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Puppet’s office in downtown Portland. (Puppet Photo)

At a time when lots of enterprise tech companies founded around open-source projects are reconsidering their approach, Puppet is doubling down on its open-core philosophy.

That’s the approach that new Puppet CEO Yvonne Wassenaar is taking with the Portland company’s product strategy as other companies consider opening or closing their software projects to different degrees. Puppet believes that a new emphasis on its open-source Bolt task-automation project, as well as a new cloud-native infrastructure management project called Lyra that will become generally available this morning, will draw users interested in applying those capabilities to small teams who will hopefully upgrade to paid products like Puppet Enterprise as their needs increase.

Yvonne Wassenaar, CEO, Puppet. (Puppet Photo)

Lyra aims to reduce the complexity of the workflows required to deploy cloud infrastructure and get applications up and running on that infrastructure, and extends Puppet’s reach into the cloud world that so many of its customers are choosing for new applications. That said, one thing we’ve learned over the past few years is that older workloads are going to be much harder to dislodge from on-premises data centers than once thought, which means Puppet’s existing customers are still going to need software designed around their infrastructure management needs.

I caught up with Wassenaar at Puppet’s downtown Portland offices last week the day after getting back from Seattle and ChefConf, a reminder of how closely those Pacific Northwest companies have been linked over their history. Both companies agree that is changing, and Wassenaar kicked off an edited transcript of our conversation below recalling a recent meeting with Chef CEO Barry Crist.

GeekWire: Not all that long ago you couldn’t talk about Puppet or Chef without mentioning the other company in the same sentence.

Yvonne Wassenaar: I’d not met Barry before and had the opportunity when I was in Seattle to spend some time with him. The tech industry is so small, we know a gazillion people in common. What’s interesting is Barry and I both acknowledge (is that) we don’t really see (each other), we don’t go head to head so much anymore. It used to be like a religious battle.

One (aspect) is the acceleration I think both of us are seeing in the business is because automation is becoming much more critical. But what’s interesting is we’re both seeing more of IBM and (Red Hat’s) Ansible and I think it’s some of it for us is just in the largest accounts.

An IBM data center. (IBM Photo)

I went through this at VMware when HyperV got good enough and all of a sudden Microsoft is trying to just roll it in their broader ELAs (enterprise licensing agreements). So what’s interesting with Barry and I both talked about is really the way you get around that is, what really is good enough. Ansible’s great at many things, but the level of sophistication of what you can do with an Ansible is just not — certainly in our case for the large customers — good enough, particularly on the compliance side.

GeekWire: Do you see them selling together already (as they await the close of their $34 billion merger)?

Wassenaar: So Ansible is seen as easy and therefore it has proliferated. Ansible Tower is not seen as easy.

For us the big powerful shifts has been around Bolt, and really how that’s taken off and just been able to not only do what Ansible does from a task-based perspective but actually do much more. The other thing is customers are … there’s always that nervousness. So there’s the big company (taking) over Red Hat, and is Ansible going to die? And so we do have some customers who are increasingly interested in moving away just because they’re concerned about the path of innovation, as well as just some of the limitations when you get out to scale.

GeekWire: It’s been such an interesting year or so for everyone involved in enterprise open source. Some companies have gotten a little more closed, and some companies have gotten a little more open, but it seems like Puppet is on the same path.

Wassenaar: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about open source and talking to people about the different perspectives. I fundamentally believe that open source gets a tremendous amount of the credit for how fast technology is evolved today. And I deeply believe that not just in software development but in many aspects of life, the democratization of how work is done is going to continue.

My belief from an open-source perspective is open source in and of itself is not a business model. And so I think increasingly there’s an appreciation that if you’re starting a company and you’re open source and you have no idea how you’re going to make money, you’re going to go out of business.

You have to have a strategy around that. Barry’s taken one strategy at Chef to say, hey, we’re going to make it all open, and our monetization strategy is really on how you integrate the distro and provide services on that. I think that’s a great and an interesting strategy, he’s bundling a lot of stuff together. I look forward to seeing how works.

That’s not our strategy. My belief on Puppet, just given who we are, where we want to go, and who we serve, I believe our best open-source strategy is to continue to work with the community on building out that foundational level of technology, on the core capabilities that are required and that benefit the masses that can most quickly be developed by the masses.

So if you look at Bolt for example, task-based automation is a fundamental component to so many things in the world around us that it, from a Puppet perspective, allows people to more easily enter the world of automation, which is good for everybody.

(Pixabay Photo / CC0)

If you look at Lyra, which is our open source project in the cloud-native container space, the fundamentals around workflow and orchestration again are something that are common requirements really across the masses. And so there’s interest and ability to drive the advancement of that technology quickly, particularly in an emerging space.

You know, we’ve built around (HashiCorp’s) Terraform with Lyra. So we’re not trying to say, hey, it’s all Puppet brilliance. It really is community, it’s pulling together the best of breed.

Where we see Puppet being able to add unique value on top of that is our focus or large enterprises. And when you look at large enterprises, one, the complexity of what they need to do and manage is at a higher level than the masses.

I mean, there’s a war for talent, and when you talk to enterprises, they’re always trying to differentiate: What do I build? What do I buy? What differentiates me as a business or not?

While I deeply believe automation and self-healing environments are going to be kind of table stakes to grow and scale a large company in this next phase, that’s not what is going to differentiate them. So we can partner with them for those core capabilities so that they can really drive whatever makes them unique in their industry.

GeekWire: With respect to Bolt and Lyra, what is the product strategy that is going to come out of that? Is there going to be versions of them that are offered as a commercial service, like some of the other Puppet products?

Wassenaar: Bolt really is one of the core foundational ways and I think a big expansion for Puppet — who historically has been very declarative — to really acknowledge that while the declarative model that we built Puppet open source around is immensely powerful, that there is a place and a space for task based automation that’s important.

The way that we view Bolt really is as a key enabler across the Puppet portfolio. It’s a way for us to easily onboard people into the world of automation. We’ve been increasingly made it easy if you were historically an individual Bolt user and you want to expand that across the team to be able to integrate that into PE (Puppet Enterprise), so we’ve made it as an easy onramp into PE.

Part of what we’ve focused on is how do we help our customers evolve. We’re focused on these large enterprises that are currently trying to sort out, how do I go from node-centric to cloud native environments, who are trying to sort out how do I take teams with a certain set of skills today and evolve them.

We’re not massively shifting what Puppet is doing. What we’re really focused on is simplifying and doubling down on our course strengths given our beliefs of where the market’s going. And so we’re simplifying and doubling down on infrastructure automation across node-centric and cloud-native environments. And what we believe fundamentally is that the rule of operations is only going to become more important in this hybrid world.

So it sounds Bolt and Lyra are not really products on their own but open source projects that can bring more people into the current products. Like, there won’t be managed Bolt or managed Lyra?

I would tilt it a little bit to say that we view Bolt and Lyra as open source projects for the individual; for individuals who want to be able to hold together their own capabilities and an SMB I think they’ll have more than enough within those worlds to do some really powerful things. We really view them as a way to advance.

Puppet employees in 2017 (Puppet Photo)

If you think about a pyramid of technical capability, there’s a lot of people who need the foundational capabilities and fewer and fewer who need the more sophisticated (features) at the top. What we’re trying to do is build out a really strong base and kind of advance that technology as quickly as we can in a democratized way, and then put the special sauce of Puppet — where we dedicate incremental engineering to build out a commercial product — really for the top of the pyramid, which is large enterprise. So number-wise it’s a smaller set of companies, but the complexity of their problems we feel are rich enough and deep enough that we uniquely can make a difference there.

GeekWire: One of the things that changed since you’ve been (at Puppet) is the product advisory council, and I was wondering if you could explain to me how that works and how it informs what you’re doing.

Wassenaar: One of the things that I thought a lot about as I came into Puppet is how do you build for the future when you live in today. And what I mean by that is most of the customers that we serve are still predominantly in node-centric environments. And yet we all inherently know we’re moving more and more to a cloud-native world.

What Puppet wants to solve in the cloud-native world is not the point-project problem. What Puppet wants to solve in the world is the more complex problem that you encounter when you scale out containers and cloud native across your company; when you go from 10 or 20 percent of your applications being cloud native to 50 or 60 percent. And so to get our arms around the problems we’re solving there, I thought it would be beneficial for us to pull together an advisory board that has perspective from people who live in that future world.

What Luke (Kanies) founded in Puppet was a visionary company that understood the value of automating at scale in what was then a node-centric world. What I’m looking to build at Puppet is a visionary company that understands how to help companies evolve to that next generation world and be relevant when they get there. And I think there are very few companies who are in a position to do that.

GeekWire: What’s the biggest change you’ve made?

I think the biggest change is the clarity on who we are. I think Sanjay did an outstanding job really exploring who we could be. And I think what I have done is really take that and say, you know, at the end of the day, who are we?

That brings an amazing deal of comfort and clarity and power when it comes both to our customers, who now more effectively know how to strategically partner with us, and to our employees, who have a better vision of not only where we are today, but where they can expect to be helping take us.

GeekWire: What’s the biggest change you have yet to make?

I feel in the first hundred days I’ve been here that we’ve really made the foundational changes. From a team perspective, we’ve really solidified who and how we want to be organized to drive into this next future.

From an open-source perspective, we’ve gotten great clarity on not only how we want to leverage open source strategically, but how we want to integrate that into the world of Puppet. Historically, Bolt had been growing very separately from puppet and we’re bringing those brands together, same thing with Lyra. I feel that’s a tremendous amount of change, and now it’s really around executing and delivering against that promise.

[Editor’s note: This post was updated to clarify that Lyra is generally available as of this morning.]

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