Ansible Review

The "Organizations" feature allows me to give clear silos to different teams, but workflows and dashboards need improvement


What is our primary use case?

We use it for any sort of automation. We started using Ansible about 18 months back. But then we realized, as we expanded Ansible, that we needed controls around it. We didn't want people just running around crazily running Playbooks. And that's where Tower came in. We bought licenses and it's kind of worked out, though we expect a lot more. I did have a meeting yesterday with the Product Manager for Tower. I did give some suggestions. It's worked out but we've got more expectations, and I hope they work out as well.

Some examples of the tasks we've automated include OS patching to begin with - everyone does that. We have been using Ansible and Tower for a lot of data collection, for auditing, collecting data from across different servers: network, OS, Windows, Linux, etc. That's one of our major automations. In addition, AWS and various clouds, if we have to spin something up.

We're not using it for compliance yet. I saw a demo about that yesterday and we'll probably explore that.

How has it helped my organization?

In terms of staff or the amount of effort involved, Ansible is great. That Tower uses Ansible is amazing. Creating Playbooks takes less time. Tower has its own features. If there were more that would be great. But because Tower uses Ansible, it's not a lot of effort and we can get things done quickly.

What is most valuable?

  • The Organizations feature, where I can give clear silos and hand them over to different teams, that's amazing; everybody says that it's their own Tower. It's like they have their own Tower out there.
  • RBAC is great around Organizations and I can use that backend as our lab.
  • Ingesting stuff into the JSON logs, into any sort of logging collector; it works with Splunk and there are other collectors as well. It supports Sumo and that helps. I can go create reports in Sumo Logic.
  • Workflows are an interesting feature. I can collect a lot of templates and create a workflow out of them. 
  • Also, the fact that Tower exposes APIs so other Playbooks can consume the APIs, it does complement other programs we use internally.

What needs improvement?

We are not using the Dashboard a lot because we have higher expectations from it. The default Dashboard from Tower doesn't give that much information. We really want to get down into more than if the job succeeded or what was the percentage of success. We want to get down to task-level success. If, in a job, there are ten tasks, we want to see this task was a success, and this one was not, and how many were not. That's the kind of granularity we are looking for, that Tower does not give right now.

There could be more stuff in the workflows. I hope that if I have ten templates with different services on it, workflow could auto-populate all the template-based services.

For how long have I used the solution?

One to three years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It's definitely stable and reliable.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Regarding scalability, we had issues initially. The biggest issue we ran into is, while yes, the documentation says if you want to run on 100 machines you need to have this many CPUs and this much memory - and we started following that - if my job template has 50 tasks in it and I enable verbosity and I run it on 1,000 servers, I am out of memory right away. The moment I have to expand to 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 servers, I cannot run verbosity. That has been one of the major problems that we have faced.

Scalability-wise, if I'm not enabling the debug log, it's good. Normally I do that. I have to cut down the list, shorten the number of target hosts, and then I can enable debug. That's been a problem.

How is customer service and technical support?

Technical support has been good with the limited number of things that are supported in Tower. The Tower modules are not supported by Red Hat, which was disappointing. If I have to do updates to Ansible Tower, not somewhere else, I have to call the API, look at the right JSON, and post the JSON. If I had the module, and I had the feature of the module, I could use it. Right now the modules available on community don't have all the features. If Red Hat was supporting it they would have added those features. So there are things that are still missing.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was pretty straightforward.

What other advice do I have?

In addition to the developers who use it most, we hand over job access to different teams. Security needs some data, we clear jobs for them, we hand it over to them. But most of it is with Operations and the Development team.

I rate it a seven out of ten because there are a couple of things which I expect from Tower which are not there yet. As I mentioned already, things like services being populated from templates, job tags are not there on workflows right now, I have to go to another tool like Splunk or Sumo or some other logging tool to look at graphs. If those were possible in Tower it would be amazing. Anybody could run a job and go and look at a graph and see what happened, instead of having to log into another tool. There are things which I think can be added to Tower, but it's a good tool.

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