Configuration Engines for Unix

As a system administrator, there is one problem that is persistent. Standardizing and keeping track of configuration changes.

Standardizing begins with the installation of a system. All major unix brands have their own installation methods. As mainly a Solaris administrator, I'm very familiar with the Jumpstart framework.

Using plain vanilla jumpstart is ok, if no customization in addition to the OS is needed (special configurations/application installation)

For advanced customization, Sun Professional Services UK developed the JET framework. JET is an addition to Jumpstart. The advantage of JET is in its usage of template files. All information about a client to install is kept in one file. The framework provides a simple way to add additional software, make additional software changes.

With JET it is possible to get a host running with all its settings and applications. But,
as soon as there are changes on a specific host, which could affect standardization, those changes have to be propagated towards JET.

A couple of years ago, when we used our own framework on top of Jumpstart, we already had this discussion, about getting changes back to Jumpstart. We never found a real solution to this problem. Sometimes, changes were forgot by human error (lazyness?), or some changes would not fit into the framework.

Fortunatly there are others, that have had the same problem. After googling some time, I found three configuration engines:

While I haven't looked at these tools in detail, all of them are managing configuration files from a central host. Local configuration changes are always initiated from a central host. The new configuration will either be pushed from the central host or pulled from the local host. If somebody changes configuration files locally they will be overwritten. The local configurations can be generated dynamically by rules.

The more I think about it, the right way seems to be to install a plain-vanilla OS, then install additional software packages (the configuration engines support this too), and finally push the configuration to the host.

This would make it simple to reinstall or upgrading the OS on a host. Jumpstart could be used in a plain-vanilla configuration, with only needing the configuration engine to be installed.

I will certainly further investigate the tools above.


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