Eric Mandel & Jason Ford
Automating System Builds and Maintenance with Cobbler and Puppet
BlackMesh Inc.

Eric Mandel is the CEO and co-founder of BlackMesh, a provider of information technology solutions for small and mid-sized businesses. Since 2003, Mandel has led the strategic direction of the company, building a strong base of global, diverse customers and growing the company by 100 percent each year. With over 15 years of experience, Mandel is an authority on building, implementing, and maintaining a wide range of technologies, with experience at various levels of software development and in-depth knowledge of existing and emerging methodologies.


Jason Ford is the CTO and co-founder of BlackMesh, a provider of information technology solutions for small and mid-sized businesses. He is responsible for setting the technology agenda for BlackMesh, as the company designs, deploys, and administers innovative managed hosting and managed services in both off-site and on-site locations to customers around the globe. Recognized by Washington SmartCEO Magazine as one of the Washington, D.C.-region’s top CTOs, Ford brings over 13 years of experience in network architecture, design and implementation. He is an expert in building and managing enterprise servers for on-premise and hosted clients, with certifications in Sun Cluster, Veritas Cluster, and various other Veritas products.


Quickly, accurately, and reliably deploying new systems, across the entire spectrum of production, test, and development systems, is a constant challenge for system administrators and developers. At BlackMesh, we were able to automate this process by using the free, open source packages Cobbler and Puppet to quickly deploy different server images and install applications customized for each customer.

Implementing Puppet simultaneously decreased our deployment time by a factor of ten while giving us increased flexibility and control. These speed improvements even enabled us to redeploy a server with a new purpose, such as moving a server from a database farm to a web farm, as quickly as installing a new server. Puppet allows us to maximize code reuse by building different configurations for different projects all derived from the same base classes. Puppet’s configurability gave us the freedom to securely control the access to and the configuration of each server built. Puppet also enabled us to deploy network-wide changes from a central interface with granular control.

Meanwhile, Cobbler functions as a disk imager on steroids, enabling us to define a configuration once and build servers to that profile time and again, but each time with the newest copies of packages and the latest BlackMesh-specific customizations. As a managed hosting company, these improvements are extremely valuable to us as we consistently look for ways to optimize our customers’ servers in ways that are transparent to both the customers and the end users. In this presentation, we will show attendees how they too can leverage Cobbler and Puppet to build a quick, accurate, and reliable server build and maintenance system.