In this era of hybrid cloud, where IT is asked to do more — and to do it faster but with less — automation is perhaps the enterprise’s most powerful, promising ally.
Yet, while the benefits of automating IT are clear, from reducing complexity to accelerating operations and improving hybrid cloud management, it’s not always obvious how automation actually works, who should use it, and why.
In this blog post, we take a closer look at Ansible, Red Hat’s IT automation solution, to answer several questions IT leaders have about the popular open source technology and determine its potential fit in your enterprise.
What is Ansible? A simple, easy to use automation engine for IT
Let’s begin with the basics: What is Ansible and what makes it worth considering?
At the highest level, Ansible is an open source IT automation engine that automates cloud provisioning, configuration management, application deployment and intra-service orchestration.
Like other products in the Red Hat cloud suite, one defining feature of Ansible is its streamlined simplicity. Ansible uses no agents (it’s “agentless”) and requires no additional custom security infrastructure. In principle, these functions make it easier to deploy. Perhaps more importantly, Ansible is very simple for most IT professionals to use, as it relies on simple languages (YAML, in the form of Ansible Playbooks) that allow you to build your automation jobs in almost-plain English.
Why Ansible? Reduce IT complexity, speed to market and digital transformation
The next question has obvious answers for any IT leader hoping to modernize their operations: why should we use Ansible?
Simply put, automation is a key piece of the digital transformation puzzle, one that is crucial for modern IT to succeed in serving the advanced needs of the business. Businesses who want to modernize cloud infrastructure to better serve customers and engage employees will ultimately need automation to quickly, seamlessly and effectively deliver the infrastructure, operations and services required to meet their goals.
More specifically, solutions such as Ansible can be used to optimize resources by automating complex and manual processes; accelerate service delivery while providing IT teams with control and visibility; and transform the enterprise into an efficient, digital business that can quickly meet the evolving challenges of the marketplace and employees.
How does Ansible work? Security, Playbooks and more
There are a few key building blocks of Ansible that allow IT to deliver on the benefits of automation, including agentless architecture, Playbooks, extensibility and a consolidated approach for hybrid IT:
- Architecture, agents and security: Because Ansible is agentless and runs in a push model, no software needs to be installed on remote machines to manage them. Instead, Ansible manages remote machines using frameworks that exist natively on those platforms already, such as SSH. This agentless, push model also ensures Ansible is secure. Ansible maintains security by relying on the credentials that the user supplies when running Ansible. This means the user can only push out changes to remote systems for which they have access already. Simply put, Ansible’s architecture reduces your exposure to risk and malicious activities.
- Playbooks and tasks: Playbooks are what Ansible uses to automate and orchestrate IT environments. They are a YAML definition of automation tasks that describe how a particular piece of automation should be done. They consist of a series of “plays,” each of which has a series of “tasks” that can target one or many of the hosts in the inventory. Those tasks break down even further into a series of modules, which are small snippets of code designed to carry out the specific task. Tasks can range from the most simple, such as installing a software package, to the most complex, such as spinning up an entire infrastructure in the Amazon cloud. As a result, Playbooks can help you achieve your most complex, time-consuming orchestration challenges, such as implementing an application update with zero downtime, drastically reducing the overhead of traditional three-tiered approaches.
- Extensibility: Ansible comes shipped with a set of 450+ pre-built modules to execute common tasks. But if a new module is needed to handle some portion of your IT infrastructure, don’t worry: extending Ansible is easy. Ansible’s pre-built modules are written in Python and PowerShell, but you can write new modules in any language, as you only need JSON input and outputs to make them work. Ansible can also be extended to support a dynamic inventory, which refreshes at runtime (instead of a statically defined set of machines). These extensible features mean no matter how custom your environment may be, it will be easy to make it work.
- Consolidating tools, hybrid cloud and network automation: Ansible consolidates tools and workloads, helping drive a modern, hybrid IT operation. Other automation approaches require users to combine many different tools together. But Ansible does not, with its simple, agentless push model. Ansbile is also capable of deploying workloads to a variety of public and on-premise cloud environments, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Compute Engine. Finally, Ansible automates the entire IT infrastructure, including areas not traditionally covered by other automation solutions, such as your networking.
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