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Puppet only manages what you tell it to manage. In the case of the JDK installs, if they don't explicitly replace/upgrade each other, you need to add in a statement to remove the old version.

I thought that an upgrade like JDK 1.7.1.23 to 1.7.2.34 would replace the previously, but doing an install of 1.8.1.23 would leave the 1.7.* version in place (and possibly require you to manually update the /etc/alternates/ location) to point java at the right install.

How are you managing your JDK install.. Are you using one of the 'java' modules on the forge, or are you directly managing the package? Are you installing it from a package (.deb/.rpm), or are you installing from a zip/tar file? Are you installing openjdk, or the oracle JDK?