The Future Is Now
Ansible is a radically simple model-driven configuration management, deployment, and command execution framework. Other tools in this space have been too complicated for too long, require too much bootstrapping, and have too much learning curve. Ansible is dead simple and painless to extend. For comparison, Puppet and Chef have about 60k lines of code. Ansible’s core is a little over 1000 lines.
Ansible isn’t just for idempotent configuration – it’s also great for ad-hoc tasks, quickly firing off commands against nodes. See Command Line Examples.
Innovative Multi-node Control
Where Ansible excels though, is expressing complex multi-node deployment processes, executing ordered sequences on different sets of nodes throughPlaybooks. Playbooks contain one or more plays, each executed against a different batch of nodes. Think about webservers, database servers, and backend servers in a multi-node web environment. A play can address each set of machines in a cycle, ensuring the configurations of the machines were correct and also updating them to the specified version of software if required.
Multi-machine software deployment is poorly solved by most systems management tools – often due to architectural nature of being pull oriented and having complex ordering systems, they cover configuration but fail at deployment when updating tiers of machines in well defined steps. This results in using two (or more) logically distinct tools and having complex overlap between them.
Deployment and Configuration, Unified
Other deployment (compared to config) oriented frameworks similarly cover deployment well but lack a strongly defined resource model and devolve into glorified remote scripts. Ansible playbooks – having been designed with this problem in mind – are good at both deployment & idempotent configuration, meaning you don’t have to spread your infrastructure management out between different tools (Puppet+Capistrano, Chef+Fabric, etc), and performing ordered steps between different classes of machines is no problem, yet our modules affect system state only when required – while avoiding the problem of fragile scripting that assumes certain starting or ending states.
Ansible is also unique in other ways. Extending ansible does not require programming in any particular language – you can write Ansible Modules as idempotent scripts or programs that return simple JSON. Ansible is also pragmatic, so when you need to, it’s also trivially easy to just execute useful shell commands.
Why use Ansible versus other configuration management tools? (Puppet, Chef, etc?) Ansible will have far less code, it will be (by extension) more correct, and it will be the easiest thing to hack on and use you’ll ever see – regardless of your favorite language of choice. Versus other deployment tools? (Capistrano, Fabric?). Ansible playbooks are easier to use (not being code) and also allows intermixing of idempotent configuration management rules for a higher level of control. Further, it was designed for deploying multi-node applications from the beginning.
Simple & Secure By Default
Compared with most configuration managememnt tools, Ansible is also much more secure. While most configuration management tools use a daemon, running as root with full access to the system, with its own in-house developed PKI infrastructure, Ansible just uses SSH (and supports sudo as neccesssary). There is no additional attack surface and OpenSSH is one of the most peer reviewed security components out there. If a central server containing your playbooks are comprimised, your nodes are not – which is NOT the case of these other tools, which can, more or less, turn into a botnet. Our security approach is to avoid writing custom crypto code altogether, and rely on the most secure part of the Linux/Unix subsystem that your machines are already using. There is no PKI subsystem to maintain, which can be a frequent source of problems, particularly when reinstalling or migrating hosts.
Systems management doesn’t have to be complicated. Ansible’s docs will remain short & simple, and the source will be blindingly obvious. We’ve learned well from “Infrastructure is Code”. Infrastructure should be easy and powerful to command, but it should not look like code, lest it acquire the disadvantages of a software project – bugs, complexity, and overhead. Infrastructure configurations should be simple, easy to develop, and easy to audit.
- Dead simple setup
- Super fast & parallel by default
- No server or client daemons; use existing SSHd out of the box
- No additional software required on client boxes
- Can be easily run from a checkout, no installation required
- Modules are idempotent, but you can also easily use shell commands
- Modules can be written in ANY language
- Awesome API for creating very powerful distributed scripts
- Does not have to run remote steps as root
- Pluggable transports (SSH is just the default)
- Source host info & variables from files or external software
- The easiest config management system to use, ever.
Your ideas and contributions are welcome. We’re also happy to help you with questions about Ansible.
- Visit the project page on Github
- View the issue tracker
- See the presentation on Speakerdeck
- Visit the Google Group
- Chat on FreeNode
- Downloads & Getting Started
- The Inventory File, Patterns, and Groups
- Command Line Examples
- Ansible Modules
- YAML Syntax
- Playbook Example
- Running Operations On Change
- Power Tricks
- Executing A Playbook
- API & Integrations
- Module Development Guide
- Frequently Asked Questions
Ansible was created and is run by Michael DeHaan (@laserllama), a Raleigh, NC based software developer and architect, who also created the popular DevOps install server Cobbler. Cobbler is used to deploy mission critical systems all over the planet, in industries ranging from massively multiplayer gaming, core internet infrastructure, finance, chip design, and more. Michael also helped co-author Func, a precursor to Ansible, which is used to orchestrate systems in lots of diverse places. He’s worked on systems software for IBM, Motorola, Red Hat’s Emerging Technologies Group, Puppet Labs, and rPath. Reach Michael by email here.