Ansible Components

What?

Ansible is a simple IT automation tool. Ansible exists as CLI & GUI. GUI is called the Ansible Tower and Ansible, Inc., which is owned by RedHat, officially supports this.

Controlling Nodes:

The Network infrastructure is managed from these Controlling Nodes. In an Enterprise environment, Controlling Nodes are typically Linux bastion servers.

Managed Nodes:

Managed Nodes are the Network Devices that is being managed by the Controlling Nodes. Managed Nodes are typically of Cisco, Juniper, and Arista make and can be classified as Switches, Routers, Firewalls and Load Balancers based on their function from a Network Engineer’s perspective.

Why?

There are many automation tools like Chef, Puppet, and CFEngine but in my opinion, Ansible is suited for Network Automation for the following reasons:

  1. Ansible does not require an agent to be installed in the Managed Node (Network Device).
  2. Ansible requires Python on the Managed Node and most Network Devices support Python.
  3. Ansible relies on YAML as the descriptive language and Jinja2 for templates.

Among the points mentioned above, most Network Vendors do not support the installation of agents and even if they did support the installation, it would be tough to get the relevant permissions within an organization to install the agents in an Enterprise environment that has different Network Teams managing different aspects of the infrastructure.

Fortunately, most network vendors provide native support for Python and Ansible rely on this to execute automation tasks on the “Managed Nodes”.

As a Network Engineer working in an environment with significant scale (1,000s of Network Devices across multiple datacenters), Ansible has been quite useful in obtaining data and deploying configuration. Ansible seems to have widespread support among the Network Engineers seeking automation to manage at scale and there are resources online that can be leveraged to implement Network Automation Solutions.

Ansible Components

Ansible requires the following components in order to automate Network Infrastructure:

  • Controlling Nodes
  • Managed Nodes
  • Ansible Playbook

As noted earlier, Controlling Nodes are usually Linux Bastion Servers that are used to access the switches/routers and other Network Devices. These Network Devices are referred to as the Managed Nodes. Managed Nodes are stored in the hosts file for Ansible automation.

Ansible Playbook:

Ansible Playbooks are expressed in YAML format and serve as the repository for the various tasks that will be executed on the Managed Nodes (hosts). Playbooks are a collection of tasks that will be run on one or more hosts.

Setting up Ansible:

After installing Ansible, I recommend creating a separate directory from which Ansible is executed. For this process, let’s create a directory named “AnsiblePlay”. Within the “AnsiblePlay” directory, I will have the following files:

  • ansible.cfg
  • hosts

and the following directories ./AnsiblePlay/

  • templates
  • hosts_var

Ansible Configuration File:

An Ansible Playbook utilizes the Ansible Configuration File in order to access resources required for the Ansible Playbook. For example, the configuration file stores location information for the hosts file that contains the Managed Nodes (hosts) on which the playbook is executed.

Ansible Configuration File can exist in the following locations and is utilized by the Ansible playbook in the following order.

* ANSIBLE_CONFIG (an environment variable)
* ansible.cfg (in the current directory)
* .ansible.cfg (in the home directory)
* /etc/ansible/ansible.cfg

I would recommend creating your own Ansible configuration file in the Ansible directory. I use the following:

$ cat ansible.cfg

[defaults]
hostfile = ./hosts
host_key_checking=False
timeout = 5

Inventory File or Hosts File:

Inventory File or Hosts File is a text file that contains the Managed Nodes (Hosts) that will be subjected to automation tasks defined in the playbook.

Inventory File can be static or dynamic. For now, the examples use static inventory files.

This is an inventory/host file example:

$ cat hosts
[ios]
Switch-1
Switch-2
Switch-3
Switch-4

[distro]
Distro1
Distro2

[aggr]
Aggr1
Aggr2

Lists: [ ]

Dictionaries: { }. Dictionary has “Key: Value” pair.

YAML – Anything is a string. Quoting strings is optional most of the times.

FACTS:

FACTS are data about the Managed Nodes. Example: Code Version running on Managed Node.

 TASK:

Ansible playbook contains one or more tasks. A task makes sure that the hosts exist in a specific state. When there are multiple tasks and if any task fails, subsequent tasks will not be executed.

 Idempotent:

Running a task once or multiple times is the same in terms of the final output. For example, a task that involves creating a user in the Managed Node will create the user only once no matter how many times the task is executed.

 

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