As organizations pursue digital transformation initiatives and look to bridge the divide between their IT operations and dev test teams, they must clear some significant hurdles first. Highly manual workflows, understaffed departments and rising usage of unapproved software for day-to-day tasks, among other issues, continue to make it difficult for companies to deliver high-quality software at the pace their stakeholders and customers expect.
A combination of methodologies such as DevOps with specific automation tools like the Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform is critical in this context.
Why IT Automation Tools Are Necessary
According to the State of Software Development 2020 report from Apiumhub, insufficient capacity — i.e., to complete new software projects while also working through backlogs — was the most cited challenge among the 700 developers who took the survey. Insufficient knowledge sharing was second place. Survey respondents said they typically tried to overcome these problems via additional hiring and the adoption of Agile methodologies.
But these steps can create or exacerbate other problems. They might strain the organizational budget (in the case of hiring), or fail to give people the tools they need, leading them in turn to high-risk shadow IT alternatives (in the case of a poorly planned, low-adoption Agile implementation).
Fortunately, there’s a way out, and it runs through the use of modern IT automation platforms like Red Hat Ansible, which offers comprehensive capabilities for configuration management, application deployment, cloud provisioning and more, all wrapped up in a simple language.
What Is Red Hat Ansible?
Red Hat Ansible is an automation platform that enables infrastructure-as-code. In other words, it allows infrastructure across Unix-like and Microsoft Windows environments to be managed via definition files in software, rather than through traditional configurations of physical hardware.
Here’s how it works on a basic level:
- Ansible modules, representing the desired state of your system, are executed over SSH and efficiently decommissioned once they’ve finished running. These modules can be easily managed using your existing text editor, terminal and version control tools.
- More than 1,000 of these modules are built into Ansible already. Accordingly, you can get started right away with the automation of the types of repetitive tasks that would otherwise consume tons of IT’s time and increase the risk of costly errors and delays.
- Ansible Playbooks provide granular and straightforward control over infrastructure automation. They’re written in YAML, an easy-to-understand data serialization language that lets you describe automation tasks in a way that resembles human speech.
- Ansible is also highly extensible. As long as a language can return JSON, it can be used for writing Ansible modules. Languages like Python have APIs for enabling different server-side behaviors and connection types other than SSH.
Overall, the Ansible architecture makes it much easier to create scalable and standardized software release cycles, with none of the unpredictability and risk of mostly manual workflows. Even new team members can quickly get up to speed on Ansible module libraries, since these files are designed to be both human- and machine-readable.
Ansible paves the way for DevOps and for the levels of knowledge sharing and increased project capacity that the Apiumhub survey respondents were seeking. Now that we’ve covered how it works under the hood, let’s look at what Red Hat Ansible is most often used for.
What Are Some of the Major Use Cases for Red Hat Ansible?
With Red Hat Ansible, you can streamline a wide range of tasks, from configuration management to security automation, giving you a clearer path to digital transformation.
Ansible can replace the collection of ad hoc processes and scripts typically used for managing configurations. It has a flexible, state-driven resource model, designed to achieve a described goal in the best way possible. That means that it doesn’t get tripped up trying to run specific actions no matter what, as more rigid scripts do. Ansible is also lightweight, with no remote agents to deal with during configuration management. It uses OpenSSH, doesn’t require root privileges and overall has a very small attack surface.
Using Ansible Playbooks, you can reliably deploy and configure your apps without needing to write a bunch of custom code. A Playbook can streamline installations as well as upgrades, letting you easily write, update and maintain automation instructions that can be securely executed at scale. Ansible modules enable easy connections to REST APIs and to major cloud services such as AWS, for purposes ranging from chat server updates to management of cloud instances. Ansible also supports zero-downtime rolling updates, minimizing end-user disruption.
The typical company not only uses too many security tools but also has to manage some or most of them manually. A keynote at RSA Conference 2019 featured a presentation saying that large enterprises have an average of more than 130 cybersecurity solutions in place, requiring major ongoing time and money investments from IT. However, Ansible helps you make sense of all these tools. It can integrate and automate firewalls, privilege access management platforms, intrusion detection and prevention systems and more with a common language. The automation of Ansible makes it easier to quickly identify threats, properly respond to incidents and investigate risky network traffic.
Beyond these specific use cases, Ansible is in general a key enabler of DevOps culture and digital transformation, two of the major business objectives we mentioned at the start. Companies like Microsoft have leaned on Ansible to streamline tasks such as network automation and, in turn, reduce their downtime while fostering closer collaboration between their teams.
As a Red Hat solution, Ansible lives within a broader ecosystem of open source technologies, including Red Hat Linux and the Red Hat OpenStack Platform. InfoSystems is a Red Hat Advanced Business Partner in North America, with the expertise and experience to guide your organization through the implementation of Ansible and other tools. Connect with us to learn more.