Ansible is an open-source solution for automating IT infrastructure. However, not all infrastructures and environments are suitable for Ansible. There are more efficient solutions for specific workflows depending on the task.
Knowing the alternatives to Ansible provides an overview of better tools for specific use cases.
This article covers 16 Ansible alternatives and describes each tool's pros and cons.
What is Ansible?
The tool is easy to use by design. Ansible has an agentless architecture and requires no installation on managed systems. Ansible uses YAML files to define the infrastructure state, and establishes remote access over SSH.
16 Best Ansible Alternatives
Although Ansible is one of the most popular automation tools, there are better alternatives for specific use cases and systems.
Using Ansible for basic tasks is simple, but complex workflows take more time to learn. Ansible requires SSH and is primarily a command-line tool with limited GUI support.
There are many alternatives for automating workflows comparable to Ansible, and each automation tool plays a different role in the software development lifecycle.
Below is an overview of sixteen tools that provide similar functionalities to Ansible.
1. GitLab CI/CD
GitLab CI/CD is a built-in GitLab CI/CD tool. The tool automates software development and deployment. Whereas Ansible automates IT infrastructure, GitLab automates building, testing, and deploying code.
- Simple setup. GitLab CI/CD uses simple YAML files to set up configurations and pipelines.
- GitLab integration. The tool seamlessly integrates with GitLab, providing a centralized platform for the whole software development lifecycle.
- Parallelism. GitLab CI/CD runs multiple jobs simultaneously, speeding up the testing and building process.
- Learning curve. Developers unfamiliar with YAML files require time and training to master the syntax.
- Extensibility and integration. GitLab CI has limited integration and extensibility compared to other CI/CD automation tools. This restricts its ability to cater to specific use cases.
- Scalability. Large projects and complex pipelines are not suitable for GitLab CI.
Jenkins is a CI/CD tool for automating, building, and testing applications. The tool automates software development workflows, including code compiling, testing, and packaging software. Unlike Ansible, Jenkins uses a master-slave architecture to execute tasks on remote machines.
- Extensibility. Jenkins offers many integrations and plugins. Extending functionality with other DevOps tools is straightforward.
- Open source.As an open-source tool, Jenkins is free and fully customizable to meet an organization’s specific requirements. A large user base ensures there are many resources for troubleshooting and support.
- Scalability. Jenkins scales horizontally, making it suitable for large-scale projects and enterprises.
- Resources. Jenkins is resource intensive when running multiple or large builds. Large workloads slow down performance and require substantial resources.
- Security. Jenkins requires additional security setup and configuration. A misconfiguration on a Jenkins server leads to security issues and data breaches.
- Learning curve. Although simple pipelines are easy to implement, advanced features and additional configurations take time to set up.
SaltStack is an open-source tool for configuration management, orchestration, and remote execution. The tool automates jobs in large-scale infrastructures from a single site. Unlike Ansible, SaltStack utilizes a master-slave architecture with a central control server for remote hosts.
- Scalability. SaltStack is well suited for managing large infrastructures. The architecture enables horizontal scaling.
- Speed. SaltStack is known for fast execution speeds, which results in quicker task execution and response to changes.
- Integration. A robust API enables the integration of SaltStack into other DevOps tools, enabling complex workflows.
- Resources. The master-slave architecture makes SaltStack resource-intensive to maintain as the infrastructure grows.
- Complex. SaltStack is challenging for beginners and lacks the community support of other DevOps tools.
- Security. The tool had authentication issues in the past and zero-day vulnerabilities. Securing SaltStack requires implementing zero-trust security strategies, which is tricky.
CircleCI is a cloud-based CI/CD platform for streamlining development workflows. The tool automates building, testing, and deploying applications at different software development levels than Ansible.
- Cloud-based. CircleCI takes care of the underlying infrastructure and resources for the CI/CD pipeline. A hosted solution relieves an organization from the responsibility of maintaining infrastructure resources.
- Integration. Integration with version control systems like Git helps create pipelines that automatically trigger builds on code changes.
- Testing. CircleCI offers various built-in software testing methodologies, such as unit and integration tests. Integration with popular software testing frameworks and tools makes it easy to add testing to a pipeline.
- Costly. As a project scales up and requires more resources, CircleCI becomes expensive. A free version is available for smaller projects with limited resources and containers.
- Limited control. Abstraction of the underlying infrastructure limits organizations that require access to resources due to security or compliance.
- External dependency. Being a cloud-based solution, CircleCI is unsuitable for organizations requiring more control over their workflow and network.
Rudder is an open-source automation tool for streamlining IT infrastructure and configuration management. The tool helps teams manage large-scale IT infrastructures through a centralized platform. Unlike Ansible, Rudder is an agent-based architecture with a web-based visual interface.
- Compliance. Rudder contains built-in compliance monitoring to help enforce policies and security regulations.
- Centralized. Rudder uses a centralized model, which helps provide consistency in management and configuration across dispersed systems.
- User-friendly. A web-based interface simplifies configuration management and automation. Configuration, monitoring, and changes are easy to manage through a UI.
- Flexibility. Rudder focuses on automating infrastructure configuration and compliance. Compared to other tools, the tool lacks automation versatility.
- Dependencies. An agent-based architecture requires continuous management between the central server and nodes. Agent installation and connectivity issues lead to weaker performance.
- Community support. Rudder has less community support compared to other automation tools and lacks community resources and modules.
Chef is an Infrastructure as Code (IaC) framework for automating IT infrastructure configuration and maintenance. The tool uses DevOps infrastructure automation in both small and large-scale environments.
Compared to Ansible, Chef uses a domain-specific language called Ruby DSL for describing system states. The architecture differs between the two systems, with Chef employing a client-server model.
- Flexibility. Chef is very flexible and customizable. Recipes and cookbooks allow administrators to define granular control over system configurations to meet specific needs.
- Code-based. IaC enables infrastructure management through code. The approach reduces manual errors and brings a higher level of automation, consistency, and repeatability.
- Scalable. Chef manages large infrastructures by design. The tool scales horizontally and has a distributed architecture for efficient control of multiple nodes.
- Complex setup. The chef server and client node setup are an added complexity layer compared to agentless solutions. Efficient communication management between components requires additional planning.
- Performance. Chef requires considerable resources and optimization techniques to ensure smooth implementation.
- Learning curve. The use of Ruby DSL and advanced features means Chef's learning curve is steeper than other automation tools and requires additional research.
Puppet is an open-source Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tool for managing infrastructure configuration and deployment. The solution uses declarative code to create and implement the desired system state. Puppet has an agent-based architecture and focuses on managing resource states.
- Resource-based. Puppet focuses on managing packages, services, files, and users. Various predefined configurations simplify work with system components.
- Modules. The ecosystem of Puppet modules is extensive. The Puppet Forge contains a vast library of reusable modules and manifests, utilizing pre-built resources from an active community.
- Auditing. Puppet includes reporting and auditing features for easier monitoring and troubleshooting. Auditing features help maintain system integrity and compliance.
- Learning curve. It takes time to learn the declarative language (Puppet DSL) and get used to Puppet’s resource-centric approach.
- Complex. An agent-based architecture requires additional planning and infrastructure. Managing dependencies and ensuring proper communication adds a layer of complexity.
- Community-driven. As a community-driven tool, Puppet does not have modules and resources for all use cases. More common technologies and setups have available resources, whereas uncommon tools are hard to find.
CFEngine is an automation and configuration management tool for maintaining large IT infrastructures. The open-source tool helps ensure compliance and consistency across distributed systems. CFEngine uses an agent-based architecture that constantly evaluates the system's current state compared to the desired results.
- Real-time monitoring. CFEngine offers real-time views into system states, with mechanisms to automatically detect disparate configurations.
- Self-healing. The system automatically corrects configuration issues to achieve the desired state and enforce compliance.
- Secure. CFEngine focuses on enforcing compliance and allows users to define actions which manage non-compliance.
- Modules. CFEngine has a limited modules library. Creating modules for specific use cases requires additional development.
- Complex. Policy development in CFEngine involves knowledge of the tool's concepts and syntax. Specific configurations require more complex policies compared to other automation tools.
- Learning curve. CFEngine presents a steep learning curve for administrators unfamiliar with the environment. The platform-specific language and policy-driven approach require investments, time, and effort to master.
Codeship is a cloud-based SaaS solution by Cloudbees. The tool enables software developers to automate build, test, and deployment tasks. Codeship automates various application development processes, while Ansible automates the underlying infrastructure.
- Easy setup. Codeship offers a user-friendly interface and straightforward configuration options. The initial design of a CI/CD pipeline is simple to implement.
- Cloud-based. As a cloud-based solution, Cloudship takes care of the underlying infrastructure setup and maintenance, leaving users more time and focus on developing software.
- Scalable. Codeship scales the CI/CD pipelines according to project requirements, runs concurrent builds, and parallelizes testing.
- Costly. Cloudship uses a subscription-based model. The platform is not suitable for smaller and more cost-sensitive projects.
- Limited control. The platform offers predefined configurations, limiting custom build and deployment processes.
- Online. The cloud-based solution requires an internet connection to access features. Cloudship offers limited support for restricted networks and offline environments.
10. Azure DevOps Server (TFS)
Azure DevOps Server (previously Microsoft Team Foundation Server) is a Microsoft platform for collaborative development. The tools suite provides functionalities to maintain the full application lifecycle management (ALM) process. While there are some overlaps with Ansible, Azure DevOps focuses on development collaboration and ALM.
- Comprehensive. Azure DevOps streamlines the development process by providing the complete toolset for managing a software development lifecycle.
- Microsoft integration. As a Microsoft product, the tool integrates with other Microsoft solutions, such as Visual Studio and Microsoft Office. Teams implementing Microsoft technologies in their ecosystem enhance productivity with Azure DevOps.
- Version control. The platform provides flexibility by offering either a built-in version control system or Git.
- On-premises. TFS requires on-premises deployment and maintenance of the underlying infrastructure. The platform requires more effort to set up and maintain compared to a cloud-based solution.
- Costly. TFS is a licensed product, and the cost depends on the team size and required features. Smaller teams and limited budgets do not benefit from this solution.
- Integration. The platform heavily integrates with Microsoft products, limiting compatibility with non-Microsoft and open-source tools.
Semaphore is a cloud-based CI/CD platform for streamlining application delivery. The tool aims to simplify processes in the CI/CD pipeline with automated workflows, unlike Ansible, which has a general-purpose approach to infrastructure automation.
- User-friendly. Semaphore provides a user-friendly web interface to simplify CI/CD management. The intuitive UI speeds up the build and deployment process.
- Language support. The tool contains pre-configured support for various programming languages and frameworks, making it developer-friendly.
- Security. Semaphore utilizes detailed access control mechanisms and encrypted communication. Monitoring features and robust deployments ensure reliable build results.
- Integration. Semaphore relies heavily on external integration for specific functionalities. Dependency on external tools creates multiple points of concern for a functional CI/CD pipeline.
- Costly. Semaphore uses a subscription-based model with a scaling price, impacting its suitability for smaller, cost-sensitive projects.
- Customization. The solution offers a range of customization features but is limited in build and deployment customization. Complex scenarios require manual configuration and workarounds.
12. Azure Automation
Azure Automation is a cloud-based automation solution by Microsoft Azure. The service automates tasks across Azure cloud services to simplify resource management and deployment. While Ansible is a cross-platform tool, Azure Automation specializes in automating tasks in the Azure cloud environment.
- Azure integration. The seamless integration with Azure services makes this solution especially helpful for teams using Azure resources.
- Hybrid automation. Azure Automation supports hybrid automation for both Azure cloud services and on-premises systems. The extended capabilities provide a flexible automation environment.
- Secure. The solution uses RBAC and built-in secure storage for credentials used in automation tasks.
- Integration. Azure Automation is limited to the Azure environment. Hybrid scenarios are possible but add a layer of complexity.
- Cost. The cost depends on Azure's pricing model and requires calculating the costs of cloud requirements.
- Complexity. Users of Azure Automation need to learn specific workflows, tools, and PowerShell scripting. Custom use cases require additional development effort and familiarity with the Azure environment.
Terraform is an open source IaC tool by HashiCorp. The tool uses human-readable language to define and provision infrastructure resources, such as virtual machines, storage, network, and other cloud and on-premises resources.
Ansible and Terraform are complementary tools. Terraform handles provisioning infrastructure, while Ansible manages configuration and deployment on the provisioned resources.
- Infrastructure as Code (IaC). Terraform enables the management of infrastructure through code which is maintainable, collaborative, and repeatable. Infrastructure becomes simpler to scale, maintain, and analyze.
- Multi-cloud and cross-platform. Terraform supports various cloud providers and works with on-premises infrastructure. The approach results in cross-platform consistency.
- Modular. Terraform has many built-in and community-contributed modules for infrastructure components. Reusable configurations help accelerate infrastructure development.
- Debugging. Error handling and debugging in Terraform are cumbersome tasks. Troubleshooting is not straightforward and requires additional research.
- State file dependent. Terraform's state file is a critical component in infrastructure management. Collaboration in a distributed environment is complex and requires additional state file security measures.
- Configuration management. Terraform lacks a native configuration management solution. The tool's primary focus is infrastructure management and lacks configuration management capabilities.
phoenixNAP Bare Metal Cloud (BMC) offers an in-built integration with Terraform. Check out how you can manage multiple BMC servers with Terraform.
Docker is an open-source container management tool. The platform automates application deployment and management in lightweight, isolated software environments. Docker provides a way to package applications and dependencies into standardized units that can be installed on any machine with Docker.
Compared to Ansible, Docker aims to provide an infrastructure-independent way to containerize and deploy applications.
- Portability. Containerized applications are highly portable. Any system with Docker installed remains consistent, regardless of the underlying infrastructure and operating system.
- Security. Docker isolates containers from the underlying system, ensuring the two do not interfere. Isolation provides an additional security layer and limits the effects of exposed vulnerabilities.
- Scalable. Docker scales horizontally by allowing applications to run on multiple containers. Demand increases are simple to manage through container orchestration tools, such as Docker Swarm or Kubernetes.
- Learning curve. Learning Docker's concepts and the containerized approach to development requires effort. Applying Docker commands efficiently and implementing the best practices takes time.
- Overhead. For smaller applications, the additional overhead of containers is not efficient. Applications with minimal dependencies that use Docker unnecessarily increase complexity.
- Persistence. Managing persistence between containers is challenging since containers are stateless by design. Implementing data sharing between containers requires additional configuration.
Kubernetes (or K8S) is a container orchestration tool for managing containerized applications. The platform aims to provide a robust and scalable infrastructure for managing containers in a production environment. While Ansible manages the configuration and provisioning of the underlying infrastructure, Kubernetes manages the container lifecycle and abstracts the underlying infrastructure.
- Scalable. Kubernetes enables horizontal scaling by running multiple container instances on several nodes.
- High availability. By creating container replicas across nodes, Kubernetes ensures high application availability and creates a fault-tolerant system.
- Self-healing. Kubernetes monitoring offers advanced features, such as restarting or replacing containers with issues. The self-healing features further increase fault tolerance and high availability.
- Learning curve. Kubernetes has a steep learning curve. Setup, configuration, and management require being well-acquainted with Kubernetes concepts. The platform consists of many components, which is a challenging environment for inexperienced users.
- Resources. Kubernetes requires noticeable resources to run well. Running applications in production requires dedicated servers or cloud resources, which increases infrastructure costs.
- Overhead. Although Kubernetes automates container orchestration, the platform itself introduces additional overhead. Maintaining Kubernetes clusters requires continual maintenance and monitoring.
16. AWS CloudFormation
AWS CloudFormation is an Amazon Web Services tool for provisioning and managing AWS resources. The solution uses a templating approach to describe IaC through YAML or JSON files. CloudFormation works solely on AWS products, while Ansible has a platform-agnostic system for infrastructure automation.
- Infrastructure as Code (IaC). Defining infrastructure as code makes maintenance easier. A version control system tracks any changes and creates a reproducible environment.
- AWS integration. As an AWS tool, CloudFormation integrates with various AWS services, such as EC2, S3, RDS, and others.
- Simple provisioning. CloudFormation removes manual resource provisioning, which is prone to human error. The tool uses a templating approach to automate creating, configuring, and managing resources.
- Cost optimization. CloudFormation does not feature cost optimization features. Cost management and optimization policies require separate implementation.
- Complex. Templates for infrastructure configuration increase in complexity for large infrastructures. Managing templates with vast resources requires careful planning.
- Debugging. CloudFormation does not have comprehensive error-handling templates, so identifying and resolving underlying issues requires in-depth debugging.
Ansible is a popular and robust tool for infrastructure automation. However, alternative options can better complement a specific use case and the existing toolset. When looking for an alternative, choose a solution that adapts to project requirements, current infrastructure, team expertise, and preference.