Automation is a key enabler that allows organizations to achieve the required agility and velocity for successful DevOps—without it, they can’t quickly and safely scale environments in response to shifting needs. In practice, automation comes down to both the methods and tooling for managing infrastructure and orchestrating deployments for modern IT operations.
For the greater part of the last decade, three tools have come to dominate this category: Ansible, Progress Chef, and Puppet. On a general level, here’s how they stack up:
- Ansible: Lightweight and easy to use; ideal for supporting a wide range of environments and configurations
- Progress Chef: Powerful, secure, and highly customizable; ideal for organizations that require an advanced automation platform
- Puppet: Feature-laden with a large user base and following; ideal for enterprises looking for a premium automation solution
In this article, we’ll delve into each of these automation tools’ respective strengths and shortcomings across eight key categories: pricing, ease-of-use, quality of support and documentation, breadth of features, integrations, supported environments, size/makeup of customer base, and community size.
Ansible vs. Chef vs. Puppet at a Glance
|Ease of Use
|Support and Documentation
|Large (non-profits, educational, enterprises)
|Large (mostly enterprise)
|Large (mostly enterprise)
Best for Pricing: Ansible and Progress Chef
When it comes to pricing, premium versions of Ansible and Progress Chef fall in the same range—$137 to $140 a year per node—while Puppet Premium is on the high end at $199 a year per node. It’s worth noting that all three are all available as free open source projects, though the commercial versions come with additional features and support. Organizations with large scale deployments and complex infrastructures may be better suited with the premium versions.
Best for Ease of Use: Ansible
Ansible takes the lead in this category for myriad reasons. From its minimal setup/configuration and agentless architecture to declarative model and use of YAML syntax, the automation platform was designed to be lightweight and easy to use.
On the other hand, Progress Chef and Puppet are notorious for their steep learning curves and require users to learn a domain-specific language (DSL) and understand how to configure/deploy agents on target systems. That said, they also provide more granular control and flexibility for custom use cases at the cost of additional complexity.
Best for Support and Documentation: Ansible
Ansible boasts excellent documentation, featuring comprehensive guides, modules, and examples. Furthermore, its extensive user community contributes to the solution’s continuously expanding knowledge base. Progress Chef and Puppet also provide comprehensive documentation, albeit not as novice-friendly as Ansible’s materials. In terms of support, Puppet, Progress Chef, and Ansible all offer enterprise support as well as community-driven forums to assist users in resolving issues.
Best for Features: Three-way tie
When it comes to the breadth of features, all three automation tools provide robust capabilities.
- Ansible focuses on simplicity and ease of use, providing a wide range of modules for infrastructure provisioning, configuration management, and application deployment.
- Progress Chef emphasizes infrastructure as code, enabling users to define and manage their infrastructure using the Chef DSL.
- Puppet excels in configuration management, featuring a powerful domain-specific language for defining system states.
Ansible Feature Highlights
Some of Ansible’s more notable features include the following:
- Agentless Architecture: Ansible’s standout feature is its agentless architecture, which eliminates the need to install and manage agents on target systems. Ansible connects to remote systems using secure shell (SSH) or other remote protocols, making it lightweight, easy to set up, and non-intrusive to the existing infrastructure.
- YAML-based Playbooks: Ansible uses YAML-based playbooks to define and orchestrate automation tasks. Playbooks provide a human-readable and easily understandable format, allowing users to describe the desired state of systems and execute complex workflows using simple and concise syntax.
- Push-based Model: Ansible follows a push-based model, where the control machine pushes configurations and tasks to the target systems. This model enables real-time execution of tasks, making Ansible well-suited for ad-hoc automation, configuration management, and application deployment.
- Built-in Idempotence: Ansible enforces “idempotent” operations, which means that executing the same playbook multiple times results in the same desired state. This feature eliminates the risk of unintended configuration changes and allows for safe and predictable automation across various systems and environments.
- Extensibility and Integrations: Ansible offers a wide range of modules and plugins, allowing users to extend its functionality and integrate with existing tools and technologies. Ansible can seamlessly integrate with cloud platforms, networking devices, databases, and more, making it a versatile automation tool that can span across different infrastructure components.
Progress Chef Feature Highlights
Some of Progress Chef’s more notable features include the following:
- Chef Infra: Progress Chef’s Infra platform enables developers and operators to define infrastructure configurations using a declarative language, providing version control, repeatability, and consistency across environments.
- Chef Habitat: Progress Chef includes Chef Habitat, a tool that simplifies the packaging, deployment, and management of applications. Habitat provides a framework for creating platform-agnostic application artifacts, enabling easy application migration and seamless deployment across different environments.
- Chef Automate: Progress Chef offers Chef Automate, a comprehensive platform and dashboard that provides visibility and control across the entire automation infrastructure. The platform offers real-time analytics, compliance reporting, and a centralized dashboard for managing infrastructure, applications, and security.
- Cookbook Library: Progress Chef boasts an expansive community-driven cookbook library, which is a collection of pre-built, reusable configuration and automation scripts. This library enables developers to leverage the expertise and best practices of the Chef community, accelerating the deployment of infrastructure and applications.
- Enterprise Security and Compliance: Progress Chef places a strong emphasis on security and compliance and provides features like role-based access control (RBAC), encrypted data transmission, and built-in audit trails to ensure the security of your infrastructure. Additionally, Progress Chef helps organizations adhere to various industry standards and regulations and streamline the process of meeting security and governance requirements.
Puppet Feature Highlights
Some of Puppet’s more notable features include the following:
- Declarative Language: Puppet’s declarative language, Puppet DSL, enables users to describe the desired end state of their infrastructure and configurations, rather than focusing on the specific, step-by-step instructions, thereby simplifying the management and maintenance of complex systems.
- Puppet Forge: Puppet offers Puppet Forge, a vast repository of pre-built modules that provide ready-to-use configurations and automation scripts. This extensive library allows users to leverage community-contributed content, saving time and effort in developing and implementing configurations from scratch.
- IaC Support: Puppet supports IaC by allowing users to define and manage infrastructure configurations in a version controlled, tracked database or repository (e.g., GitHub) as if it were application code.
- Puppet Enterprise: Puppet provides Puppet Enterprise, a centralized and enterprise-grade solution for configuration management. The platform extends the capabilities of the open-source Puppet tool with additional features like a graphical user interface (GUI), RBAC, event inspector, and other advanced orchestration capabilities.
- Master-agent Architecture: Puppet’s master-agent model consists of a Puppet master server controlling and managing the configurations of multiple Puppet agent nodes. This architecture allows for efficient and scalable management of distributed systems, ensuring consistent configurations across a network of nodes.
Best for Integrations: Ansible
Ansible boasts an extensive range of integrations, with support for various cloud platforms, infrastructure providers, and third-party tools through its vast collection of modules. Similarly, Progress Chef and Puppet also offer integrations with popular cloud platforms and tooling.
Ansible Integration Highlights
Some of Ansible’s more notable integrations include the following:
- Cloud Platforms: Ansible integrates with popular cloud platforms like AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and VMware vSphere, and supports automatic provisioning, deployment, and management of cloud resources, including virtual machines, networking, and storage.
- Version Control Systems: Ansible seamlessly integrates with version control systems like Git/GitHub, enabling users to store and manage Ansible playbooks and configurations in a version-controlled repository.
- Networking Devices: Ansible integrates with network devices from leading vendors like Cisco, Juniper, Arista, and F5 Networks, and provides modules specifically designed for network automation, enabling users to manage and configure network devices programmatically.
- Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) Tools: Ansible integrates with popular CI/CD tools like Jenkins, GitLab CI/CD, and Atlassian Bamboo, allowing users to incorporate Ansible automation into their CI/CD pipelines, as well as automate the deployment of applications and infrastructure as part of the continuous delivery process.
- Databases: Ansible provides modules for interacting with leading databases like MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle, and MongoDB, allowing users to automate tasks related to database provisioning, configuration, and data management.
- Container Orchestration Platforms: Ansible integrates with container orchestration platforms like Kubernetes and Docker Swarm, allowing users to automate the deployment and management of containers, including provisioning, scaling, and updating containerized applications
Progress Chef Integration Highlights
Some of Progress Chef’s more notable integrations include the following:
- Cloud Platforms: Progress Chef Automate integrates with major cloud platforms such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). This integration enables users to automate the provisioning, configuration, and management of cloud resources and services.
- Container Orchestration Platforms: Progress Chef Automate integrates with container orchestration platforms like Kubernetes and Docker Swarm. It provides capabilities for managing and automating the deployment of containerized applications, including configuration management and scaling.
- CI/CD Tools: Progress Chef Automate integrates with popular CI/CD tools such as Jenkins, GitLab CI/CD, and Atlassian Bamboo. These integrations enable users to incorporate Progress Chef Automate into their CI/CD pipelines, automating the deployment and configuration of applications as part of the continuous delivery process.
- Monitoring and Logging Tools: Progress Chef Automate supports integration with monitoring and logging tools like Prometheus, Elasticsearch, and Splunk. These integrations allow security teams to collect and analyze data from Progress Chef Automate for monitoring, troubleshooting, and compliance purposes.
Puppet Integration Highlights
Some of Puppet’s more notable integrations include the following:
- Cloud Platforms: Puppet integrates with major cloud platforms, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and VMware vSphere. These integrations enable users to manage and automate the provisioning, configuration, and management of cloud resources.
- CI/CD Tools: Puppet integrates with popular continuous improvement/continuous deployment (CI/CD) tools such as Jenkins, GitLab CI/CD, and Atlassian Bamboo. These integrations allow users to incorporate Puppet into their CI/CD pipelines, automating the deployment and configuration of infrastructure and applications as part of the continuous delivery process.
- Version Control Systems: Puppet integrates with version control systems like Git and Subversion. These integrations allow users to manage Puppet code, manifests, and modules using version control, facilitating collaboration, change tracking, and version management.
- Networking Devices: Puppet supports integration with network devices from various vendors, including Cisco, Juniper Networks, Arista Networks, and F5 Networks. These integrations enable users to automate network device configurations, provisioning, and management.
- Container Orchestration Platforms: Puppet integrates with container orchestration platforms such as Kubernetes and Docker Swarm. These integrations enable users to manage and automate the configuration and deployment of containerized applications.
Best for Supported Environments: Three way tie
All three tools support a wide array of operating systems and environments. As an agentless solution, Ansible can manage heterogeneous environments effortlessly, including Windows, Linux, and network devices. Progress Chef and Puppet, with their agent-based approach, can manage a diverse range of systems and are well-suited for complex environments.
Best for Customer Base: Ansible
Despite being the youngest of the three automation tools, Ansible has gained significant traction in recent years and has amassed a large, rapidly growing user base. The tool’s ease-of-use and extensive community support are key ingredients driving its popularity. Progress Chef and Puppet also have substantial customer bases, but more so with larger organizations and enterprises.
Best for Community Size: Ansible
Ansible has a thriving, active community that actively contributes to its wealth of resources in the form of blogs, forums, and GitHub repositories. Similarly, Progress Chef and Puppet also have active, sizable communities, though not as large or vocal as Ansible’s crowd.
Top 3 DevOps Configuration Tooling Alternatives
Chef, Ansible, and Puppet aren’t the only automation tooling players in the game. The following alternatives provide similar features and capabilities, and may warrant further investigation
if none of the leading three platforms suit your organization’s needs.
AWS CloudFormation (and Cloud Vendor-provided Tools)
If you’re looking to automate an AWS-based cloud infrastructure, AWS CloudFormation is a formidable alternative to Puppet, Chef, and Ansible. In fact, CloudFormation—like Ansible—enables you to define IaC using JSON or YAML templates However, CloudFormation naturally a more AWS-centric solution for describing and provisioning AWS resources like EC2 instances, load balancers, and databases, along with their configurations and dependencies. Unsurprisingly, similar services like Microsoft’s Azure Resource Manager (ARM) and Google Cloud Deployment Manager (GCDM) also offer automation capabilities that excel in their native vendors’ environments.
Another long standing alternative to Puppet and Progress Chef, SaltStack is an open-source configuration management and orchestration tool known for its scalability and performance. The tool uses a master-minion architecture that has a master node communicating with multiple minion nodes to manage configurations and execute tasks.
While not a direct alternative to Ansible, Puppet, or Progress Chef, Terraform does possess some overlapping capabilities for infrastructure provisioning and management. The solution enables users to define infrastructure as code using a declarative language, and supports multiple cloud platforms—AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, as well as on-premises infrastructure. With Terraform, you can define the desired state of your infrastructure and execute plans to create, modify, or delete resources accordingly.
Bottom Line: Ansible vs. Chef. vs. Puppet
In short, Ansible excels in pricing, ease-of-use, and community size, making it an ideal choice for organizations seeking a user-friendly automation tool for basic IT environments. Progress Chef and Puppet provide more granular control mechanisms and robust features, making them suitable for complex environments with specific requirements. By carefully evaluating these three tools based on pricing, ease-of-use, documentation, features, integrations, supported environments, customer base, and community, you’ll be better positioned to make an informed decision that aligns with your organization’s needs and goals.