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Ansible for Network Engineers

Ansible is a popular open-source automation tool that allows IT administrators to automate the configuration and management of systems, applications, and networks.

Ansible provides a simple and powerful way to automate repetitive tasks and reduce the time and effort required to manage complex IT environments.

 In this article, we will explore the features and capabilities of Ansible, and discuss how it can be used for network automation, configuration management, and orchestration.

Introduction to Ansible

Ansible is a configuration management and automation tool that uses a simple YAML-based language to define and automate tasks. Ansible was developed by Michael DeHaan in 2012, and it has since become one of the most popular automation tools in the industry. Ansible is free and open-source software, and it is maintained by Red Hat, Inc.

Ansible uses a client-server architecture to manage and automate systems. The Ansible server, also known as the control node, is responsible for defining and executing automation tasks.

The client nodes, also known as managed nodes, are the systems that are managed and configured by Ansible. The control node communicates with the managed nodes using SSH or other remote protocols, and it does not require any software installation or agent on the managed nodes.

Ansible Architecture

The Ansible architecture consists of several components that work together to automate tasks and manage systems. These components include:

  1. Inventory: The inventory is a list of all the managed nodes that Ansible can manage. The inventory can be defined using a static file, a dynamic script, or a combination of both. The inventory can also be organized into groups based on specific attributes, such as environment, location, or role.

  2. Playbooks: Playbooks are YAML files that define the automation tasks that Ansible will execute. Playbooks consist of one or more tasks, and each task consists of a module and its associated parameters. Playbooks can also include variables, conditionals, loops, and handlers to define more complex automation workflows.

  3. Modules: Modules are the building blocks of Ansible automation. Modules are small, reusable pieces of code that perform specific tasks, such as configuring a firewall, installing a package, or copying a file. Ansible includes a large library of modules for common tasks, and it also allows users to create custom modules for specific requirements.

  4. Roles: Roles are a way to organize playbooks and modules into reusable and shareable components. Roles define a set of tasks, variables, and files that can be easily applied to different environments or projects. Roles can also be nested, allowing for more complex and modular automation workflows.

  5. Ad-hoc Commands: Ad-hoc commands are used to execute simple, one-time tasks on managed nodes. Ad-hoc commands are executed using the ansible command-line tool, and they can be used to perform tasks such as running a command, copying a file, or rebooting a system.

Ansible Use Cases

Ansible is a popular open-source automation tool that can be used to automate various IT tasks. Here are some common use cases for Ansible:

  1. Configuration management: Ansible can be used to manage the configuration of servers, network devices, and applications. It helps ensure consistency and standardization across your infrastructure.

  2. Provisioning: Ansible can be used to automate the process of provisioning new servers, including installing operating systems, configuring software, and deploying applications.

  3. Application deployment: Ansible can be used to automate the deployment of applications to multiple servers, ensuring that they are installed and configured consistently.

  4. Continuous delivery: Ansible can be used as part of a continuous delivery pipeline to automate the build, test, and deployment of software.

  5. Security and compliance: Ansible can be used to enforce security policies and compliance requirements across your infrastructure, ensuring that all systems are configured correctly and meet industry standards.

  6. Disaster recovery: Ansible can be used to automate the process of recovering from a disaster, such as a server failure or a data center outage.

  7. Cloud automation: Ansible can be used to automate the provisioning and management of resources in public and private clouds, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and OpenStack.

These are just a few examples of the many ways that Ansible can be used to automate IT tasks.

Ansible for Network Engineers

Ansible is a powerful tool for network engineers, enabling them to automate network configuration and management tasks. Here are some of the ways that Ansible can be used by network engineers:

  1. Network automation: Ansible can automate the configuration of network devices, including switches, routers, and firewalls. This includes tasks such as updating configurations, deploying new VLANs, and configuring ACLs.

  2. Network orchestration: Ansible can be used to orchestrate network tasks across multiple devices, ensuring that they are executed in the correct order and with the correct dependencies.

  3. Network testing: Ansible can be used to automate network testing, including the validation of configurations and the testing of network connectivity.

  4. Network monitoring: Ansible can be used to automate network monitoring tasks, such as the collection of network device statistics, the analysis of network traffic, and the monitoring of network performance.

  5. Network documentation: Ansible can be used to generate network documentation automatically, including diagrams, configuration files, and network maps.

  6. Network security: Ansible can be used to enforce security policies across the network, ensuring that devices are configured correctly and meet industry standards.

By using Ansible for these tasks, network engineers can save time and reduce the risk of errors in network configuration and management.

Ansible vs. Python for Network Engineers

Both Ansible and Python are valuable tools for network engineers, but they serve different purposes and have different strengths.

Ansible is a configuration management tool that is specifically designed to automate infrastructure provisioning, configuration management, and application deployment. It allows you to define the state of your network infrastructure in code, and then automate the process of bringing that infrastructure into that desired state.

Ansible is especially well-suited for tasks that require automation of repetitive or complex tasks, such as configuring switches, routers, and firewalls.

On the other hand, Python is a general-purpose programming language that is widely used in many industries, including networking. Python is a versatile language that can be used for many different tasks, including scripting, automation, data analysis, and machine learning.

Python has a large and active community of developers who have created numerous libraries and modules specifically for networking tasks, such as managing network devices, parsing network device configurations, and network automation.

So, which tool is best for network engineers depends on the task at hand. If you need to automate the configuration of your network infrastructure, Ansible is likely the better choice.

If you need to perform more complex networking tasks or analysis, Python may be a better option.

However, in many cases, network engineers will find it useful to have both Ansible and Python in their toolbox, as they complement each other well and can be used in combination to achieve powerful automation solutions.

Ansible vs. other configuration management tools

Ansible is one of several popular configuration management tools available today. While all configuration management tools aim to automate the process of infrastructure provisioning and management, there are some key differences between them that might make one tool a better fit for a particular use case than another.

Here are a few examples of other configuration management tools and how they compare to Ansible:

  1. Chef: Chef is another popular configuration management tool that uses a declarative approach to infrastructure management. Unlike Ansible, Chef uses a client-server architecture and requires an agent to be installed on each target node. Chef also provides a robust set of built-in resources that can be used to manage various aspects of the system.

  2. Puppet: Puppet is another declarative configuration management tool that, like Chef, uses a client-server architecture and requires an agent to be installed on each target node. Puppet is highly customizable and provides an extensive set of built-in resources, but it can be more difficult to learn and configure than Ansible.

  3. SaltStack: SaltStack is a highly scalable, event-driven automation and orchestration platform. It uses a master-minion architecture, similar to Chef and Puppet, but can also be used in a standalone mode. SaltStack provides a number of unique features, such as remote execution and event-driven automation, which can make it a good choice for organizations with complex infrastructure needs.

In general, Ansible is often preferred for its simplicity, ease of use, and agentless architecture. It also has a large and active community of contributors and users, which has resulted in a rich set of built-in modules and extensive documentation.

However, each tool has its own strengths and weaknesses, so it's important to evaluate your specific needs and use cases when choosing a configuration management tool.


Created by
Orhan Ergun

Orhan Ergun, CCIE/CCDE Trainer, Author of Many Networking Books, Network Design Advisor, and Cisco Champion 2019/2020/2021

He created OrhanErgun.Net 10 years ago and has been serving the IT industry with his renowned and awarded training.

Wrote many books, mostly on Network Design, joined many IETF RFCs, gave Public talks at many Forums, and mentored thousands of his students.  

Today, with his carefully selected instructors, OrhanErgun.Net is providing IT courses to tens of thousands of IT engineers. 

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