Industry challanges and ansible

What is Ansible?

Ansible is an open-source automation tool, or platform, used for IT tasks such as configuration management, application deployment, intra service orchestration, and provisioning. Automation is crucial these days, with IT environments that are too complex and often need to scale too quickly for system administrators and developers to keep up if they had to do everything manually.

Automation simplifies complex tasks, not just making developers’ jobs more manageable but allowing them to focus attention on other tasks that add value to an organization. In other words, it frees up time and increases efficiency. And Ansible, as noted above, is rapidly rising to the top in the world of automation tools. Let’s look at some of the reasons for Ansible’s popularity.

Advantages of Ansible

  • Easy and Understandable: Ansible is very simple and easy to understand and has a very simple syntax that can be used by human-readable data serialization language. It is very good for beginners to understand especially for those who design infrastructure.
  • Powerful and Versatile: it is a very powerful and versatile tool that helps in real orchestration and manages the entire application or configuration management environment.
  • Efficient: It is very efficient in the sense it can be customized according to your need like modules can be called with the help of a playbook for where the applications are deployed.
  • Agentless: Completely independent tool without the use of third-party vendors or agent’s software and agentless.
  • Provisioning: Applications in need of orchestration get total aid from ansible as it helps in provisioning of resources according to the need of the project requirement.
  • Application Deployment: Easy for teams to manage the entire lifecycle from development to deployment.
  • Orchestration: ONAP orchestration and all cloud-native platforms very well make use of ansible tool in its use.
  • Secured: Security is the key to maintain the ansible infrastructure as all applications require it to get applications free from security breaches.

Why Do We Need Ansible?

Well before I tell you what is Ansible, it is of utmost importance to understand the problems that were faced before Ansible.

Let us take a little flashback to the beginning of networked computing when deploying and managing servers reliably and efficiently has been a challenge. Previously, system administrators managed servers by hand, installing software, changing configurations, and administering services on individual servers.

As data centers grew, and hosted applications became more complex, administrators realized they couldn’t scale their manual systems management as fast as the applications they were enabling. It also hampered the velocity of the work of the developers since the development team was agile and releasing software frequently, but IT operations were spending more time configuring the systems. That’s why server provisioning and configuration management tools came to flourish.

Consider the tedious routine of administering a server fleet. We always need to keep updating, pushing changes, copying files on them, etc. These tasks make things very complicated and time-consuming.

But let me tell you that there is a solution to the above-stated problem. The solution is Ansible.

But before I go ahead to explain you all about Ansible, let me get you familiarized with few Ansible terminologies:

Ansible Terminologies:

  • Controller Machine: The machine where Ansible is installed, responsible for running the provisioning on the servers you are managing.
  • Inventory: An initialization file that contains information about the servers you are managing.
  • Playbook: The entry point for Ansible provisioning, where the automation is defined through tasks using YAML format.
  • Task: A block that defines a single procedure to be executed, e.g. Install a package.
  • Module: A module typically abstracts a system task, like dealing with packages or creating and changing files. Ansible has a multitude of built-in modules, but you can also create custom ones.
  • Role: A pre-defined way for organizing playbooks and other files in order to facilitate sharing and reusing portions of provisioning.
  • Play: A provisioning executed from start to finish is called a play. In simple words, the execution of a playbook is called a play.
  • Facts: Global variables containing information about the system, like network interfaces or operating systems.
  • Handlers: Used to trigger service status changes, like restarting or stopping a service.

Ansible is a helpful tool that allows you to create groups of machines, describe how these machines should be configured or what actions should be taken on them. Ansible issues all commands from a central location to perform these tasks.

No other client software is installed on the node machines. It uses SSH to connect to the nodes. Ansible only needs to be installed on the control machine (the machine from which you will be running commands) which can even be your laptop. It is a simple solution to a complicated problem.

Ansible’s Features and Capabilities:

1. Configuration Management: Ansible is designed to be very simple, reliable, and consistent for configuration management. If you’re already in IT, you can get up and running with it very quickly. Ansible configurations are simple data descriptions of infrastructure and are both readable by humans and parsable by machines. All you need to start managing systems is a password or an SSH (Secure Socket Shell, a network protocol) key. An example of how easy Ansible makes configuration management: If you want to install an updated version of a specific type of software on all the machines in your enterprise, all you have to do is write out all the IP addresses of the nodes (also called remote hosts) and write an Ansible playbook to install it on all the nodes, then run the playbook from your control machine.

2. Application Deployment: Ansible lets you quickly and easily deploy multitier apps. You won’t need to write custom code to automate your systems; you list the tasks required to be done by writing a playbook, and Ansible will figure out how to get your systems to the state you want them to be in. In other words, you won’t have to configure the applications on every machine manually. When you run a playbook from your control machine, Ansible uses SSH to communicate with the remote hosts and run all the commands (tasks).

3. Orchestration: As the name suggests, orchestration involves bringing different elements into a beautifully run whole operation — similar to the way a musical conductor brings the notes produced by all the different instruments into a cohesive artistic work. For example, with application deployment, you need to manage not just the front-end and backend services but the databases, networks, storage, and so on. You also need to make sure that all the tasks are handled in the proper order. Ansible uses automated workflows, provisioning, and more to make orchestrating tasks easy. And once you’ve defined your infrastructure using the Ansible playbooks, you can use that same orchestration wherever you need to, thanks to the portability of Ansible playbooks.

4. Security and Compliance: As with application deployment, sitewide security policies (such as firewall rules or locking down users) can be implemented along with other automated processes. If you configure the security details on the control machine and run the associated playbook, all the remote hosts will automatically be updated with those details. That means you won’t need to monitor each machine for security compliance continually manually. And for extra security, an admin’s user ID and password aren’t retrievable in plain text on Ansible.

5. Cloud Provisioning: The first step in automating your applications’ life cycle is automating the provisioning of your infrastructure. With Ansible, you can provision cloud platforms, virtualized hosts, network devices, and bare-metal servers.

Companies using Ansible

We have data on 8,781 companies that use Ansible. The companies using Ansible are most often found in United States and in the Computer Software industry. Ansible is most often used by companies with 50–200 employees and 10M-50M dollars in revenue. Our data for Ansible usage goes back as far as 3 years and 4 months.

If you’re interested in the companies that use Ansible, you may want to check out Atlassian JIRA and GitHub as well.

How NASA is using Ansible:

Ansible Tower provided a dashboard that provided the status summary of all hosts and jobs which allowed NASA to group all contents and manage access permissions across different departments. It also helped to split up the organization by associating content and control permission for groups as well.

Ansible Tower is a web-based interface for managing Ansible. One of the top items in Ansible users’ wishlists was an easy-to-use UI for managing quick deployments and monitoring one’s configurations. Ansible management came up with Ansible Tower in response.

Further, Ansible divided the tasks among teams by assigning various roles. It managed the clean-up of old job history, activity streams, data marked for deletion and system tracking info. Refer to the diagram below to understand how Ansible has simplified the work of NASA.

How Microsoft is using Ansible:

Microsoft Corporation develops, manufactures, and supports software, consumer electronics and computers, and related services. To simplify and scale at pace with market demands, Microsoft worked with Red Hat to create a scalable, technology-agnostic automation framework to reduce manual workloads with efficient tools and processes and mitigate performance and security issues with standardized, tested code

Microsoft needed to address increasing complexity across their corporate network infrastructure — comprised of tens of thousands of endpoints — that connects Microsoft locations worldwide. Their issues were compounded as code created by development and engineering teams was not version-controlled or peer-reviewed, leading to duplication and quality issues.

Using Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform and working with Red Hat Consulting, Microsoft created a standardized, centralized network automation environment that reduces routine, repeatable tasks and complexity.

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Abhijeet Bakale

Abhijeet Bakale

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