9 Best Infrastructure Automation Solutions for 2023

In today‘s dynamic business landscape, IT infrastructure automation is no longer an option but a necessity for organizations of all sizes. Manual processes lead to errors, delays, higher costs and inability to respond quickly to changes. Infrastructure automation solutions help tackle these challenges through efficient workflows, rapid provisioning, auto-scaling and self-healing capabilities.

This definitive guide covers the 9 leading infrastructure automation tools that can take your organization‘s IT operations to the next level.

Why Infrastructure Automation Matters

Let‘s first understand why infrastructure automation has become crucial:

  • Improved Efficiency: Automated workflows reduce manual tasks allowing IT teams to focus on innovation.
  • Enhanced Security: Consistent configurations and timely patching reduces risk surface.
  • Greater Agility: Infrastructure can be provisioned and updated quickly to support changing needs.
  • Lower Costs: Automation drives significant cost savings over manual approaches.
  • Better Availability: Self-healing and auto-scaling prevents outages and improves uptime.

Research shows that organizations using infrastructure automation see over 70% improvement in KPIs like lead time to deployment, recovery time from failures and change failure rate.

Overview of Top Infrastructure Automation Solutions

Here is an overview of leading open-source and commercial solutions for automating infrastructure operations:

Solution Description Key Capabilities
Ansible Agentless automation tool that uses playbooks written in YAML IT automation, configuration mgmt, application deployment, orchestration
SaltStack Fast and scalable solution built on Python Infra & config mgmt, orchestration & automation
Chef Powerful Ruby-based solution for config management Policy-based config mgmt, compliance automation
Bolt Agentless orchestration tool from Puppet Task automation, configuration enforcement
Terraform Provision infrastructure safely & efficiently Infrastructure-as-code for provisioning & management
Docker Containerization platform to build & manage containers Packaging apps, enabling portability & scalability
Helm Kubernetes package manager for managing charts Defining, installing & managing complex Kubernetes apps
Jenkins Self-contained CI/CD automation server Continuous integration, delivery, testing & deployment
Puppet Data center automation for effective infra management Automation, orchestration, task coordination

These solutions take different approaches but share the common capability for infrastructure automation powered by codification, orchestration and automation. Let‘s look at each solution in more depth.

Ansible

Ansible is an open source automation tool perfect for application deployment, configuration management and orchestration. It uses YAML playbooks to define the automation procedures and push out configurations to managed nodes over SSH without requiring any agents.

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Human readable playbooks that are easy to write and maintain.
  • No agents needed due to agentless architecture. Just uses SSH.
  • Idempotence to safely run playbooks multiple times.
  • Push-based deployment that is fast and efficient.
  • Role-based access control (RBAC) and audit logs for control.
  • 380+ modules with community contributions.
  • On-prem or hosted Ansible platform available.

Ansible is great for automating config management, app deployments & IT workflows. The Ansible Tower add-on improves workflow orchestration and monitoring with advanced features.

SaltStack

SaltStack is used by major enterprises like Adobe, Juniper, Cisco for infra & config management. It uses Python for automation while controlling thousands of systems quickly and securely.

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Fast parallel execution using an intelligent event-driven engine.
  • Scales to handle over 10,000 nodes per master.
  • Supports role-based access control (RBAC).
  • Securely encrypts communications between master and minions.
  • Event-driven automation improves reliability.
  • Single remote execution architecture speeds up automation.
  • Python APIs and YAML configs for flexible coding.

With robust automation capabilities that power the largest infrastructures, SaltStack allows central orchestration of tasks across server clusters at scale.

Chef

Chef is a versatile automation framework for infrastructure, compliance and application deployment using code. The Ruby-based solution offers multiple components for config management, compliance and visibility across environments.

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Infrastructure-as-Code approach using recipes and cookbooks.
  • Powerful policy-based compliance automation capabilities.
  • Chef Workstations for local testing during cookbook development.
  • Chef Supermarket enables cookbook publishing for reuse.
  • Supports integration with numerous DevOps tools.
  • Chef Automate dashboard provides deployment visibility.
  • Available as open source as well as enterprise platform.

Chef allows teams to eliminate manual steps involved in managing and securing infrastructure through codification, testing and automation.

Bolt

Bolt is an agentless IT orchestration tool offered by Puppet for automating manual tasks like deploying apps across environments. It uses YAML plans consisting of actions and workflows that can execute commands and scripts on remote infrastructure over SSH/WinRM.

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Easy automation of manual processes with reusable bolt plans.
  • Agentless architecture needing only SSH/WinRM access.
  • 1000s of existing workflows on the Puppet Forge marketplace.
  • Integrates workflows with Puppet Enterprise for scale.
  • Modern UI providing contextual help and analytics.
  • Active community developing modules and plans.

Bolt allows admins to instantly automate mundane IT tasks across heterogeneous infrastructure without any agent overhead.

Terraform

Terraform by HashiCorp is a popular Infrastructure-as-Code tool for provisioning infrastructure safely, efficiently and consistently across environments. It codifies APIs into declarative configs that can provision and manage infrastructure.

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Executes changes predictably with execution plans showing what will happen.
  • Supports major cloud platforms like AWS, Azure and GCP.
  • Can execute automated drift detection.
  • HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL) templating.
  • 150+ providers available for clouds, Kubernetes, SaaS etc.
  • Active open source community with over 3 million modules in registry.

Terraform allows operators to manage infrastructure at scale through infrastructure definitions stored as code. This improves efficiency, governance and reliability.

Docker

Docker has transformed software development and delivery through its container platform that allows packaging applications into containers that can run consistently across environments.

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Containerizes apps for simplified development and portability.
  • Provides ability to test at scale with multi-container environments.
  • Containers ensure app deploys are fast and reliable.
  • Kubernetes integration for container orchestration at scale.
  • Vibrant ecosystem of Docker tools for automation.
  • Rich set of APIs and CLIs available for integration.

Docker simplifies local development while providing the portability and scalability needed for CI/CD pipelines helping accelerate releases.

Helm

Helm is a popular Kubernetes package manager that streamlines installing and managing applications on Kubernetes using Helm Charts that define Kubernetes resources.

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Simplifies deploying applications on Kubernetes clusters.
  • Predefined charts for common apps like Nginx.
  • Helm repository hosts 1000s of application charts.
  • Charts allow parameterization simplifying app configuration.
  • Support for semver allows smooth upgrade/rollback.

Helm provides a simple way to create, package, release and update even complex Kubernetes applications efficiently.

Jenkins

Jenkins is the leading open source automation server used by millions globally as an automation engine, a task scheduler and for CI/CD pipelines. It has over 1600 plugins to integrate with every aspect of software delivery toolchain.

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Automate CI/CD workflows with pipelines-as-code.
  • Extend functionality using 1600+ open source plugins.
  • Distribute builds/tests across nodes for speed & scale.
  • Role-based access control (RBAC) for permissions.
  • REST APIs and CLIs allow integrating anywhere.
  • Available as self-hosted or SaaS/Cloud.

The amazing plugins ecosystem allows customizing Jenkins easily to build, test, analyze, deploy, and automate applications.

Puppet

Puppet offers a suite of automation and orchestration tools to efficiently coordinate tasks across hybrid cloud environments. The open source and enterprise versions simplify infrastructure automation and lifecycle management.

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Model driven approach for efficient and compliant system config.
  • Extends functionality of modules from the Forge ecosystem.
  • Task pipelines define workflow steps that Puppet runs in order.
  • Tools like Puppet Bolt for task orchestration.
  • Hierarchical data approach for modeling system data.
  • Integrates with major cloud providers for hybrid setups.

Puppet brings powerful automation capabilities allowing operators to coordinate infrastructure, apps, security policies etc.

Evaluating Infrastructure Automation Solutions

Here is a comparison of key factors when evaluating these solutions:

Solution Learning Curve Scalability Commercial Support Cloud Integration
Ansible Low Mid Ansible Tower option Very good
SaltStack Mid Very high Full enterprise platform Moderate
Chef Mid High Chef Editions for compliance & visibility Very good
Bolt Low Mid Integrates with Puppet Enterprise Limited
Terraform Mid Very high Paid enterprise version Excellent, especialy with public clouds
Docker Mid Very high Commercial editions with support available Kubernetes integration
Helm Low High Developer support options Excellent with hosted Kubernetes
Jenkins Mid Very high due to plugins Cloud versions available Very good integration
Puppet Mid Very high Puppet Enterprise version Improving enterprise integrations

While all these solutions are powerful, picking the right one depends on your use cases, timelines, team skills and enterprise readiness needs.

For example, Ansible provides the easiest starting point given its gentle learning curve while SaltStack, Terraform and Jenkins may be preferred for larger scale needs. Evaluating specific requirements around cloud integration, security,reporting and commercial support is crucial before finalizing a strategic choice.

Key Considerations for Selection

Here are some important considerations when selecting an infrastructure automation solution:

Skill Sets: Evaluate the coding language and architecture complexity based on internal capabilities. Ansible and Bolt provide simpler starting points.

Hybrid Cloud: If operating hybrid infrastructure, ensure integration with public clouds like AWS and Azure.

Compliance Needs: Solutions like Chef & Puppet allow automating security policy and compliance.

Technical Debt: Factor in ease of migrating existing scripts and knowledge to the new platform.

Edge Use Cases: For edge/IoT look at agentless (Ansible, Bolt) and lightweight (SaltStack) tools.

Enterprise Features: Consider role-based access, dashboard, reporting, backups based on scale.

Commercial Support: Understand support costs for enterprise/cloud versions before strategic commitment.

Get Started with Infrastructure Automation

The automation solutions covered above can help transform efficiency, security and reliability of infrastructure operations in organizations of any scale.

I hope this guide provided you a 360-degree view of the leading options that can take your organization‘s infrastructure and DevOps practices to the next level.

The key is to start your automation journey soon even if with small steps. Over time, compounding benefits will accrue in terms of productivity, compliance and business agility through a scalable automation approach.

So go ahead, pick a solution like Ansible or Terraform based on your environment specificity and start writing your infrastructure-as-code!

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