DevOps Tools – Puppet , Chef , Ansible and SaltStack – Pros and Cons

DevOps is a mixture of two terms DEVelopment and OPerationS.

  • It is a set of practices whose aim is to reduce the time duration between committing change to system and change placed in normal production.
  • It is a software engineering culture that unifies both Software development and Software operations.
  • It is used for automation and monitors all steps of software construction from integration, testing, to deployment and management of infrastructure.
  • It aims at shorter development cycles, increase the frequency of deployment, and dependable release in aligns with business objectives.

Puppet, Chef, Ansible and SaltStack present different paths to achieve a common goal of managing large-scale server infrastructure efficiently, with minimal input from developers and sysadmins. All four configuration management tools are designed to reduce the complexity of configuring distributed infrastructure resources, enabling speed, and ensuring reliability and compliance.

This article explores the mechanism, value propositions and concerns pertaining to each configuration management solution.

Puppet

Puppet is a pioneering configuration automation and deployment organization solution for distributed apps and infrastructure.

This open source configuration management solution is built with Ruby and offers custom Domain Specific Language (DSL) and Embedded Ruby (ERB) templates to create custom Puppet language files, and offers a declarative paradigm programming approach. Puppet uses an agent/master architecture—Agents manage nodes and request relevant information from masters that control configuration.

The Puppet Enterprise Functionalities:
  • Orchestration
  • Automated provisioning
  • Configuration automation
  • Visualization and reporting
  • Code management
  • Node management
  • Role-based access control
Pros:
  • Strong compliance automation and reporting tools.
  • Active community support around development tools and cookbooks.
  • Intuitive web UI to take care of many tasks, including reporting and real-time node management.
  • Robust, native capability to work with shell-level constructs.
  • Initial setup is smooth and supports a variety of OSs.
  • Particularly useful, stable and mature solution for large enterprises with adequate DevOps skill resources to manage a heterogeneous infrastructure.
Cons:
  • Can be difficult for new users who must learn Puppet DSL or Ruby, as advanced tasks usually require input from CLI.
  • Installation process lacks adequate error reporting capabilities.
  • Not the best solution available to scale deployments. The DSL code can grow large and complicated at higher scale.
  • Using multiple masters complicates the management process. Remote execution can become challenging.
  • Support is more focused toward Puppet DSL over pure Ruby versions.
  • Lacks push system, so no immediate action on changes. The pull process follows a specified schedule for tasks.

Chef

Chef started off as an internal end-to-end server deployment tool for OpsCode before it was released as an open source solution. Chef also uses a client-server architecture and offers configuration in a Ruby DSL using the imperative programming paradigm. Its flexible cloud infrastructure automation framework allows users to install apps to bare metal VMs and cloud containers.

Chef functionalities :
  • Infrastructure automation
  • Cloud automation
  • Automation for DevOps workflow
  • Compliance and security management
  • Automated workflow for Continuous Delivery
Pros:
  • One of the most flexible solutions for OS and middleware management.
  • Designed for programmers.
  • Strong documentation, support and contributions from an active community.
  • Very stable, reliable and mature, especially for large-scale deployments in both public and private environments.
  • Chef offers hybrid and SaaS solutions for Chef server, analytics and reporting.
  • Sequential execution order.
Cons:
  • Requires a steep learning curve.
  • Initial setup is complicated.
  • Lacks push, so no immediate action on changes. The pull process follows a specified schedule.
  • Documentation is spread out, and it can become difficult to review and follow.

SaltStack

Salt was designed to enable low-latency and high-speed communication for data collection and remote execution in sys admin environments. The platform is written in Python and uses the push model for executing commands via SSH protocol. Salt allows parallel execution of multiple commands encrypted via AES and offers both vertical and horizontal scaling

SaltStack capabilities and use cases include:
  • Orchestration and automation for CloudOps
  • Automation for ITOps
  • Continuous code integration and deployment
  • Application monitoring and auto-healing
  • DevOps toolchain workflow automation with support for Puppet, Chef, Docker, Jenkins, Git, etc.
Pros:
  • Effective for high scalability and resilient environments.
  • Easy and straightforward usage past the initial installation and setup.
  • Strong introspection.
  • Active community and support.
  • Feature-rich and consistent YAML syntax across all scripting tasks. Python offers a low learning curve for developers.
Cons:
  • Installation process may not be smooth for new users.
  • Documentation is not well managed, and is challenging to review.
  • Web UI offers limited capabilities and features.
  • Not the best option for OSs other than Linux.
  • The platform is new and not entirely mature as compared to Puppet and Chef.

Ansible

As a latest entrant in the market compared with Puppet, Chef and Salt, Ansible was developed to simplify complex orchestration and configuration management tasks. The platform is written in Python and allows users to script commands in YAML as an imperative programming paradigm. Ansible offers multiple push models to send command modules to nodes via SSH that are executed sequentially.

Ansible products offers:
  • Streamlined provisioning
  • Configuration management
  • App deployment
  • Automated workflow for Continuous Delivery
  • Security and Compliance policy integration into automated processes
  • Simplified orchestration
Pros:
  • Easy remote execution, and low barrier to entry.
  • Suitable for environments designed to scale rapidly.
  • Shares facts between multiple servers, so they can query each other.
  • Powerful orchestration engine. Strong focus on areas where others lack, such as zero- downtime rolling updates to multi-tier applications across the cloud.
  • Easy installation and initial setup.
  • Syntax and workflow is fairly easy to learn for new users.
  • Sequential execution order.
  • Supports both push and pull models.
  • Lack of master eliminates failure points and performance issues. Agent-less deployment and communication is faster than the master-agent model.
  • High security with SSH.
Cons:
  • Increased focus on orchestration over configuration management.
  • SSH communication slows down in scaled environments.
  • Requires root SSH access and Python interpreter installed on machines, although agents are not required.
  • The syntax across scripting components such as playbooks and templates can vary.
  • Underdeveloped GUI with limited features.
  • The platform is new and not entirely mature as compared to Puppet and Chef.