ABCs of Ansible: A Beginner’s Guide
November 1, 2021
If you are tired of the drudgery of the repetitive work day in and day out in your IT job and are looking for an open-source automation solution, then Ansible is your go-to technology. Need a grip on what it is and how it works? Well, keep reading.
What is Ansible?
Ansible provides simple yet powerful automation solutions for cross-platform software support. It is mainly intended for IT process steps like application deployment, workstation or server updates, cloud computing, managing configurations, intra-service orchestration, and almost everything a system administrator does every day. Ansible is quite easy to deploy too since it does not depend on any agent software and does not entail any additional security infrastructure.
Since it works with a simple script, version control becomes easy with Ansible. Robust pre-programming capabilities also ensure that maintaining server and client infra despite staff changes becomes a non-issue. The application itself contains repositories of self-documenting, self-executing solutions, that can seamlessly run the intended processes of an organization, thereby making it an ideal candidate for the Infrastructure as Code (IaC) push in the IT industry.
Another important feature of Ansible is that it is not coder-exclusive. The instructions are layman-friendly to the point that anybody can make sense of the files and even modify them to potentially configure an entire network of devices.
What does Ansible do?
There are two types of computers in any Ansible setup: the control node and the managed nodes. The former is the central computer on which Ansible runs, while managed nodes may refer to any device working under the control node.
These individual nodes are connected on a network and a piece of code called the Ansible module is sent to the operational node. SSH is used to execute these modules and they are removed once the operation is completed. For Ansible to execute these operations, access needs to be provided from the administrator, which is usually in the form of SSH keys, though other forms of access authentication can also be supported.
The entire complexity surrounding these modules is handled by Ansible itself and none of it falls on the user. The modules are written to be a model of the desired state of the system they are installed on, which means that each module defines the conditions on their respective managed node. For example, if an administrator decides that every workstation on an Ansible-connected network in their organization should be equipped with a particular version of a software, Ansible’s packaging module would ensure that this condition is fulfilled. If the required version is not installed in a managed node, the modules take the initiative to download the version and update the node.
However, IaC is more than simply version updates. Several libraries of the modules are available in the community, and getting a task automated across a network of devices can be as simple as picking out the right module for the job and letting it do the rest.
The modules are managed through an Ansible playbook. It is basically a YAML configuration file that provides a set of instructions for what needs to be implemented so that the managed node is brought into the desired state.
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