Ansible: all about the open-source tool for computer automation

Ansible is an Open Source platform for computer automation. Find out everything you need to know about it: how it works, use cases, advantages…

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In the field of computer science, automation has become indispensable. Environments are complex, and the need for rapid scaling overwhelms developers and system administrators. Automation can simplify complex processes and let developers focus their attention on other tasks.

The software tool Ansible offers automation features. It is (mainly) used by IT professionals for application deployment, server and workstation updates, configuration management, intra-service orchestration, and the various tasks that make up the daily life of a system administrator.

This platform is more and more used for business computing. Although it has only recently appeared, it has become the reference for software automation in many organizations. More than 1000 companies use it today according to StackShare, including Intel, Evernote or Hootsuite. Even Apple and NASA use this tool.

How it works Ansible

To perform the tasks to be automated, Ansible must receive instructions. These are written in script form.

There are two categories of computers: the control node, and the managed nodes. The control node is a computer on which Ansible is running. There must be at least one, but a backup node can also exist. Managed nodes are all devices managed by the control node.

The Ansible modules

The operation of Ansible is based on the connection of nodes to a network. A small program called “module”. is then sent to this node. The modules are executed and then deleted.

For this interaction to be possible, the only condition is that the Ansible control node has access to the managed nodes. This access is usually provided by SSH keysbut other forms of authentication are also possible.

All the complexity of the Ansible modules is handled by the software, not by the user. A module is written to be a model of a desired state of a system. In fact, each module defines what should be “true”… on any managed node.

For example, if a system administrator decides that a specific version of software should be installed on all workstations in the organization, Ansible’s packaging module will determine whether each node has this version.

If the software is installed on a workstation, Ansible detects its operating system and performs the routine necessary to update it. This way, every workstation in the organization can be updated overnight.

However, this is just one example of a very simple task. The Ansible modules allow you to perform a wide variety of specific actions. Depending on the task to be automated, just look for the corresponding module.

The software programmers can write their own modules customized to perform specific tasks. If this module proves useful, it is also possible to share it with the rest of the community.

Ansible Playbooks

To use the modules, it is necessary to use the Ansible “playbooks”. A playbook is a configuration file written in YAML. It offers instructions on what needs to be done to transform a managed node in the desired summer.

The playbooks are simple and easy to read. They can be run on a system without having a negative effect. If it is executed on an already configured system and in the desired state, it will always be in the same state after the execution of a playbook.

What is Ansible used for?

The Ansible tool offers many possibilities. It is a simple and reliable solution for configuration management. Ansible configurations are simple human-readable descriptions of infrastructure data.

It is also used for the deployment of applications. Simply list the tasks to be performed by writing a playbook, and Ansible will take care of bringing the systems to the desired state. It is therefore not necessary to configure the applications on each machine manually.

It is also possible to implement security and compliance rules during a deployment. With automated workflows and provisioning, Ansible also facilitates orchestration. Finally, this platform allows the automation of provisioning for Cloud platforms, virtualized hosts or bare-metal servers.

The advantages of Ansible

One of the main benefits of Ansible is its simplicity of deployment. This tool is not dependent on an agent software, and has no additional security infrastructure. No need to master the programming to use it.

It also presents the‘advantage of being open source. Moreover, it is a powerful tool for modeling even the most complex workflows.

Its flexibility is also a real asset, since it allows you to orchestrate a complete application environment no matter where it is deployed. It is also fully customizable.

This tool is not only used for automation and DevOps: it may also be useful for the general public. With Ansible, it is possible to configure one or more computers simultaneously without necessarily having programming skills. The instructions written for Ansible can be read by a human, even by a computer beginner.

How to learn Ansible?

It is possible to learn Ansible by using it directly at home or at work. If you don’t know YAML yet, take the time to learn the language and write your first playbook.

You can also install Ansible on your personal computer and use it to manage a few computers or your local network. Also try different modules to learn how to use them and try to configure new ones.

Ansible and Docker

In addition to the use cases already mentioned, Ansible is very useful for automating the Docker container orchestration platform and simplifying the process of container creation and deployment. Its use with Docker offers portability, auditability, and the ability to manage complete environments. To use Ansible with Docker, simply to install the Docker SDK for Python.

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