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Ansible vs Chef: What are the differences?

What is Ansible? Radically simple configuration-management, application deployment, task-execution, and multi-node orchestration engine. Ansible is an IT automation tool. It can configure systems, deploy software, and orchestrate more advanced IT tasks such as continuous deployments or zero downtime rolling updates. Ansible’s goals are foremost those of simplicity and maximum ease of use.

What is Chef? Build, destroy and rebuild servers on any public or private cloud. Chef enables you to manage and scale cloud infrastructure with no downtime or interruptions. Freely move applications and configurations from one cloud to another. Chef is integrated with all major cloud providers including Amazon EC2, VMWare, IBM Smartcloud, Rackspace, OpenStack, Windows Azure, HP Cloud, Google Compute Engine, Joyent Cloud and others.

Ansible and Chef can be categorized as "Server Configuration and Automation" tools.

Some of the features offered by Ansible are:

  • Ansible's natural automation language allows sysadmins, developers, and IT managers to complete automation projects in hours, not weeks.
  • Ansible uses SSH by default instead of requiring agents everywhere. Avoid extra open ports, improve security, eliminate "managing the management", and reclaim CPU cycles.
  • Ansible automates app deployment, configuration management, workflow orchestration, and even cloud provisioning all from one system.

On the other hand, Chef provides the following key features:

  • Access to 800+ Reusable Cookbooks
  • Integration with Leading Cloud Providers
  • Enterprise Platform Support including Windows and Solaris

"Agentless" is the top reason why over 251 developers like Ansible, while over 104 developers mention "Dynamic and idempotent server configuration" as the leading cause for choosing Chef.

Ansible and Chef are both open source tools. It seems that Ansible with 37.8K GitHub stars and 15.8K forks on GitHub has more adoption than Chef with 5.83K GitHub stars and 2.35K GitHub forks.

PedidosYa, Keen, and New Relic are some of the popular companies that use Ansible, whereas Chef is used by Slack, Shopify, and SendGrid. Ansible has a broader approval, being mentioned in 956 company stacks & 578 developers stacks; compared to Chef, which is listed in 359 company stacks and 80 developer stacks.

Advice on Ansible and Chef
Rogério R. Alcântara
Needs advice
on
Puppet Labs
Chef
and
Ansible
in

Personal Dotfiles management

Given that they are all “configuration management” tools - meaning they are designed to deploy, configure and manage servers - what would be the simplest - and yet robust - solution to manage personal dotfiles - for n00bs.

Ideally, I reckon, it should:

  • be containerized (Docker?)
  • be versionable (Git)
  • ensure idempotency
  • allow full automation (tests, CI/CD, etc.)
  • be fully recoverable (Linux/ macOS)
  • be easier to setup/manage (as much as possible)

Does it make sense?

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Replies (3)
terry chay
Principal Engineer at RaiseMe · | 8 upvotes · 34.8K views
Recommends
Ansible

I recommend whatever you are most comfortable with/whatever might already be installed in the system. Note that, for personal dotfiles, it does not need to be containerized or have full automation/testing. It just needs to handle multiple OS and platform and be idempotent. Git will handle the heavy lifting. Note that you'll have to separate out certain files like the private SSH keys and write your CM so that it will pull it from another store or assist in manually importing them.

I personally use Ansible since it is a serverless design and is in Python, which I prefer to Ruby. Saltstack was too new when I started to port my dotfile management scripts from shell into a configuration management tool. I think any of the above is fine.

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Recommends
Salt

You should check out SaltStack. It's a lot more powerful than Puppet, Chef, & Ansible. If not Salt, then I would go Ansible. But stay away from Puppet & Chef. 10+ year user of Puppet, and 2+ year user of Chef.

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Attila Fulop
Management Advisor at artkonekt · | 3 upvotes · 1.8K views
Recommends

Chef is a definite no-go for me. I learned it the hard way (ie. got a few tasks in a prod system) and it took quite a lot to grasp it on an acceptable level. Ansible in turn is much more straightforward and much easier to test.

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Needs advice
on
Puppet Labs
Chef
and
Ansible

I'm just getting started using Vagrant to help automate setting up local VMs to set up a Kubernetes cluster (development and experimentation only). (Yes, I do know about minikube)

I'm looking for a tool to help install software packages, setup users, etc..., on these VMs. I'm also fairly new to Ansible, Chef, and Puppet. What's a good one to start with to learn? I might decide to try all 3 at some point for my own curiosity.

The most important factors for me are simplicity, ease of use, shortest learning curve.

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Replies (2)
Recommends
Ansible

I have been working with Puppet and Ansible. The reason why I prefer ansible is the distribution of it. Ansible is more lightweight and therefore more popular. This leads to situations, where you can get fully packaged applications for ansible (e.g. confluent) supported by the vendor, but only incomplete packages for Puppet.

The only advantage I would see with Puppet if someone wants to use Foreman. This is still better supported with Puppet.

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Gabriel Pa
Recommends
Kubernetes
at

If you are just starting out, might as well learn Kubernetes There's a lot of tools that come with Kube that make it easier to use and most importantly: you become cloud-agnostic. We use Ansible because it's a lot simpler than Chef or Puppet and if you use Docker Compose for your deployments you can re-use them with Kubernetes later when you migrate

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Pros of Ansible
Pros of Chef
  • 275
    Agentless
  • 204
    Great configuration
  • 194
    Simple
  • 173
    Powerful
  • 151
    Easy to learn
  • 66
    Flexible
  • 54
    Doesn't get in the way of getting s--- done
  • 33
    Makes sense
  • 29
    Super efficient and flexible
  • 27
    Powerful
  • 11
    Dynamic Inventory
  • 8
    Backed by Red Hat
  • 7
    Works with AWS
  • 6
    Easy to maintain
  • 6
    Cloud Oriented
  • 4
    Simple
  • 4
    Because SSH
  • 4
    Multi language
  • 4
    Easy
  • 4
    Procedural or declarative, or both
  • 4
    Simple and powerful
  • 3
    Consistency
  • 3
    Vagrant provisioner
  • 2
    Debugging is simple
  • 2
    Well-documented
  • 2
    Fast as hell
  • 2
    Masterless
  • 2
    Merge hash to get final configuration similar to hiera
  • 1
    Certified Content
  • 1
    Work on windows, but difficult to manage
  • 109
    Dynamic and idempotent server configuration
  • 76
    Reusable components
  • 47
    Integration testing with Vagrant
  • 43
    Repeatable
  • 30
    Mock testing with Chefspec
  • 14
    Ruby
  • 8
    Can package cookbooks to guarantee repeatability
  • 7
    Works with AWS
  • 3
    Has marketplace where you get readymade cookbooks
  • 3
    Matured product with good community support
  • 2
    Less declarative more procedural
  • 2
    Open source configuration mgmt made easy(ish)

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Cons of Ansible
Cons of Chef
  • 5
    Dangerous
  • 5
    Hard to install
  • 3
    Bloated
  • 3
    Backward compatibility
  • 2
    Doesn't Run on Windows
  • 2
    No immutable infrastructure
    Be the first to leave a con

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    What is Ansible?

    Ansible is an IT automation tool. It can configure systems, deploy software, and orchestrate more advanced IT tasks such as continuous deployments or zero downtime rolling updates. Ansible’s goals are foremost those of simplicity and maximum ease of use.

    What is Chef?

    Chef enables you to manage and scale cloud infrastructure with no downtime or interruptions. Freely move applications and configurations from one cloud to another. Chef is integrated with all major cloud providers including Amazon EC2, VMWare, IBM Smartcloud, Rackspace, OpenStack, Windows Azure, HP Cloud, Google Compute Engine, Joyent Cloud and others.

    Need advice about which tool to choose?Ask the StackShare community!

    What companies use Ansible?
    What companies use Chef?
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    What tools integrate with Ansible?
    What tools integrate with Chef?

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    What are some alternatives to Ansible and Chef?
    Puppet Labs
    Puppet is an automated administrative engine for your Linux, Unix, and Windows systems and performs administrative tasks (such as adding users, installing packages, and updating server configurations) based on a centralized specification.
    Salt
    Salt is a new approach to infrastructure management. Easy enough to get running in minutes, scalable enough to manage tens of thousands of servers, and fast enough to communicate with them in seconds. Salt delivers a dynamic communication bus for infrastructures that can be used for orchestration, remote execution, configuration management and much more.
    Terraform
    With Terraform, you describe your complete infrastructure as code, even as it spans multiple service providers. Your servers may come from AWS, your DNS may come from CloudFlare, and your database may come from Heroku. Terraform will build all these resources across all these providers in parallel.
    Jenkins
    In a nutshell Jenkins CI is the leading open-source continuous integration server. Built with Java, it provides over 300 plugins to support building and testing virtually any project.
    AWS CloudFormation
    You can use AWS CloudFormation’s sample templates or create your own templates to describe the AWS resources, and any associated dependencies or runtime parameters, required to run your application. You don’t need to figure out the order in which AWS services need to be provisioned or the subtleties of how to make those dependencies work.
    See all alternatives