Canonical and Chef Add DevOps Options with Habitat and Snap Packages

DockerCon hasn't even started yet, but the channel has already seen two major open source DevOps announcements. Here's an overview of the latest news from Canonical about snap packages and Chef about its new app automation platform, Habitat.

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

June 16, 2016

3 Min Read
Canonical and Chef Add DevOps Options with Habitat and Snap Packages

DockerCon hasn’t even started yet, but the channel has already seen two major open source DevOps announcements. Here’s an overview of the latest news from Canonical about snap packages and Chef about its new app automation platform, Habitat.

Both news items were announced Tuesday. The first, from Canonical, centers on expanded support for snap packages, a new, transactionally updated way of installing and managing software that Canonical originally developed for Ubuntu Linux.

Snap now also works on a variety of other GNU/Linux distributions, including Arch, Debian, Fedora, Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu GNOME, Ubuntu Kylin, UbuntuMATE, Ubuntu Unity, and Xubuntu. And Canonical says snap packages are in the process of being “validated” on CentOS, Elementary, Gentoo, Mint,OpenSUSE, OpenWrt and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

Discerning readers will note that the commercial Linux distributions from Canonical’s main open source competitors, Red Hat and SUSE, are not yet on the list of officially supported platforms for snap packages. Instead, Canonical seems to be targeting community-supported distributions first — especially ones based on or similar to Debian, the distribution that laid the foundation for Ubuntu — and moving on from there. But RHEL is at least on the list for future support.

In any case, the expanded snap package offering is notable because it’s a sign that Canonical is not seeking to maintain snap packages as an Ubuntu-only technology. It has done that with some of its other home-grown software platforms, like the Unity desktop interface. (Well, some third parties have ported Unity to other distributions, but Canonical itself has shown little interest in exporting the platform beyond the Ubuntu ecosystem.) But the company is clearly positioning snap packages as something that it hopes the entire open source channel will embrace, including customers of its competitors.

Habitat: A Simple Alternative to Containers?

The other big news item announced Tuesday was Chef‘s public launch of Habitat, a new platform for deploying apps. The big pitch behind Habitat is the promise of allowing developers and admins to deploy software in a totally infrastructure-agnostic way.

Traditionally, infrastructure has dictated the design of the application,” Chef said in announcing the Habitat release. “Habitat packages can be run unmodified across a wide variety of runtime environments, from bare metal and VMs all the way to containers like Docker, grid systems like Mesosphere or Kubernetes, or even PaaS systems like Pivotal CloudFoundry.”

That may sound a lot like containers, which also provide a portable packaging format for running applications on different types of infrastructure. But Chef wants users to think of Habitat as a simpler way to deploy apps than containers.

“Essentially, containers don’t make things simpler, they merely hide complexity,” Chef representative Ali Shaffer said in an email. “They are full of operating systems with their own demands on resources. Containers don’t actually eliminate infrastructure; they become a new layer of infrastructure — and a layer that the application developer has to manage. Habitat makes applications run independent of their infrastructure, so the application behaves the way it should regardless of what infrastructure it is running on — bare metal, containers, PaaS, etc. Habitat is a build system and a smart service supervisor.”

OK, that’s what you would expect Chef to say. The company’s main product is an automation and continuous integration platform, and containers are not central to its formula. So by offering an alternative to containers, it can undercut the competition.

On balance, though, Chef has a point when it says containers are too complex. Containers make apps themselves easy to deploy, but adding services like networking and persistent data storage to the mix complicates matters, and makes containers less infrastructure-agnostic than they would ideally be. So Habitat, which is open source under an Apache license, may indeed prove a compelling alternative.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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