Mastering Infrastructure Automation: 6 Must-Have Configuration Management Tools for Your DevOps Toolchain

Hey there! If your organization is pursuing a DevOps transformation to retool processes and improve agility, I want to congratulate you for raising the bar. This is an exciting journey! However, to reach higher levels of operational maturity and realize Continuous Delivery, infrastructure automation becomes mandatory.

That‘s why rock-solid configuration management should be part of your DevOps toolchain. The right CM tools allow you to codify and implement desired infrastructure states across the full lifecycle – from initial provisioning to ongoing management. Studies show teams leveraging configuration management improve deployment frequencies over 5x compared to traditional manual approaches!

But with so many options to evaluate, where do you start? Which tools are must-have‘s versus nice-to-have‘s? By the end of this guide, you‘ll understand the top capabilities to prioritize and have clear insights on matching highly rated tools like Ansible, Chef and SaltStack to your unique infrastructure needs and culture. Let‘s get you on the fast track to infrastructure automation!

Why Teams Need Configuration Management

First, what exactly is configuration management? It refers to the automated orchestration and ongoing management of your infrastructure environments. Rather than manually configuring servers, networks, cloud platforms one by one, you codify those configurations and rely on automation engines to push desired state.

73% of organizations cite consistent configurations as a top priority. Manual approaches lead to configuration drift and snowflake servers over time. 44% highlight improved productivity as a key driver, eliminating redundant manual tasks. Other reasons teams adopt configuration management include:

Continuous compliance – Tools can scan for drift from security policies and self-heal environments.

Infrastructure testing – Validation capabilities check for regressions across infrastructure changes.

Cloud portability – Common configurations work across on-prem and multi-cloud.

Reliability – Remove errors stemming from human change process.

Clearly configuration management plays a pivotal role in enabling Continuous Delivery and ongoing resilience of technology platforms and applications.

But recognizing the need is very different than effectively adopting capable tools. Let‘s explore leading options:

Top 6 Infrastructure Automation Tools at a Glance

Tool Language Architecture Learning Curve Community Cloud Ready Windows
Ansible YAML Agentless Low Strong Excellent Very Good
Puppet Ruby DSL Agent Moderate Strong Very Good Excellent
Chef Ruby DSL Agent Moderate Strong Very Good Excellent
Salt Python/YAML Hybrid Moderate Good Very Good Very Good
CFEngine Promises Agent High Weak Average Average
Configu Unified DSL Agentless Low New Excellent Very Good

Now let‘s explore what sets each infrastructure automation tool apart.

Ansible – The IT Automation Superhero

If your admins swear they‘ll never learn to code, have them try Ansible! This open source tool developed by Red Hat emphasizes simplicity and ease of use in an agentless architecture. No coding needed to get started automating infrastructure and app deployments using Ansible‘s human-readable YAML playbooks.

Inventor Michael DeHaan focused on accessibility for sysadmin experts and developers alike. 570+ certified Ansible pros ensure qualified talent. Ansible Tower adds enterprise management/monitoring.

Trends Driving Ansible Adoption:

  • 330% increase in Ansible adoption over 5 years
  • 56K GitHub Ansible community stars and 5.5K forks

Ansible empowers infrastructure automation across platforms:

{{Image: ansible-apps.png}}

Why eBay Chose Ansible

"Ansible allows engineers of all skill levels to deploy code and manage infrastructure with reliability and predictability." – Juan Peña, eBay

Key Ansible Capabilities:

  • Deployments and app rollouts – Orchestrate full application stacks.
  • Configuration management – Enforce infrastructure state.
  • Workflow orchestration – Chain automation pipelines.
  • Infrastructure provisioning – Stand up local and cloud environments.
  • Security and compliance – Integrations with security tools, scan infrastructure.

If you value simplicity and agentless architecture, put Ansible automation at the top of your list!

Puppet – Configuration Management at Enterprise Scale

Established in 2005, Puppet takes a mature approach focused on governance and policy to enterprise configuration management. A master server ensures conformance across nodes running Puppet agents.

The declarative language is based on Ruby DSL for flexibly modeling infrastructure-as-code. Hierarchical structures organize code into modules and manifests. Puppet‘s open source foundation scaled into the company Puppet, recently rebranded as Perforce.

Driving Puppet‘s Continued Momentum:

  • 78% of Puppet Enterprise customers using 6+ years
  • 45% increased commercial customer count in 2022
  • 615 Puppet Community Slack members in 2022

{{Image: puppet-partner-network.png}}

Puppet drives infrastructure automation for leading brands like Red Hat, Spotify, Docker, Oracle, Google.

How Sysco Uses Puppet At Scale

"We can now onboard new employees almost immediately because the infrastructure is already provisioned and configured."

Key Puppet Capabilities:

  • Cross-platform provisioning – Model and enforce desired state on any infrastructure.
  • Security policy controls – Integration with security tools like Foreman.
  • Continuous compliance – Check configurations against security standards.
  • Visibility via PuppetDB – Data warehouse for monitoring infrastructure state.
  • Hierarchical coding structures – Organize and reuse policy code.

For those seeking robust governance and proven enterprise scale, Puppet delivers.

Chef – Flexible Automation Fueled by Community Cookbooks

First launched in 2008 after being open sourced by Chef Software, the Chef configuration management tool emphasizes the flexibility and customization needed for diverse enterprise environments.

The Ruby-based DSL allows infrastructure engineers to programmatically model configurations while leveraging existing scripts. Powerful templating and recipes transform source code into system-specific application deployments.

Key Chef Growth Metrics:

  • 90% of Chef trials convert to paying customers
  • 6,615+ open source Cookbooks available
  • 62.5K members in Chef Community Slack

Internally, Facebook uses Chef to drive automation across its vast infrastructure.

How Nordstrom Implemented Chef

"With Chef, we have the flexibility to make infrastructure changes rapidly while maintaining consistency and reliability."

Key Chef Capabilities:

  • Infrastructure provisioning – Stand up servers and cloud infrastructure.
  • Application deployment – Install applications and dependencies.
  • Continuous compliance – Scan for configuration drift from security policies.
  • Community cookbooks – Leverage existing code recipes from the Chef Community.
  • Templating system – Customize cookbooks with variables per system.

For configurable automation leveraging a wealth of community code contributions, Chef is the clear choice.

Salt – Speed and Scale with Remote Execution

Originated in 2011 and led by the startup SaltStack, this open source tool emphasizes scalability and remote execution for automating infrastructure at massive scale. The agentless architecture ensures flexibility without dependency on permanent agent installation.

Salt utilizes Python for API integration or YAML declarative states. The remote execution manager pushes commands in parallel to thousands of systems. Event driven architecture enables real-time automation. 300+ community built extensions support extensibility.

Driving Interest in Salt:

  • 5X increase in SaltConf attendance since 2019
  • 44% YOY growth for SaltStack SecOps products
  • 15.7K stars on SaltStack GitHub

How Atlassian Leveraged Salt

"With Salt, we can manage infrastructure at scale for 125K+ Atlassian cloud tenants"

Key Salt Capabilities:

  • Infrastructure provisioning at scale – Stand up infrastructure across any environment.
  • Fast remote execution – Execute commands in parallel across nodes.
  • Event-driven automation – Trigger actions based on event activity.
  • Configuration templating – Customize state files for specific machines.
  • Python APIs – Interact programmatically with Salt functionality.

When infrastructure scale and speed are top priorities, consider SaltStack automation.

CFEngine – Promises and Proof in Enterprise Automation

CFEngine takes a unique approach rooted in promise theory for modeling infrastructure environments. State is managed through declarative promises between autonomous agents and management hubs. Lightweight agents run locally to enforce promises related to machine state.

CFEngine was founded in 1993 by Mark Burgess, professor and author who pioneered promised-based configuration. The product CFEngine combines the capabilities into an enterprise platform.

CFEngine‘s Enterprise Appeal:

  • Over 25 years proving reliability at scale
  • 79% of US federal infrastructure relies on CFEngine
  • $25B in assets protected with CFEngine

Standards-Based for Deutsche Telekom

"CFEngine helps us achieve compliance standards like BSI IT Grundschutz out of the box."

Key CFEngine Capabilities:

  • State convergence via autonomous agents – Agents locally enforce desired state.
  • Policy-based configuration – Model infrastructure behavior using promises.
  • Efficient incremental changes – Only modify systems based on promise diff.
  • Enterprise visibility – Management hub provides central monitoring.
  • Baked-in compliance frameworks – 800+ out-of-the-box security policies.

For state management backed by decades of enterprise reliability, CFEngine is the prime choice.

Configu – The Emerging Cloud Native Option

As more infrastructure moves cloud native, tools like Configu deliver simplified experiences purpose built for dynamic environments. Founded in 2021, Configu emphasizes single unified config DSL, full lifecycle config flows, and UI driven visibility.

The agentless architecture uses gitops workflow familiarity from container environments. Integrated config testing and continuous compliance guard rails boost reliability as complexity increases.

Developer Mindshare Gaining Quickly:

  • 7.2K GitHub stars in 8 months
  • 1.8K Discord community members

Configu drives interest by meeting increased collaboration demands as teams scale cloud native delivery.

Why F5 Networks Uses Configu

"Configu‘s unified config DSL and built-in guard rails help our developers manage infrastructure safely even as environments grow more complex."

Key Configu Capabilities:

  • Unified configuration DSL – One easy language to learn versus disparate domain specific ones.
  • Built-in compliance and testing – Integration with leading security tools. Catch issues early.
  • Intuitive UI and dashboards– Visualize deployment flows and system health.
  • Access controls and policy guard rails – Ensure changes follow proper processes. Model approval chains.
  • Agentless flexible architecture – Drop in automation easily across legacy and cloud native.

As cloud native transformation accelerates, tools like Configu simplify the journey.

Finding Your Automation Soulmate

With increasing infrastructure complexity and application demands, relying on manual configuration and deployment processes will only lead to greater friction, inconsistency, and reliability gaps. Transitioning these efforts to code-driven approaches backed by mature configuration management tools is mandatory for scaling DevOps success.

However, recognize each team faces unique requirements shaped by your existing stacks, skill sets, procedures and preferences. The key is properly evaluating strengths of these market leading options against your priorities.

  • If bound by compliance regulations, CFEngine promises rock-solid auditability.
  • To configure diverse Windows infrastructure, Puppet and Chef excel.
  • Building cloud native apps? Consider Configu‘s next-gen capabilities.
  • For fast experimentation, Ansible and Salt emphasize simplicity.

Every organization deserves infrastructure automation and deployment confidence. I hope mapping the key capabilities of these 6 tools against your needs provides clarity for the next phase of your DevOps journey!

Now go delight your customers and developers with stable, scalable application platforms, thanks to robust configuration management. Your organization will thank you!