Our Investment in Chef

ScaleVP Invests in Chef

We are excited to announce our investment in Chef. The investment thesis is simple: every company in the world runs on software and—to survive—every company in the world has to run faster. This creates a massive need to speed up the process of developing and deploying code and, in turn, has led to the "DevOps" approach to developing applications. The idea behind DevOps is simple: if Development (the teams that write the code) can work more closely with Operations (the teams that run the resulting systems), they can deploy projects faster with fewer errors. This arrangement works; a DevOps-centered methodology is clearly the way of the future.

Chef Makes DevOps Possible

The Chef automation platform helps organizations switch to DevOps by enabling IT operations and developers to describe, model, and automate infrastructure as code.  The Chef automation platform uses cookbooks (reusable code definitions that are written using the Ruby programming language).  Each cookbook defines a scenario, such as everything needed to set up and configure a postgresql database together with all required components (templates, versions, metadata, etc.). There are over 1000 cookbooks, including those for databases, operating systems, applications, networking, and monitoring.

Armed with a cookbook, an IT management team can do everything from installing an operating system, to installing and configuring servers on instances, to configuring how the instances and software communicate with one another, simply and efficiently.

The following diagram illustrates how Chef works:

How Big is the IT Automation Opportunity?

The need to automate IT is not new. The IT systems management market has been around as long as the IT markets itself. In fact, every new IT architecture, from mainframes, to minis, to client server to web, has produced a crop of successful systems management companies. However few—or none—of them have been able to make the transition from an old architecture to a new architecture. They ve either had to purchase to advance or have declined in relevance.

We believe that there is another architectural shift happening today in IT and so do the analysts per this Forrester Report. What's changing now is not the underlying hardware, which has been commoditized servers for the last 10+ years, nor the interface to the end user, which will remain the browser.  Instead, the shift is involves where hardware is deployed and how larger systems are put together.

Quantity has a quality all its own, (attrib. J. Stalin). The sheer quantity of servers under management, and the sprawl of those servers within the enterprise and on cloud deployments, makes the old way of running systems untenable.  There are not enough sys admins alive to staff every IT company on a 100:1, servers to sys admin, ratio; existing datacenter solutions like HP-Opsware, or BMS-Bladelogic, to name two of the most successful products built in the early 2000s, just can't handle this challenge. Throw in the need for faster change management and the problem becomes even more acute.  The only solutions for this management problem are a DevOps approach and tools like Chef. Again see point #7 in the Forrester Report.

The IT Systems Management is a $9Bn/year market.  We believe that a significant percentage of that market will move to a more robust—yet simpler—configuration and automation solution available from vendors like Chef. We are excited by this opportunity.

Team

We like Chef's team led by CEO Barry Crist and founder Adam Jacob.  I will also stop to remember a core member of the Chef team, former CEO, Mitch Hill. Mitch passed away last week. I did not know Mitch—he was not CEO when we made the investment—but comments from his long time colleagues consistently describe him as a genuinely great person as well as a successful business leader. He and his family are in my thoughts as I write this.  There is nothing that can be said that really ameliorates a loss like this. What we can do, however, is pay tribute and respect to the work he did to get Chef to the success and value it has today.

Scale is looking forward to working with Chef to build the systems management company of the cloud decade.

Originally published December 9, 2013.