Ansible Review

We have automated a lot of our firewall-related processes, on the network side


How has it helped my organization?

On the network side, I already have a lot of our firewall-related processes automated. If it's not automated all the way from the ticket system, our network team members, our tier-one guys in India, can just go into the Tower web interface and fill in a couple of survey questions. We've used Ansible even longer than that, organizationally, for web servers mainly. Some guys are doing some of the Kubernetes stuff, but I'm personally not involved with those modules.

What is most valuable?

The community is very important. Right now, I'm focusing on Palo Alto and automating a lot of our firewall processes related to when a developer requests new firewall rules. Right now, that's a totally manual process. I'm three weeks away from putting in an automated process from a third-party tagging system flowing into Ansible and actually writing to our Palo environment through our data centers throughout the world.

What needs improvement?

Some of the module documentation could be better, but I don't know if that's Red Hat Ansible's fault. Specifically, I've done a lot of Palo, and I've done some Cisco ACI. The Cisco ACI, I don't know who actually produces those particular modules, whether it's Cisco or the community.

Also, it is a little slow on the network side because every time you call a module, it's initiating an SSH or an API call to a network device, and it just slows things down. For the web server guys, all the work is done on the destination server, whereas for network devices, all the work is done on Tower. And then, as I said, it's either SSH-ing or using an API call to the device. Every time you do a module, that slows it down. I heard some rumors, I don't know if they're true, that the Ansible team is looking at improving that performance. But that's hearsay, as far as I know.

For how long have I used the solution?

Less than one year.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

I'm going to have to learn more about the Tower and the sharding of jobs that's coming because, right now, I'm just writing stuff to a couple of individual devices - for Cisco ACI and Palo - but once I get into the Cisco IOS, we're talking thousands of devices. 

How was the initial setup?

The setup is pretty straightforward. Getting started with Ansible, training on Pluralsight, it's about three hours. You do some labs and, from there, it's off to the races.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

I did some training and I've messed around with Terraform. They do have providers for Palo, specifically. But in network, I'm dealing with mostly bare metal devices. And Terraform, that's just not what it's meant to do. I was trying to see if I could do some things with it, but it's not the right solution.

Some of my peers dealing with servers, they use a lot of Terraform because they can say, "Well, we have an environment that needs to be four to eight servers. Create the Terraform configuration and the TF files and TFR files and just let it do its thing." But I can't really do that with 1,500 physical devices that already exist.

What other advice do I have?

I'll start on Cisco IOS stuff in Q1, 2019. I'm pretty excited to learn about the network engine today, here at AnsibleFest 2018, because I haven't looked at it at all yet.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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