What customers need to know about Chef's 100% open source commitment

The software automation and devops specialist is changing how it licenses its technology and goes to market, here's what you need to know about the newly '100% open source' vendor and its changing approach

Software automation specialist Chef is committing 100 percent of its technology to open source, and is changing the way it goes to market in a bid to focus on large enterprise customers. Here's what customers need to know about the changes.

The first thing Chef announced this week was a newfound commitment to being an open source software company. Speaking to Computerworld UK last week, Corey Scobie, senior vice president of product and engineering at Chef explained that: "Today we would describe Chef as 'loose open core'. A good portion of software development is done in open source but for the commercial software we deliver to customers on top of open source kit, with Chef Automate as the central part, we are moving to open source."

By this he means all Chef technology, including the previously proprietary Automate, will be developed under an Apache 2.0 licence from 2 April. Chef's other products - Chef Infra, Habitat, Workstation and InSpec - will be built from the same source code as that which is available to the community, but will be distributed with commercial licence terms.

Scobie compared this to the Red Hat business model for its popular enterprise Linux distribution. 

This allows for all future development to happen in a "highly collaborative, transparent way," Scobie said. "We believe the best way to collaborate with customers is through code."

Essentially, anyone wanting to continue using Chef software in production will have to either update their existing commercial licence or enter into a commercial agreement with the vendor.

"For existing commercial customers there will be no immediate changes until their next renewal when they will get licensed onto new SKUs representing the same core products," the vendor clarified in an FAQ.

"Drawing clear lines between open source and commercial offerings, while ensuring that both are exactly the same, serves both vendors' and their users' most pressing needs," Holger Mueller, principal analyst at Constellation Research said as part of today's press release.


That being said, the current release of Chef software will be available to use in perpetuity, but will be subject to end-of-support in 12 months time, meaning no further bug fixes or security updates.

"Customers who choose to use our new software versions will be subject to the new licence terms and will have an opportunity to create a commercial relationship with Chef, with all of the accompanying benefits that provides," the vendor added.

For those who want to use Chef as free, open source software, or are new customers, the vendor has laid out three options:

License its commercial software distribution.
Take its open source code and create a software development org to build and manage their own distro (create their own downstream fork) or leverage a public free distribution (which may or may not exist).
Stay on an older free distribution in perpetuity. For example, they could use Chef 14.7.17 forever but they would not receive security updates, bug fixes or support from Chef starting one year after Chef 15 is released.

What is the Chef Enterprise Automation Stack?

The vendor also announced that it is centralising the various parts of its software stack - Chef Automate, Infra, Habitat, Workstation and InSpec - into what is now called the Chef Enterprise Automation Stack.

Combined, the vendor promises its core 'infrastructure as code' proposition, but with Chef's own "tested, hardened" software distribution, and the sort of devops services, assurances and direct engagement that enterprise customers expect from a vendor.

"Chef is fully committed to enabling organisations to eliminate friction across the lifecycle of all of their applications, ensuring that, whether they build their solutions from our open source code or license our commercial distribution, they can benefit from collaboration as code," Barry Crist, CEO of Chef said as part of a statement.

Read next: Why Capital One completely redesigned its Chef stack on AWS

The idea is to make it easier for customers to "buy individual pieces of this stack," as Scobie put it.

"Previously, if you wanted a Chef relationship it came through bundles only, now we are breaking it down to fundamental elements, essentially offering a la carte for technology pricing and packaging," he added.

Crucially none of these bundles or unbundled elements will be priced differently as a result of these changes, it is simply a change in the way software is packaged up by the vendor.

"Our core market is large enterprises, but we recognise that thousands of users don't fall into that market, so there is an Essentials bundle and Enterprise bundles," Scobie said, with the only difference being smaller allocations of nodes for smaller scale customers.

What next for Chef?

The vendor lost one of its key people late last year when cofounder and CTO Adam Jacob returned from an extended holiday only to announce that he would be stepping down from a day-to-day role at the company indefinitely. Jacob founded the company on open source footing and heavily influenced the sort of philosophy the company says it is fully committing to today.

In the FAQ shared today the vendor clarified that "Adam was a direct contributor to this strategy and has been and will continue to be an ongoing supporter in his role on our board of directors. His platform regarding Sustainable Open Source Software (read his 30 page book) is 100 percent compatible with these changes."

Read next: Chef CEO: We want to be like Salesforce

In terms of ambition, CEO Barry Crist told Computerworld UK last year that he wants the company to "be like Salesforce, where you can't turn it off. I want to get to the point where if the subscription lapses you'd have people with pitchforks and torches coming to the CFO's office asking why Chef has been turned off."