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What are the main features of Ansible vs. Ansible Tower?

Both Ansible and Ansible Tower offer enterprises a wealth of resources for config management, but they aren't equals. Assess their differences in crucial aspects such as security.

While Ansible can be a powerful configuration management tool, it can feel a bit intimidating to IT admins who aren't intimate with command-line tools. Ansible Tower aims to address this concern with a graphical user interface, and also extends Ansible functionality with additional management capabilities.

IT teams can perform a wide range of configuration management tasks with the Ansible command-line. The tool eliminates the need for ad-hoc scripts and manual infrastructure management, and offers instead a way for admins to apply configurations in an automated and repeatable way. It's Tower, however, that provides greater ease of use and centralized administrative control.

Security and centralization

In a comparison of Ansible vs. Ansible Tower, the latter provides features that are essential in large-scale enterprise IT deployments. This includes extensive role-based access control (RBAC) settings that ensure individual users, and groups of users, have proper and secure access to the Ansible environment. This enhances security and provides an audit trail. To support these access control features, Tower integrates with Active Directory and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol.

In addition, Tower acts as a centralized platform to run Ansible playbooks, perform logging and manage the inventory of hosts in an environment. The Ansible Tower dashboard also provides a single view into deployment health and status, including current Ansible job execution details.

Scheduling and the REST API

Other useful Tower functions include the ability to schedule jobs to run automatically. This goes hand-in-hand with the continuous integration capabilities built into the product.

Tower also provides a REST API that enables programmers to interface and inject commands into the Tower configuration. This element empowers enterprises to automate deeper levels of Desired State Configuration, while reducing the potential errors that come with manual infrastructure management. This feature also enables admins to integrate external tools, such as a configuration management database, with Tower -- something that's especially common or beneficial in large enterprises.

Ansible vs. Ansible Tower pricing

The open source version of Ansible is free, while the Red Hat-supported version -- Ansible Engine, which Red Hat combined with Red Hat Ansible Tower in June 2019 to create one single product -- is priced per node.

Admins can test drive Ansible Tower with a free trial. Otherwise, the management platform comes in two subscription editions -- Standard and Premium -- with the latter being more expensive, but it includes 24-by-7 support.

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