Review: Ansible orchestration is a veteran Unix admin's dream

Ansible and AnsibleWorks AWX bring simplicity and power to Linux and Unix server automation

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AnsibleWorks AWX
A Web UI is available for Ansible in the form of AnsibleWorks AWX. This is a for-cost solution that offers a crisp and clean Web UI built around Ansible. However, the Web UI doesn't tie into an existing Ansible configuration by default; if you have an extensive Ansible installation on a server, adding AWX on top of it isn't going to immediately Web-ify that structure. You can use CLI tools to import existing Ansible inventories into AWX, then continually synchronize the two if you need to maintain CLI and AWX simultaneously.

Once you install and run AWX, you can configure users, teams, inventories, projects, and job templates based around your infrastructure. However, note that you're adding these as new; they are not based on existing configuration files that may already include all of your hosts and configurations. AWX also provides a RESTful API, as well as integration with LDAP and Active Directory for authentication and authorization. This integration can be handy for mapping users and groups to organizations within the UI.

The AWX Web UI is clean and relatively intuitive, and it allows for fairly fast implementation. The UI is based strictly on Playbooks, so there are no command-line functions to leverage. You construct Playbooks via the CLI for your desired actions, then place them in specific directories on the server. You can then access them in the UI under Job Templates, then attach them to Inventories, and those jobs can be run.

The Web UI is functional, but it is neither as complete nor as useful as the command-line interface. You can't schedule jobs through the Web UI, for example, whereas you can easily schedule jobs via cron on the command line. Playbooks can be run from either the Web UI or the CLI or both, so if you have a sizable CLI-based installation, your Playbooks will move over with little fuss. The rest of the structure will have to be duplicated via synchronization, however.

AnsibleWorks AWX also provides simple Web-based integration with various cloud services through various Ansible modules, so you can provide a Web UI for internal users and teams to provision public or private cloud services from a local management console, authenticated and authorized against your local LDAP or AD infrastructure. In this way, it can function as a self-service portal for internal customers.

Ansible works
The long and the short of Ansible is that it's extremely lithe and extremely simple to set up and get running. The Web UI is usable, but for more than general, prepackaged tasks, the CLI provides a much more malleable and productive solution.

There are no built-in provisions for high availability, but the simplicity of the solution makes it easy to use multiple systems to control clients. As long as the various "Playbooks" and configuration elements are present on multiple servers, high availability isn't really an issue.

The lack of Windows support brings down our Interoperability score, but it should be noted that Ansible is really devoted to Linux and Unix administration.

Ansible's design and implementation is right in the wheelhouse of veteran Unix admins. Ansible doesn't do Windows, and it doesn't offer many frills and baubles. But what it does provide is a fast and easy method to get Linux and Unix systems in line.

This article, "Review: Ansible orchestration is a veteran Unix admin's dream," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in application development, cloud computing, and open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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