The scope of tools availed in the DevOps software development technique is increasingly extensive. Today, there are thousands to choose from, each tool with its reasons to be used in your business: by how it helps achieve your goals or even daily tasks. And whether you are a new or an experienced developer, you might get overwhelmed racing for the right option.
Even once you have narrowed it down to a list of potential tools (those that interest you), the type of problems you’d be solving are diverse. For example, you might desire a specific configuration management or application deployment in information technology (IT) infrastructure, so choosing is difficult. Chef and Ansible are the leading tools so far.
If you are into DevOps, you need to understand when to pick a particular automation tech stack and why. In this post, I will break down the two automation tools, bearing in mind that each developer will have unique needs. And while the “best” tool is subjective, I will show you the differences, mention common attributes, and thus help you make an informed choice.
DevOps Automation terms to know
Before diving into the whole deal between Ansible and Chef, it would be worthwhile to be aware of the most used terms in DevOps automation to cascade a smooth understanding of the domain.
DevOps and DevSecOps – The terms refer to development operations and development security operations, respectively. These software development techniques entail approaches to culture, automation, and platform design with an intersection of integrated security as a shared responsibility throughout the IT life cycle. While both DevOps and DevSecOps are similar, adding security into DevOps gives birth to DevSecOps, to clear things up.
Configuration management – This process involves maintaining computer systems, servers, and full software in a desired state. This approach to handling software asserts that your software is working as expected. If you can automate configuration management, you’d reduce costs, complexity, and the risk tied to manual errors.
Agent-based architecture – Chef uses this criterion. It describes an automation model and infrastructure that uses specific software, called agents, to execute in managed environments. To start using the model, you must install dependencies on every target node with additional security checks and rules, which could be time-consuming, especially when delivering software in a limited period.
Agentless architecture – Used by Ansible, this criterion entails automating and managing IT services without needing agents. The control software does not have lengthy installations and connects to remote machines through a secure socket shell (SSH). Once you configure your system, there’s no need to keep a deployment system; more on that later.
What is Ansible?
Ansible is an IT automation tool coined in 2012 by Ansible Works, its parent company, to automate an entire application life cycle in IT environments. Ansible helps automate configuration management, orchestrate workflows, and application development; the list is long. Ansible’s operation model executes tasks in a particular order, one of its own, executing IT environment processes consistently.
Ansible increases quality and productivity while reducing costs by optimizing the IT environment. It may also be a solution that introduces smartness in the IT domain. Ansible bridges traditional IT environments with agile software implementation. It is open-source and does rely on the client-server model. Ansible designers claim it’s the only automation engine that robotizes the entire APK life cycle within a continuous delivery timeline. Automation involves turning complex tasks into repeatable playbooks, simplifying processes, and eventually speeding up production.
Unsurprisingly, the name “ansible” is derived from science fiction literature. It describes an instantaneous hyperspace communication system.
Ansible control machines are Linux/Unix based – like Debian, RedHat Enterprise Linux, and macOS. You can run Ansible on Python 2.7 or 3.5. Ansible uses winRM and OpenSSH for remote connections and offers plenty of inbuilt modules. As an outcome, Ansible provides reliability and security in DevOps and IT operations.
Ansible can be leveraged to automate IT infrastructure by many operators in the domain, including operators, IT executives, managers, and release engineers. Now that I have tied Ansible to its users, what about organizations? Whether you run large or small-scale enterprises, you can adopt Ansible to streamline your IT operations. However, many companies using Ansible are tailored in the information technology and communications domains.
Key Features of Ansible
Ansible Content Collections – This tool aids you when creating a strong user community. Ansible has inbuilt precomposed modules that help developers and content creators collaborate at work efficiently. Ansible provides a consistent structure through which you can move bundles of modules, roles, plugins, and documentation in your content creation process. The fantastic part is that you can always ensure a consistent throughput in content without worrying about version updates and releases.
Automation Services Catalog – This is the feature handling provisioning, management, and entire automation of resources. While it automates frequent user requests through the RBAC technique mentioned earlier., it also helps meet IT compliance requirements.
Automation Hub – This tool offers access to finding and using Red Hat’s content and associated partners. You can extend its content by publishing and managing Ansible collections in the automation Hub. Particularly the “how-to guides” that help you leverage Ansible.
Automation Execution Environments – Typically, this is a container image where IT automation environments are built upon. It is the means to automate your tasks and procedures in a standard way. In the developer’s eye, you can view it as a common language for automation engineers, platform architects, and administrators.
Automation Mesh – This layer simplifies the scaling process using a bilateral communication layer. The tool streamlines flexibility in application deployment while paying close attention not to compromising visibility and control over your IT ecosystem. Automation mesh provides security features like digital signing, transport layer security (TLS), traffic encryption, and additional access controls.
Automation Analytics and Insights – This part helps you evaluate the Ansible automation performance. In other words, this is your gateway to health check of your automation derived from actionable data that you can use to make logical and informed decisions.
Advantages of Ansible
Easy to learn. You don’t need any prerequisites.
Simplified configuration management and application deployment.
Enhanced security and reliability.
Available centralized automation and visualization dashboard.
Supports IT regulation compliance.
Allows continuous integration.
Disadvantages of Ansible
Underdeveloped graphical user interface (GUI)
Stateless and thus doesn’t track changes in dependencies.
Undesirable debugging capability.
What is Chef?
Chef was coined in 2009 by its parent company OpsCode. Chef technology is a succeeding software after an old configuration tool called Puppet that was difficult to understand and had a steep learning curve. Chef is a bit harder to understand, unlike Ansible. But, with practice, it gets easy, like with any programming language. Chef and Puppet are puppeteered by Ruby programming language.
“Chef is a powerful automation platform that turns infrastructure into code…”
– Chef designers
So, Chef is another automation tool exhibiting prowess in continuous deployment and configuration management. And whether your operations are on-premise, hybrid environment, or cloud-based, Chef automates configuration, deployment, and management through your network regardless of the size.
Chef runs on multiple platforms like Windows, Cisco IO, and Nexus. And if you are the kind of developer enthusiastic about cloud technology, Chef supports platforms like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google Cloud Platform. The list goes beyond here; do your research to confirm that your preferred cloud vendor is supported.
Unlike Ansible, which many users use, Chef is geared explicitly toward DevOps and DevSecOps engineers. The solution is inherently adopted by mid-level to senior information technology and service companies.
Key Features of Chef
Chef Solutions has many vital architectural features; here’s a breakdown.
Chef Infra – This tool allows you to automate, configure, manage, and deploy your IT infrastructure efficiently. Chef Infra converts infrastructure into code and provides stable deployment across it. Chef Infra comprises three components; Chef server, workstation, and clients. As the key player, the workstation runs on any platform and supports code testing using various tools.
Chef Habitat – As an open-source product, this tool supports application deployment regardless of your platform. It defines, packages, and delivers applications automatically if you look at its constituent components, packaging formats that are often isolated, auditable, and immutable, and a habitat supervisor to manage these packages.
Chef InSpec – This open-source testing framework runs on any platform. The framework is readable to both humans and machines. It’s also a security and compliance-enhancing solution. An extra perk is that you can use it to test your physical hardware.
Chef Automate – This is your gateway to integrating open-source products like Chef InSpec and Habitat. It provides full-stack continuous security and compliance. You can also use Chef Automate to view your entire IT ecosystem and generate insights that would be resourceful.
Advantages of Chef
Prepackaged templates that simplify configuration.
Easy to use; develops cookbooks quickly.
Asserts consistency and quality on deployment.
Good tool customization; customize your dashboard to suit your needs.
You cannot migrate Chef easily.
Automates IT compliances.
Provides secure and smooth delivery to critical applications.
Disadvantages of Chef
Many tools need clarification among users.
Needs you to understand Ruby programming language.
Steep learning curve.
Not the best for micro-organizations.
Follows the master-client approach, making it slow.
Relatively higher costs.
Key Differences Between Ansible and Chef
Although both Ansible and Chef are on the same page regarding automation, they have distinguishing features. This section highlights the differences between Ansible and Chef.
Easy to install because it uses an agentless architecture.
Uses the master-client criteria that need Chef Agent to run in every client machine. Chef’s workstation component also needs configuration, slowing its overall installation process.
Ansible is written in Python and uses YAML for its configuration.
Tied to its native, Ruby, which is more developer-based.
Configuration files in Ansible are called playbooks. Ansible uses the push configuration operation model.
Configuration files in Chef are called cookbooks. Chef applies the pull configuration technique.
Community (Diverse operations that are not limited to meetups, social media presence, books and training.)
New product and relatively less to learn. Has a large community.
Chef is an older product, so its documentation is better. Relatively smaller community.
Putting It All Together
As you have seen, Chef and Ansible are the most prolific automation and configuration systems ruling the DevOps, DevSecOps, and other IT processes. Ansible is simple and easy to use and can be learned by many users. Conversely, Chef comes with numerous functions and helps perform complex information technology operations.
You have also seen the benefits and limitations of both Ansible and Chef. To choose your automation solution, you need to evaluate your requirements. And while your requirements are met, there are several other factors to consider from the convenience point of view; the current features available on your chosen solution and the outlook in the long term. Consider other factors like future workload or your organization’s size growth over time.
If you have made it this far, DevOps has sparked your interest. If that is the case, I suggest you move forward with your career choice or thoughts; that’s why you should check out our guide, which our experts have curated carefully on the best DevOps courses.
John Walter is an Electrical and Electronics Engineer with deep passion for software development, and blockchain technology. He loves to learn new technologies and educate the online community about them. He is also a classical organist.