Mastering Infrastructure Automation: Ansible vs Kubernetes

Are you looking to simplify IT operations and take control of your infrastructure? As a technology professional, you likely grapple daily with configuring servers, deploying applications, managing changes and ensuring high reliability.

The good news is tools like Ansible and Kubernetes can automate away much of that drudgery so you can focus on more interesting challenges!

This comprehensive guide contrasts these two open source tools – Ansible for automation and configuration management, Kubernetes for container orchestration.

We‘ll compare capabilities, architectures, integrations and use cases so you can utilize both technologies for infrastructure as code and simplified system administration.

Let‘s start by looking at why IT automation matters in the first place…

Why Automate Infrastructure Management?

Modern IT environments are complex, distributed and very dynamic while developers constantly roll out new code. Manual processes no longer cut it.

Some key reasons you should automate infrastructure management:

  • Eliminate tedious, repeatable admin tasks
  • Enforce security policies and compliance centrally
  • Promote collaboration between teams
  • Accelerate deployments through CI/CD pipelines
  • Improve resilience and uptime through automation

Leading techniques like infrastructure as code and Continuous Delivery underpin modern DevOps practices by applying consistent automation across the entire IT estate.

That‘s where Ansible and Kubernetes come in! Both open source tools help radically simplify system administration but in different ways.

Let‘s explore each one…

Ansible for Powerful IT Automation

Ansible makes deploying applications, configuring servers and orchestrating complex changes a breeze!

Engineers at Red Hat created this simple yet powerful automation engine in 2012 which now boasts over 3 million users worldwide. Organizations like eBay, Juniper Networks and even the UK‘s National Health Service use Ansible to simplify IT operations.

How Ansible Streamlines System Administration

The magic of Ansible lies in its agentless architecture. It uses SSH to remotely execute automation tasks defined in playbooks across your infrastructure without needing any software installed on target servers.

Playbooks contain steps written in easy to understand YAML that bring your systems to desired state. For example automatically deploying applications, configuring databases or enforcing security policies.

Ansible translates these high level plays into concrete actions by invoking modules – discrete programs handling tasks like installing packages, managing files and services, running commands etc.

It implements changes idempotently with modules applied just once even across frequent runs. Changes only occur if the system state diverges from your playbooks.

This simplicity, combined with Ansible‘s over 1700 built-in modules covering virtually every administration task makes it a joy for engineers to use!

Kubernetes for Container Orchestration

As applications adopt microservices and containerized architectures, new challenges emerge around deploying and managing large scale distributed systems.

That‘s where Kubernetes shines! Originating inside Google for managing container workloads and donated to the CNCF open source foundation, Kubernetes (aka K8s) is now the industry standard for container orchestration.

How Kubernetes Runs Containerized Apps

At its core, Kubernetes streamlines running containerized apps on clusters while handling automation around scheduling, availability, scaling, networking, storage and more.

It ingests declarative manifests defining your application‘s desired infrastructure state – what container images to run, resource requirements, scaling limits etc.

Kubernetes reconciles this desired state with actual cluster state while optimizing and healing failures. Infrastructure evolves to match application needs without user intervention.

For example, wanting to run 3 instances of a microservice under load but scaled down when idle. Kubernetes handles deploying containers matching criteria onto suitable hardware, monitoring health, distributing traffic, restarting failed instances, gathering metrics and so on.

This automation around container lifecycle and app management frees engineers to focus higher up the software stack.

Capability Comparison: Ansible vs Kubernetes

Ansible and Kubernetes certainly overlap around IT automation but actually fulfill quite distinct needs:

Ansible Kubernetes
Purpose Automate app deployments, configuration management & IT orchestration Deploy, scale & manage containerized applications
Learning Curve Shallow – uses simple YAML playbooks Steep – requires containerization & distributed systems expertise
Resilience Basic reliability capabilities Advanced self-diagnosis & automatic healing
Security Leverages SSH for secure connections Isolates processes & uses RBAC for access control
Networking Provides essential networking functionality More advanced – services discovery, ingress, load balancing
State Management Enforces desired state through playbook execution Continuously aligns observed & desired application state
Extensibility Custom modules extend functionality Custom resources & operators modify core behavior

In a nutshell:

  • Ansible excels at automating infrastructure config & app deployments
  • Kubernetes simplifies running containerized apps at massive scale

Now let‘s examine how they actually get software and infrastructure onto your systems.

Deployment Differences: Push vs Pull

Ansible and Kubernetes take very different approaches for provisioning environments and deploying applications:

Ansible Kubernetes
Model Push-based – changes pushed to nodes Pull-based – nodes pull state from masters
Rolling Updates Batch style – upgrade in groups Incremental updates – replace instances slowly
Desired State Enforced by playbook execution Continuously reconciled by controllers
Health Checks Basic only – playbook logic Advanced – automatically restarts failures

Ansible aggressively pushes playbook changes onto target infrastructure to make it match defined specification.

Conversely, Kubernetes passively reconciles differences between user declared state and actual cluster using controllers. Nodes graceful pull updated container images and configurations.

So Ansible focuses on infrastructure while Kubernetes oversees containerized applications.

But together they enable advanced concepts like…

Infrastructure as Code

Both tools allow modeling infrastructure through declarative config files version controlled alongside application code – a practice known as Infrastructure as Code.

For example Ansible playbooks define server configs, while Kubernetes manifests detail container deployments and services.

Engineers modify these files then apply changes automatically rather than manually configuring production. This consistency, automation and visibility streamlines compliance.

IaC allows seamlessly pivoting environments between dev, test and production by changing a few variables.

Integrating Ansible and Kubernetes into CI/CD Pipelines

A key benefit of infrastructure as code is facilitating Continuous Delivery Pipelines to accelerate application releases. Let‘s see how Ansible and Kubernetes accelerate software from code to production.

Development & Testing

Ansible shines here by rapidly provisioning infrastructure for developers then configuring runtimes like databases. Playbooks source controlled alongside app code simplify tear down and recreation of test environments. Ansible automation frees developers to focus efforts on writing code rather than manual configuration.

Continuous Integration & Delivery

Ansible playbooks offer an easy yet robust way for CI servers (like Jenkins, Travis CI etc) to execute complex deployment processes reliably thanks to playbook encapsulation. Just kick off an Ansible playbook at the right stage to deploy application tiers or database upgrades avoiding messy shell scripts.

For container based applications, Kubernetes manifests plug into CI/CD pipelines seamlessly. Infrastructure definitions live alongside application code facilitating continuous deployment onto Kubernetes. Developers merge changes triggering automated builds, tests and releases.

Staging and Production

Ansible manages provisioning and configuring staging infrastructure identically to production. This consistency eases assessing release readiness when cutover time comes.

Kubernetes empowers performing final integration tests at scale on production-like environments through its first-class staging abstractions. Easily pivot clusters between states.

Come go-live, Ansible and Kubernetes delivers software securely onto infrastructure and scales seamlessly on demand.

For containerized apps, Kubernetes supports progressively shifting traffic between releases until confidence in the update allows switching completely to the new version.

This end-to-end integration with CI/CD pipelines gets applications to market faster.

Real-World Use Cases

Let‘s reinforce Ansible and Kubernetes differences by outlining some sample usage scenarios:

Ansible in Action

A Fortune 500 retailer uses Ansible to securely administer thousands of point-of-sale (POS) systems across hundreds of stores.

Ansible playbooks codify common management tasks like configuring cash registers, installing POS software updates, setting access policies and managing third party payment services.

Central IT teams easily push changes by kicking off playbooks instead of remote desktopping each system. Ansible automation offers visibility into the retail platform while easing compliance.

Kubernetes at Scale

A cutting edge autonomous vehicle startup builds its self-driving car AI and computer vision algorithms into a massively distributed microservices app. It leverages Kubernetes for container orchestration onto their GPU compute cluster to train deep learning models using petabytes of sensor data.

Kubernetes affordably scales training pipelines on demand while streamlining model deployment. Its self healing capabilities ensure algorithms keep running 24/7. App architectures evolve flexibly thanks to Kubernetes‘ container-driven approach.

Integrating Ansible and Kubernetes for Comprehensive Automation

Hopefully you appreciate Ansible and Kubernetes‘ complementary strengths by now.

Ansible handles infrastructure and app deployment automation through push-based state enforcement onto existing systems like VMs or bare metal.

Kubernetes focuses purely on containerized applications using pull-based reconciliation onto container clusters.

Approaches differ but together they enable scalable automation from infrastructure through CI/CD pipelines onto production.

For example, leverage Ansible to template infrastructure on cloud providers, configure networking, implement security controls and handle patching. Then deploy containerized apps onto Kubernetes clusters provisioned by Ansible for maximum agility.

Many mature teams even run Kubernetes itself on top of Ansible managed infrastructure!

This defense-in-depth pairing integrates robustly to accelerate software delivery.

In Closing

I hope this detailed yet friendly guide conveys how Ansible and Kubernetes enable next-generation automation.

Ansible simplifies configuring infrastructure and deploying applications through push-based automation onto existing platforms.

Kubernetes excels at large scale container orchestration using pull-based reconciliation of desired application state.

Despite differing approaches, together they facilitate critical initiatives like infrastructure as code, CI/CD pipelines and Cloud Native development.

These open source tools perfectly complement each other. Evaluate where Ansible excels over container orchestration in your stack and vice versa.

Integrating both Ansible‘s scalable automation and Kubernetes‘ container-centric abstractions will accelerate your organization‘s DevOps transformation!

Let me know if you have any other questions!