has evolved significantly in the six years since its founding. First, we had only our open source product; then, we launched our SaaS platform, Hosted Chef; and in response to the needs of our largest customers, we then built Enterprise Chef, an on-premises version of Hosted Chef. We’ve played with various mixes of what features go in to which offering, with how to balance our need to thrive as a commercial business with our core belief that Open Source is the future of infrastructure.

Through all of those permutations, we have learned one fundamental thing:

No matter what the mix of proprietary or open source features, when Chef users build awesome things with Chef, they are much more likely to buy our software.

It is in this environment that I’m proud to announce that, starting with the Chef Server 12 release candidate today:

There is only one completely free, fully Open Source, Chef Server.

This brings a number of benefits, both to Open Source Chef users and Enterprise Chef customers:

  1. Chef Server 12 includes the multi-tenancy and role based access control features of Enterprise Chef. Previously, choosing between Chef Server and Enterprise Chef meant making a decision early on about the value of those two features. If you needed them in the future, you were in for a migration between two similar but fundamentally different systems. On the flip side, as an Enterprise Chef customer, if those features brought you little value, you may feel “locked in” by the lack of easy migration back to a purely open source Chef Server.We want to make it easy and clear. We want you to build amazing things with Chef. We also want to make our commercial offerings so compelling that we earn your business every day. If we don’t, nobody is locked in to that commercial relationship. It’s better for everyone.
  2. As we have built other compelling offerings, such as our Reporting and Analytics platform, we tied them directly to Enterprise Chef. That meant that even if you felt like you might get great value out of those features, deciding to use them required a migration. We want to remove the friction to experimenting, to seeing if the things we build on top of Chef help you become successful. Every premium feature we ship is now available, for free, to people managing less than 25 nodes. They can be installed directly from the Chef Server console. For users who are larger than 25 nodes, you can try any of those features free for 30 days. If you exceed those limits, we’ll present a message to you – and we won’t turn the functionality off. You use Chef to build core infrastructure: we trust that you’ll do the right thing, and we trust that if you need to use more, you have a good reason. If those features stop bringing you value, you can turn them off just as easily as you turned them on.
  3. With Open Source Chef and Enterprise Chef being different products, there was a natural tension between which one would be getting attention at any given moment in time. Do we always ship them at the same time? Which gets priority for security releases? Which features go in where? As of this release, those tensions are gone. Every member of the Chef community, whether they are a customer of Chef Software or not, is equally invested in the same core platform. That will mean more frequent updates and innovation for everyone.
  4. When the beginning of a commercial conversation with Chef Software started with using Enterprise Chef, it became easy to see our business as selling an enhanced version of the Chef Server. In truth, it’s about the entirety of Chef – from the developer experience all the way through to your production infrastructure. In the last year, we’ve brought this to the forefront of our development. The Chef Development Kit is one example, where we build, support, and verify not only that Chef works well, but that all of the best tools from the Chef ecosystem do as well. Making companies successful means caring about everything, from the first moment someone starts typing to the moment they bask in the glory of a job well done. We’re committed to making more and more of our premium features work in the unique ways you employ Chef. As an example, in the future, we would love to see Chef Solo support within our Analytics platform. Just because you decided you didn’t need a server doesn’t mean you don’t want visibility into your infrastructure.

A picture is worth a thousand words


Chef Software now publishes and supports:

  • The Chef Development Kit, an open source collection of everything you need to get started writing cookbooks and building test-driven infrastructure.
  • The Chef Server, a fully multi-tenant, open source server that scales to store and distribute cookbooks and policy.
  • The Chef Client, an open source client that contains everything you need to automatically configure your infrastructure, with either local policy (Chef Solo) or from a Chef Server.
  • Chef Push, an open source, scalable push notification mechanism.
  • A premium Management Console that provides a Web Interface to the Chef Server, allowing you to set policy without writing code, and see reports of activity from the Chef Client.
  • A built-in framework for making the Chef Server highly available, on physical infrastructure and in the cloud. This premium feature includes support for DRBD, Amazon Web Services, and a pluggable ‘bring your own block device’ mode. We’ll be adding support for more providers all the time.
  • A premium replication service that makes it easy to publish content to a single Chef Server, and then have that content dynamically distributed to Chef Servers all over the globe.
  • Chef Analytics, a premium service that tracks all the activity in your Chef ecosystem – from resource updates to API calls, and provides visibility, notifications, and compliance. Our first release was in July, and we have big things planned.

All of our Open Source products are available, free of charge, in both source and binary form. Our premium features are free to use for infrastructures with 25 or fewer nodes, come with a 30-day free trial in larger infrastructures, and are available by subscription. In all cases, we know you use Chef for mission-critical infrastructure: if you exceed the usage limits, we will simply provide a gentle reminder, and trust that you’ll do the right thing.

We will continue to produce more Open Source software, and provide more compelling premium features, as well.

We are proud to be an Open Source company.

We believe that the future of infrastructure automation and more broadly, the future of how our businesses will be architected demands it. We know that when you are successful, Chef Software is too. This release fully aligns our business model with those realities: everyone is free to build their business on Chef, and it is our job to earn your business every day. It’s now as friction-free as we can make it to learn whether our premium features, such as the Management Console, Analytics, High Availability, or Replication bring you value.

We can’t wait to see what you build.

Where can I learn more?

* Check the Chef Server 12 Release Candidate blog post for specifics on how to install or upgrade the Chef Server.

* Learn about the new High Availability and Replication features.

* Check out our continuing commitment to making Windows automation delightful.

Adam Jacob

Adam Jacob is the CTO and co-founder of Chef.