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Puppet sets sights on unified IT automation platform, IPO

An integrated Puppet IT automation platform that runs on Kubernetes will accompany an IPO for Puppet Labs in 2021, as the company aims to update its image for the cloud-native era.

Puppet Labs' products will be combined into a unified platform on Kubernetes as the company preps for an IPO in 2021, but some industry watchers are skeptical about the prospects for such IT automation tools as the market for them consolidates.

The Puppet Enterprise Platform, due out in early 2021, will integrate the Puppet Relay event-driven automation product rolled out in beta in June; an update to the vendor's agentless IT automation project Puppet Bolt, called Puppet Connect, announced this week; and the traditional Puppet Enterprise configuration management product.

Puppet Connect will make Bolt's CLI-based features accessible to less technical users through a new UI and allow for teams and workspaces that share access to the tool. Bolt had been limited to one user and one task at a time.

Abby KearnsAbby Kearns

"The challenge before was that Puppet Enterprise was a bit all-or-nothing," said Puppet Labs CTO Abby Kearns. "The new goal is to give customers an easy on-ramp and modular building blocks into advanced automation."

The Puppet Enterprise Platform will run on containers orchestrated by Kubernetes. Puppet already released Continuous Delivery for Puppet Enterprise version 4.0 last month on a Kubernetes foundation, and the rest of Puppet Enterprise will follow suit, Kearns said.

The challenge before was that Puppet Enterprise was a bit all-or-nothing. The new goal is to give customers an easy on-ramp and modular building blocks into advanced automation.
Abby KearnsCTO, Puppet Labs

"It's all microservices-oriented architecture. We're leaning heavily on APIs to not only connect [services] inside the platform, but as we think about our extensibility and integrations into other technologies and services like ServiceNow, Splunk and PagerDuty," Kearns said.

Puppet also partnered with Replicated Inc. to build out Puppet Enterprise Platform. "They've got their own distribution of Kubernetes, but they've packaged it up in such a way that customers won't have to see it or manage it if they don't want to," she said.

Puppet Enterprise integration into Puppet Relay will also deepen when the platform becomes available. For example, Puppet Enterprise could already take action to update infrastructure in response to alerts from third-party tools such as PagerDuty. But with Puppet Relay integration, it will also be able to trigger broader actions from other third-party tools, such as creating a Slack channel for incident response, or ServiceNow help desk tickets.

Kearns would not disclose the number of users in the public beta of Relay but said ride-sharing firm Uber is an early participant in the testing. Puppet, which has undergone multiple executive shifts in the last two years -- including Kearns' hiring as CTO in April -- also added two new board members this week and plans an initial public offering (IPO) in early 2021.

IT automation for DevOps is a consolidating market

Puppet's strategy isn't an unreasonable one, but as with the Puppet Relay announcement earlier this year, one industry observer raised doubts about its prospects given current market conditions.

Traditional Puppet competitors Chef and SaltStack have both been acquired in the last six months, and CI/CD tools from larger DevOps vendors such as Microsoft GitHub, Atlassian and CloudBees also offer built-in automation features. This dims the prospects for standalone DevOps automation tools and the Puppet IPO, according to Forrester Research analyst Chris Gardner.

"I'm kind of waiting for [Puppet] to be bought," he said. "But I don't know how Relay helps -- if [an acquirer] comes for Puppet, they're going to come for its community, and the available code that's already out there for different types of automation."

Chef and SaltStack appealed to potential buyers with pivots to a more aggressive open source stance and a focus on SecOps automation, respectively, Gardner said.

Puppet also plans to offer a compliance automation tool called Puppet Comply, announced earlier this month, and the fact that it's embracing a Kubernetes and microservices back end for its core platform could also prove valuable.

"One thing that was holding [Puppet] back in a small number of [client] conversations was that people didn't want to deploy classic, non-containerized infrastructure," Gardner said. "[Puppet] has a strong, fervent community, good vulnerability management capabilities … It's just that I'm not sure their timing is right [to launch a DevOps automation strategy]."

Kearns responded that Puppet's work with enterprises has revealed that they still struggle with IT automation at scale and that they look to Puppet to help solve those problems.

"For this reason, our business is growing,” she added. “A path to an IPO is an inevitable outcome for us."

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