Why Ansible is the Ultimate Tool for DevOps Teams - A Beginner's Guide?

DevOps practices have grown in popularity as businesses try to produce software more quickly and effectively. Ansible is one of the tools that DevOps teams need to help automate and streamline their processes. Ansible is an open-source automation tool that makes it simple for users to automate their network devices, applications, and infrastructure.

It is a popular option for DevOps teams all over the world thanks to its agentless design, straightforward syntax, and powerful features. In this blog article, we'll look at why Ansible is the best tool for DevOps teams and how it can make infrastructure management and automation simpler.

Ansible in DevOps space

Table Of Content

  1. Benefits of Ansible in DevOps
  2. Key Features of Ansible
  3. Getting Started with Ansible
  4. Best Practices for Ansible in DevOps
  5. Conclusion

1. Benefits of Ansible in DevOps

A. Simplifies automation

1. What is Automation and How Ansible can help you? - Automation is the use of technology to complete duties without the involvement of a person. Automation has become more crucial for companies seeking to increase output and efficiency in today's fast-paced world. The following are some essential benefits to help you comprehend automation:

The use of Ansible in software development and deployment has a variety of advantages, such as:

  • Efficiency gain: Automation enables workers to speed up time-consuming, repetitive chores like testing, building, and releasing code. The time it takes to offer new features and updates can be shortened and productivity increased as a result.

  • Increased dependability: Developers can make sure that code is fully tested and error-free before it is published to production by automating testing and distribution processes. This could improve the security and dependability of software programs.

  • quicker time to market: Teams can accelerate the software development process and bring goods to market quicker by outsourcing many of the chores involved in the process. This may offer a sizable economic edge, especially in sectors with rapid growth.

  • Reduced expenses: By eliminating the need for human work and lowering the likelihood of mistakes and defects, automation can help lower the costs related to software development.

  • Increased scalability: By automating the supply of resources like computers and databases, automation can help make software apps more scalable. This can guarantee that programs can manage more users and traffic.

  • Collaboration is improved: By outsourcing many software development chores, teams can work together more efficiently and lower the possibility of misunderstandings or mistakes. Both workplace dynamics and efficiency may benefit from this.


B. Streamlines infrastructure management

Here are some examples of how Ansible can simplify system administration, with explanations for each:

  • Agentless architecture : Ansible's agentless design does away with the requirement to deploy and maintain agents on each node in your infrastructure. This makes it simpler to set up and configure systems and makes it simpler to handle intricate and large-scale networks.

Ansible Agentless architecture

  • Declarative language : Ansible defines infrastructure settings and rules using the declarative language YAML. This lowers the possibility of mistakes and inconsistencies while also making it simple to create and manage configuration files.

  • Playbooks : Ansible automates infrastructure administration chores using playbooks. A collection of activities to be carried out on a number of hosts are defined in playbooks, which are YAML files. Complex chores, like setting up new servers, installing apps, or establishing network devices, can now be automated with ease.

  • Modular architecture : Ansible's modular architecture makes it simple to modify and expand the platform to meet your requirements. For a variety of tasks, there are numerous community-contributed modules accessible, and if necessary, you can also build your own modules.

  • Idempotent execution : Ansible's idempotent execution paradigm makes sure that tasks are only carried out when absolutely essential and that they always yield the same outcome. This lowers the possibility of mistakes and makes it simple to check that the equipment is in the intended condition.

Ansible works with other tools and systems like Docker, AWS, and Kubernetes without much difficulty. As a result, orchestrating infrastructure and apps across a variety of settings is made simple.


C. Improves collaboration

Ansible improves collboration

Ansible is really useful when it comes to collaboration and it can help in many ways -

  • Code as documentation : The configuration files and playbooks serve as the sole source of truth for infrastructure administration because Ansible employs code as documentation. Developers, operators, and other stakeholders can easily comprehend the system and how it is handled as a result.

  • Version control : Version control tools, like Git, can be used to handle changes to infrastructure configurations and playbooks thanks to Ansible's code-based approach to infrastructure administration. This makes it simple to coordinate adjustments and keep account of past infrastructure alterations.

  • Role-based access control : Role-based access control (RBAC) is a feature of Ansible that enables managers to handle permissions for various users and teams as well as restrict access to infrastructure. Collaboration between various teams and divisions is also made simpler as a result of the increased protection.

  • Integration with CI/CD tools : Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) technologies like Jenkins and GitLab are simple to combine with Ansible. This makes it simple to automate infrastructure changes as part of the workflow for delivering software and guarantees that these changes are fully evaluated before being implemented.

  • Collaboration through code review : Before changes to infrastructure code are merged into the live environment, teams can cooperate and evaluate changes using code review tools like GitHub or Bitbucket. This lowers the possibility of mistakes and guarantees that changes are carefully examined and verified before being implemented.


D. Facilitates scalability

Scalability is always a big concerns for the developers and architects working to build Highly Available application. But Ansible has its own merits to make HA(Highly Available) possible. Here are my takes on the High Availability while using Ansible -

  • Playbooks : Ansible automates infrastructure administration chores using playbooks. A collection of activities to be carried out on a number of hosts are defined in playbooks, which are YAML files. Playbooks can be simply changed to add new hosts or sets of hosts, making it simple to move infrastructure up or down as necessary.

  • Dynamic inventory : Ansible provides dynamic inventory, which enables users to specify equipment using scripts or outside data sources. As a result, it is simple to add or delete servers from the inventory in response to changing circumstances, like cloud-based auto-scaling events.

  • Parallel execution : Ansible's ability to accomplish tasks concurrently across multiple hosts enhances efficiency and cuts down on the time needed to handle complex infrastructures. Depending on the particular requirements of the system, Ansible can also carry out duties in batches or serially.

  • Modularity : The Ansible architecture's modular design makes it simple to exchange and reuse code among various system components. As administrators can use current modules and responsibilities to handle new hosts or services, efficiency is increased and the chance of mistakes is decreased.

  • Cloud platform integration : Ansible works quickly with cloud computing infrastructures like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. As a result, it is simple to use Ansible to deploy and handle cloud-based infrastructure and to take advantage of cloud-based auto-scaling features to adjust infrastructure as necessary.


2. Key Features of Ansible

A. Agentless architecture -

Ansible is an agentless automation tool, which means that in order to perform instructions or playbooks, no software needs to be loaded on the managed nodes (hosts). Instead, remote task execution on the managed servers is accomplished by Ansible using a push-based design.

Here is how Ansible's agentless design functions:

  • Control node : The computer on which Ansible is loaded and from which the automation tasks are executed is known as the control server. The Ansible inventory, which lists the hosts and sets of domains that will be controlled by Ansible, is stored on the control server.

  • Activities and playbooks : YAML files called Ansible playbooks describe a collection of activities that should be carried out on one or more managed nodes. Tasks can include running instructions, copying data, and starting or stopping processes.

  • SSH and WinRM : Ansible connects to Linux or Unix servers using SSH (Secure Shell) and Windows hosts using WinRM (Windows Remote Management). As a result, Ansible can automatically carry out duties on the managed nodes without the need to run any software.

  • Modules : Ansible modules are tidbits of code that carry out particular functions, like handling packages, setting up network connections, or launching services. The controlled nodes run modules, but the Ansible control node loads and runs them.

  • Idempotence : Ansible is made to be idempotent, meaning that it can be executed more than once without affecting the system's end configuration. This guarantees that robotic tasks—regardless of how many times they have been executed—are secure to perform.


B. YAML syntax -

Ansible is written in YAML and uses indentation to denote structure. Here's an example of a simple Ansible playbook written in YAML format:

 1# A Basic Ansible playbook for installing Apache
 2
 3---
 4- name: Install Apache
 5  hosts: webserver
 6  become: true
 7  tasks:
 8    - name: Install Apache web server
 9      apt:
10        name: apache2
11        state: present

Let's examine each section of this plan individually:

  1. The playbook's opening --- designates the commencement of a YAML file.

  2. The playbook's name is specified in the - name: section. The plan in this instance is titled Install Apache.

  3. The intended servers for the playbook are listed on the "hosts:" line. In this instance, the host group referred to as webserver will execute the script.

  4. The sentence that begins with become: true instructs the script to be executed with special permissions. (i.e. as root).

  5. The playbook's real job is defined in the "tasks:" section. As indicated by a "-" at the beginning of the line, each job is its own distinct YAML entity.

  6. Each job has a name: line that contains the assignment's designation.

  7. The Apache web server is installed using the apt: package. The "state" argument specifies whether the package should be present or missing on the system, while the name parameter indicates the name of the program to install.

C. Playbooks and modules -

Ansible Playbooks: Ansible A collection of activities to be carried out on a number of hosts are described in playbooks, which are written in YAML format. Playbooks are made to be readily shareable and version-controlled documents that can be viewed by humans. As an example, a plan might include the following sections:

  1. Hosts: The hosts or sets of hosts on which the playbook will be used are specified in this part.

  2. Variables: Any variables used in the plan are defined in this part.

  3. Duties: The list of duties that must be carried out on the hosts is defined in this part.

  4. Handlers: The handlers that are activated by tasks are defined in this part.

  5. Templates: This part specifies any configuration file generation templates.

 1---
 2- name: Install and configure Apache
 3  hosts: webservers
 4  become: true
 5
 6  tasks:
 7  - name: Install Apache
 8    apt: name=apache2 state=present
 9
10  - name: Copy Apache config file
11    template:
12      src: apache.conf.j2
13      dest: /etc/apache2/apache2.conf
14      owner: root
15      group: root
16      mode: '0644'
17
18  - name: Restart Apache
19    service:
20      name: apache2
21      state: restarted

Within this playbook:

  1. The playbook's name is specified in the "name" section.

  2. The list of web-sites on which the playbook will be run is specified in the "hosts" section.

  3. The word "become" indicates that the script should be run with privileged access.

  4. There are three installation and configuration duties for Apache in the "tasks" portion. The "apt" tool is used to install Apache in the first job. The second job copies a configuration file to the web hosts using the "template" module. The Apache server is restarted in the third job using the "service" module.


Ansible Modules : Pre-built actions called Ansible modules can be run on a destination host. Ansible has many modules, including ones for managing files, installing packages, and managing users. Here is an example of a straightforward Ansible script that installs the "nginx" package on a number of web servers using the "apt" module:

1---
2- name: Install nginx
3  hosts: webservers
4  become: true
5
6  tasks:
7    - name: Install nginx package
8      apt: name=nginx state=present

In this playbook:

  1. The "name" line specifies the name of the playbook.

  2. The "hosts" line specifies the group of web servers the playbook will be executed on.

  3. The "become" line specifies that the playbook should be executed with elevated privileges.

  4. The "tasks" section contains one task to install the "nginx" package using the "apt" module.

D. Idempotency -

Idempotency, a crucial idea in Ansible, alludes to the notion that a job can be carried out repeatedly without affecting the result. In other words, applying a plan repeatedly should yield the same results as applying it just once. This is crucial for configuration management because it enables you to guarantee that, regardless of their present state, your systems are in the intended state.

1- name: Install myapp package
2  apt:
3    name: myapp
4    state: present 

Here is an illustration to demonstrate idempotency in Ansible:

Imagine you have a playbook that uses the "apt" module to deploy a program. The following assignment is found in the playbook:

  1. Running this job once more won't affect the system's status if the package is already loaded on the target host. This is due to the "apt" module's ability to check the system's present status and only install packages that haven't been installed previously. The system will therefore stay in the same state even if you execute the playbook more than once, and the job won't needlessly reinstall the program. Idempotency in motion can be seen in this situation.

  2. In a similar vein, running the playbook more than once won't result in additional duplicates of the file being made if it uses the "file" module to make files. This is due to the "file" function, which only generates the file if it does not already exist. This makes sure that no matter how many times the plan is used, the system's status remains constant.

  3. Idempotency is a strong Ansible feature that makes it possible to keep a system's intended state regardless of its present state. As a result, you can confidently handle the configuration administration of your IT system.


3. Getting Started with Ansible

A. Installing Ansible

For installing the Ansible please refer to this post where I have explained detailed steps on installing Ansible on various OS.

B. Creating an inventory file

1. What is Ansible inventory? An inventory in Ansible is a collection of servers that Ansible can control. In essence, it is a configuration file that lists the hosts to which Ansible should join and arrange itself.

There are several methods to specify an inventory, including as a static file, a changeable script, or as a hybrid of the two. The most popular method for defining an inventory is to compile a collection of servers with their information into a static file. Here is an illustration of how an inventory file might appear:

1#Inventory file
2[web]
3web1.example.com
4web2.example.com
5
6[db]
7db1.example.com
8db2.example.com 

We've specified two categories of servers in this example: "web" and "db."

Each organization's hosts are mentioned after the group name. After that, we can target particular servers or sets of hosts by using these group names in our Ansible playbooks.

We can enumerate hosts as well as specify variables for every host or collection of hosts.

We can alter these factors to alter how our playbooks behave. An illustration of how we might create variables for a collection of web sites is given below:

1[web]
2web1.example.com ansible_user=ubuntu
3web2.example.com ansible_user=centos 

For each server in the "web" category in this example, we've specified a variable named "ansible_user."

The user that Ansible should use to login to each server is specified by this variable. The proper user will then be used on each server thanks to a mention to this variable in our playbooks.


4. Best Practices for Ansible in DevOps

There are many advantages to using Ansible for DevOps, including quicker release, increased flexibility, and increased effectiveness. But it's crucial to adhere to some best practices to guarantee the greatest outcomes. Some of the fundamental best practices for using Ansible in DevOps are listed below:

  1. Keep your playbooks organized: Use simple, clear titles for your tasks and variables, and combine similar tasks together in roles to keep your playbooks organized. As your infrastructure expands, this will make it simpler to manage and fix your playbooks.

  2. Use version control: To keep track of modifications and work with others, store your playbooks in a system like Git. This will make it simple for you to undo adjustments and guarantee that everyone is using the same plan.

  3. Use dynamic inventories: Using characteristics like tags or AWS metadata, dynamic inventories can be used to instantly find and handle hosts. You won't need to constantly refresh your inventory, and scaling your infrastructure will be simple.

  4. Use encryption: Protect confidential data, such as API credentials or passwords, by using encryption. Your data can be kept private with the assistance of Ansible, which supports a number of encryption techniques like encrypted variables and vaults.

  5. Utilize roles: Apply roles to numerous playbooks to arrange and reuse common configurations. With roles, you can more easily reuse code, guarantee uniformity across your infrastructure, and encapsulate particular functionality.

  6. Test your playbooks: Before sending your playbooks to production, test them in a staging setting. This will make it easier to spot problems and guarantee that your playbooks function as intended.

  7. Use idempotent tasks: Use idempotent tasks to make sure your playbooks can be executed repeatedly without having unexpected consequences. This will aid in maintaining the consistency and predictability of your system.

  8. Use Ansible Galaxy: Ansible Galaxy is a framework for distributing Ansible roles and groups that is community-driven. You can save time and effort by using Ansible Galaxy by reusing current jobs and collections.

  9. Use conditional statements: Use conditional expressions to increase the adaptability and flexibility of your playbooks. Before performing duties, conditional expressions let you check for particular circumstances, which can help avoid mistakes and guarantee that your playbooks function as intended.

  10. Use Ansible Tower: Use Ansible Tower to manage Ansible playbooks and infrastructure. Ansible Tower is a web-based user interface and API. Ansible Tower can be used to automate processes, enhance teamwork, and offer a single spot for controlling your infrastructure.


5. Conclusion

We have looked at a number of Ansible's features and how they relate to DevOps procedures. We've talked about the advantages of automation in software development, the ways that Ansible can improve cooperation and simplify server management, and the significance of following best practices when working with Ansible.

Ansible's simplicity and adaptability are facilitated by its agentless design, idempotency, and YAML grammar. A potent instrument for handling intricate infrastructure at scale, it supports dynamic stocks, encryption, roles, and conditional statements among other features.

You can ensure the dependability and effectiveness of your Ansible-based DevOps processes by adhering to best practices such as keeping playbooks orderly, using version control, testing playbooks on a staging environment, and using Ansible Tower.

Ansible is a crucial tool for DevOps teams looking to improve collaboration and streamline infrastructure management, and by using it wisely and adhering to best practices, you can fully capitalize on its potential and increase the effectiveness and scalability of your operations.

Call to Action- It may be beneficial to practice with building playbooks and modules, testing them on a staging environment, and working to incorporate them into one's current system for those who are interested in using Ansible. Additionally, users might want to think about joining online groups or sites to network with people who use Ansible professionally and exchange advice on how to use it successfully.

In order to optimize Ansible's advantages in DevOps processes and enhance efficiency and scalability in infrastructure management, the call to action would generally be to keep learning about and playing with Ansible.

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