Ansible is an open-source IT automation tool and is widely considered as the best solution to improve the scalability, consistency, and reliability of an organization’s IT environment. Normally, Ansible is used to automate three major types of tasks: provisioning, configuration management, and application deployment. There are various IT automation tools available online including Puppet and Chef, so why would an enterprise choose Ansible. Besides other reasons we are discussing below, the core reason is its simplicity of this application deployment tool.

Ansible in DevOps

We already know that in DevOps, the operations and development activities are merged and the integration is essential for test-driven application design. Therefore, Ansible facilitates the integration task by providing a stable environment for both operations and development to achieve a seamless orchestration.

So how does the Ansible handle the entire DevOps system? When developers start considering an infrastructure as a component of their application, or, Infrastructure as code (IaC), performance and stability become a norm. IaC is a process of managing and provisioning computing infrastructures such as virtual servers, bare-metal servers, processes, and more. The configuration is done with machine-processed definition files, instead of interactive configuration tools or a physical hardware configuration. This is where the Ansible automation acquires the competitive edge and stands out in the competition from other tools in the market. Being an essential part of DevOps training, students and professionals can learn about the unparalleled advantages of Ansible through quality DevOps training and equip themselves with IT automation engines and features.

Agentless

The significance of an agentless architecture is a real lifesaver for network automation, especially when it comes to automating current devices. If you examine all the devices installed throughout your network, including the demilitarized zone (DMZ), to the brand and data center, you’ll see that majority of devices won’t have a modern device API. While incorporating an API makes life much easier for automation processes, Ansible as an agentless platform allows the automation and management of legacy or traditional devices. For example, making CLI-based devices a tool to operate in any network environment.

Free and open source software (FOSS)

Besides the fact that Ansible is an open-source tool with the coding features accessible through GitHub, it is also absolutely free to get started for network engineers right after installation. The automation language is easy to learn, self-documenting and doesn’t mandate the IT students and professionals to acquire a graduate-level degree. Furthermore, the tool is also used to update and configure numerous servers at the same time, whether there is single or multiple systems in place.

Extensible

Initially, Ansible was mainly built as an automation tool to deploy Linux applications, however, now it has extended into Windows too. Additionally, Ansible wasn’t built with the purpose of network infrastructure automation. But the further the Ansible users understood its flexibility and extensions in its architecture, the simpler it became to extend the tool for automation purpose and networking too. Since 2014, there have been numerous Ansible integrations made available, many by the top network vendors including Arista, Juniper, Cumulus, Cisco, F5, Palo Alto Networks, and more.

Integration into current DevOps workflows

Ansible is primarily used by IT and operations personnel in organizations to monitor and manage the deployment and different types of applications. After the integration of Ansible with the IT infrastructure, it expands when the new applications are called for migration. Instead of relying on a new TOR (top of rack) switch to turn up, VLAN to be included, or checking the interface speed/duplex, all such network-associated tasks can be easily automated and incorporated into the workflows that are currently operating in the enterprise.

Idempotency

This IT-based term is often used in software development projects. Idempotency is called especially when users are working with REST APIs and DevOps automation and configuration management frameworks like Ansible. A common fact regarding Ansible is that all its modules, or integrations, should be idempotent. But what do we exactly mean when we call a module idempotent? The answer is that idempotency facilitates the acknowledged task to operate a single time, or million times, without impacting the target system in any negative manner. Putting it simply, if a change is asked to put the system in its intended state, it will be made. While if the system is already in its best state, no change will be brought.

The process is not similar to the majority of traditional custom scripts and the copy/pasting of CLI commands into a terminal window. When the same script or command is run continuously on the same device, there is a probability for errors to occur. Ever copied a command set into a router and then an error pops up disagreeing with the rest of the configuration?

Network-wide and ad hoc changes

Configuration drift is one of the major issues solved through configuration management tools. In other words, whenever a system’s ideal configuration slowly drifts, or modifies, with time through manual changes and/or acquires multiple disparate tools incorporated in the environment. In fact, this is the instance where Puppet, Chef, etc. took off. Consider a situation where an agent calls home to the head-end server, acknowledges its configuration, and makes the change (if required). Although the solution is simple, what to do in case an outage hits and the user needs to troubleshoot?

Normally, the user will bypass the management system, go straight for the device, locate the error, and fix the issue. But the next time the agent calls back home, the change implemented to fix the issue is overwritten. Do remember that one-off changes should always be done in truly automated environments, and Ansible is the tool that allows them.

Conclusion

The above are just a few of the other benefits that Ansible has in store for any business wanting to acquire productivity gains from a plethora of automation difficulties. Furthermore, students and professionals in the IT sector are advised to regularly stay updated with the latest tools and technologies, DevOps certifications like Implementing DevOps Development and Designing a DevOps Strategy, offering a hands-on lab experience through rigorous DevOps training and informative, practical-based content.