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Will BMC buy Puppet Labs for DevOps?

Alex Barrett

“BMC vs. Chef” just doesn't have the same ring as “Puppet vs. Chef,” but it might be the choice DevOps practitioners have to make going forward when selecting an automation tool.

The Houston-based IT management software vendor BMC Software Inc. is scheduled to announce an acquisition on Wednesday that will "extend its leadership in the

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DevOps space," and signs point to Puppet Labs and its IT automation software as the likely target.

Coming off lousy earnings last week with Q1 profits down 43%, BMC Chairman and Chief Executive Bob Beauchamp told Dow Jones Newswire the company was "gearing for growth" and that a timely acquisition would contribute to a strong performance in fiscal 2013.

Puppet Labs, along with Opscode, are two companies most tightly associated with the DevOps movement. But Opscode is not on the block, said Sunil Dhaliwal, general partner for Battery Ventures, the Waltham, Mass.-based investment firm that backs Opscode.

“In Opscode’s case, they are not for sale; it is a standalone business that solves problems for customers, and those customers do not want it to become part of a big company,” Dhaliwal said.

However, there's a case to be made for BMC to acquire a company like Puppet Labs, said Dhaliwal. “There is no doubt that [Opscode and Puppet] do threaten them on a few levels,” he said. “No one takes an old BMC framework and thinks, ‘I’ll use this to build a cloud.’ It doesn’t match the tenets of DevOps, which is flexibility.”

Then there are the economics of investing in tools from closed-source companies; frustrated customers have invested millions in BMC software, services,  processes and tools that inevitably become outdated. The cycle of throwing money and resources at closed-source tools doesn’t end, he explained.

“Then you have a product like Chef, which bubbles up from users who want to solve problems, and word spreads, and then you have a cluster of Chef users saying ‘Here is a great way of doing this,’” said Dhaliwal. “That is much different than a BMC sales rep who knocks on your door and tries to sell you products.”

The possibility of a BMC-Puppet Labs merger also makes sense because the two do have ties. Puppet Labs CEO Luke Kanies was one of the developers of BladeLogic, which was acquired by BMC in 2008 and now forms the basis of the BMC BladeLogic Automation Suite.

And recently, BMC has cozied up to Puppet Labs, featuring Puppet Labs VP of Technical Operations James Turnbull as part of its "BMC DevOps Leadership" series through the end of the month. During that time, Turnbull will talk on subjects such as "Cultural Mismatches and Business Awesome," "Risk, Open Source and DevOps" and "How Do You Broaden Adoption in the Corporation?"

Puppet Labs has thus far received $16 million through three rounds of funding, most recently $8.5 million led by Cisco Systems Inc., Google Ventures and VMware Inc., as well as existing investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, True Ventures and Radar Partners. At the time, the company counted more than 250 customers, including Constant Contact, and has since been integrated with the OpenStack cloud computing stack. BMC has also made other acquisitions designed to lure DevOps practitioners, most notably StreamStep in October 2011. StreamStep makes application release automation (ARA) software which, alongside configuration management and automation, is a central tool for any DevOps shop.

Puppet Labs was contacted but did not comment by press time.

Puppet not a shoe-in for BMC
While Puppet Labs and DevOps might have what it takes to reinvigorate moribund BMC sales, there are a lot of reasons that the acquisition doesn't make sense.

For one, BMC has never really shown an appetite for open source companies before, said a source familiar with BMC. However, DevOps is hot, and "it's possible they've changed their ways."

More to the point, BMC already has significant IT automation assets, notably BladeLogic and its legacy Control-M automation suite. On the flip side, Control-M is still largely a legacy batch automation tool, and BladeLogic was architected pre-cloud and doesn't necessarily jibe with today's dynamic, virtualized workloads, the source said.

A bigger impediment to a potential BMC-Puppet Labs marriage may be cultural. Puppet Labs employees are on record actively disliking BladeLogic, and open-source oriented DevOps folks tend to disdain traditional enterprise management stacks, said one Puppet user who requested anonymity.

"CA, BMC, HP – DevOps people don't take them too seriously," he said.

The Puppet user reserved judgment on what a potential BMC-Puppet Labs acquisition would mean for his organization.

He had evaluated BladeLogic vs. Puppet, but BladeLogic cost more than 10 times as Puppet at the time. If the acquisition takes place, he said the company would stick with Puppet unless BMC kills it. "If they're going to destroy the product, then we'll just go somewhere else," he said.

However, it would come as great news for Opscode. "Everybody that had been looking at Puppet would go running the other way," he said.

Bridget Botelho, News Director, contributed to this report.

Let us know what you think of the story. Email Alex Barrett or Bridget Botelho.


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