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My company is creating a service in an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud. Without getting too much into the details, there will be about 5 different types of servers, and each type will need to be replicated based on demand. A bit of reading gives me the impression that we're going to want to use a config management tool like Puppet or Chef.

My bosses are receptive to the idea, but need convincing that it's actually worth the upfront cost of learning one of these tools. I have no experience with these tools, and can't really offer anything other than a few bullet points on what they do, and that wiser people on the internet seem to think it's a good idea.

The benefits of a CM just seem like vague best practices at this point, since I haven't yet experienced the problems that they are meant to solve. What headaches can I expect if we don't use a config management tool?

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In addition to the answer below, I also found this posting very useful. – Dean Nov 10 '12 at 1:43
up vote 3 down vote accepted

As a start point look at this info - Configuration management. The concept itself is very broad, that you may need to narrow it down on certain areas.

CM, when applied over the life cycle of a system, provides visibility and control of its performance, functional and physical attributes. CM verifies that a system performs as intended, and is identified and documented in sufficient detail to support its projected life cycle. The CM process facilitates orderly management of system information and system changes for such beneficial purposes as to revise capability; improve performance, reliability, or maintainability; extend life; reduce cost; reduce risk and liability; or correct defects. The relatively minimal cost of implementing CM is returned many fold in cost avoidance.

In addition to Wikipedia, look at this summarized article to get more in-depth thoughts - Configuration Management Tools Summary.

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