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Red Hat admins await an Ansible vs. Puppet showdown

IT organizations, especially large ones with multiple deployment types, should monitor Red Hat's open source configuration management roadmap following the Ansible acquisition.

Editor's note: See where Ansible's integration with Red Hat stands two years into the acquisition, including the direction for Tower.

Ansible could be a simplifying addition to Red Hat for mixed operating system data centers, or for shops that are on the fence with Satellite, but that doesn't mean Red Hat users face an immediate Ansible vs. Puppet choice.

Red Hat acquired Ansible late in 2015. The emerging open source configuration management platform eases management of heterogeneous IT environments. At the same time, it could blow new life into the Satellite 6 management solution, which hasn't been received with an equal amount of enthusiasm by all Red Hat customers.

Configuration management automation helps deploy various parts of infrastructure, especially for large IT environments. Red Hat administrators might add automation to deployment of instances in a cloud, configuration management on servers, the release of corporate applications and other tasks. Red Hat has multiple products in its portfolio to make configuration management automation easier, but little has been done, to date, to standardize the underpinning framework.

Puppet vs. Ansible vs. Chef

Ansible attracts adherents due to ease of use, but it is only one of the open source configuration management options available. Ansible competes with established players such as Puppet, Chef and Salt. Each automation platform has pros and cons.

The biggest advantages of Ansible versus Puppet, Chef and others is that Ansible is agentless, which makes it relatively easy to push configuration changes to managed machines. It's also easy to learn, because of its human-friendly YAML data serialization framework disadvantages as well. The agentless architecture is a benefit only up to a certain scale. For larger deployments, agent-based automation makes it easier to manage the different components, since administrators can configure agents under a more uniform management setup.

Ansible is a relative newcomer in a market dominated by management platforms with wide support of different operating systems. Puppet, for example, is relatively easy to use in Windows environments as well as for Linux servers.

Chef, another widely used IT automation tool, has a rich marketplace of deployment cookbooks for a range of items. Chef is proven at very large scales, including in Facebook data centers. But Chef is also complicated to learn, and admins should have some programming experience before even starting with it.

What's in the configuration for IT admins?

Red Hat has never standardized IT configuration automation. Due to the diverse origins of Red Hat's offerings, different management solutions are in play. Even if Puppet appears as the current de facto standard -- present in important Red Hat products like Satellite and the OpenStack deployment utility Packstack -- Red Hat's acquisition of Ansible signals an intention to integrate it deeper in the product offering. This affects CloudForms hybrid IT management and Satellite for Red Hat infrastructure, as well as operating systems OpenStack and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and possibly other areas.

The Ansible addition enables a common IT automation layer in a wide range of future Red Hat releases. It might also introduce Red Hat automation and system management to new IT shops.

But Red Hat isn't dropping anything. In Q1 2016, for example, Red Hat Training launched a Red Hat Management with Puppet training course. The course explains Puppet configuration management and automation, and has a focus on how to implement Puppet in a Red Hat Satellite 6 managed environment. Even if the Ansible acquisition is interesting for future product developments, we aren't going to see Ansible replace Puppet in Red Hat solutions overnight.

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