Red Hat’s Ansible Automation Comes To IBM i
August 3, 2020 Alex Woodie
Big Blue is now supporting IBM i with Ansible, the open source configuration management software developed by Red Hat. By including IBM i and AIX as a supported target in Ansible, companies that run IBM i will be able to remotely configure and manage IBM i and AIX servers using the same Ansible tools and techniques that they use to manage mainstream X86 and cloud server environments.
Ansible was created back in 2012 by Michael DeHaan, the author of the Cobbler provisioning server and co-author of the Fedora Unified Network Controller (Func) framework for remote administration. It’s been widely adopted across the Linux community, where it competes with the likes of Chef, Puppet and other remote configuration tools, and today it also supports Windows, cloud, containerized, and virtualized environments – in addition to IBM i and AIX through the new content offerings unveiled in July by IBM.
Ansible was developed to provide a lightweight and reliable configuration management system. The only dependencies that it imposes on the servers that it manages are support for OpenSSH (which Ansible uses to create connections) and Python. Ansible uses an agentless approach to control other servers, and unlike other management frameworks, does not require a single controlling machine when it begins its work (although a centralized controlling machine is soon created).
Administrators interface with the software by constructing playbooks, which are based on a control language based on YAML and Jinja templates. These playbooks define the configurations, deployment, and orchestration activities that Ansible will perform on the managed servers. Admins assign each server environment with a specific role, which Ansible can call as tasks.
The configuration framework also supports the creation of standalone modules written in standard scripting languages, like Python, Perl, Ruby, or Bash. Red Hat, which acquired Ansible Labs in 2015, also provides a centralized Ansible environment for enterprise accounts.
Now, IBM i shops can get into the Ansible swing of things. “Ansible is a radically simple IT automation system,” write IBMers Wang Yun and Zhu Li Jun in a June 2 post on the IBM i Cloud Blog. “It handles configuration management, application deployment, cloud provisioning, ad-hoc task execution, network automation, and multi-node orchestration.”
With its new offering, dubbed the Ansible Content for IBM Power Systems, IBM is bringing Ansible “content” to IBM i, where content refers to sample playbooks, modules, and action plug-ins that make specific IBM i routines supported in the Ansible framework.
Currently, IBM supports 20 “automations” for IBM i with Ansible, which support things like “command execution, system and application configuration, work management, fix management, application deployment, etc.” By the end of the year, IBM will introduce 50 more automations, for a grand total of 70.
IBM provides a bit more detail on the GitHub page for the IBM i collection for Ansible. Among the Ansible action plug-ins that are supported on IBM i are things like ibmi_copy (for copying a SAVF file to a remote IBM i node); ibmi_fetch (for fetching objects from the IBM i node); ibmi_reboot (for rebooting [or IPLing] an IBM i node); ibmi_script, for running CL and SQL scripts on IBM i nodes); and ibmi_synchronize (for synchronizing SAVF objects).
IBM provides a list of 35 additional Ansible modules in its IBM i kit that support more detailed actions, such as scheduling a batch job, ending an active subsystem, or restoring a library. You can see the full list here.
The main motivation in supporting Ansible on IBM i (and AIX) was providing a common management interface across Power Systems and open systems environments, says Dylan Boday, the director of offering management for systems, hybrid cloud, and AI solutions at IBM.
“At the end of the day, Power has great capabilities and we want to minimize the skills needed to use those and bring consistent and common skills that they’re doing with X86 in their other event, and we really believe Ansible is a key aid in helping our clients achieve that,” Boday told IT Jungle recently.
“We have over 20 Ansible automation that are certified by Red Hat today,” he continued. “We’ll be expanding that by 50-plus more, so 70 in total for us by the end of this year, and there’s many more that are open source. Typically Red Hat . . . has a certified version, then you have an open source version. We’ll have both of those.”
IBM has been experiencing a lot of demand for supporting Power with Ansible, at least from the AIX crowd. At one virtual AIX meeting earlier this year, 70 percent of the clients said they were already using open source Ansible, says Steve Sibley, vice president of IBM Power Systems offering management.
The potential to standardize on a single set of skills around Ansible will be a boon for AIX and IBM i shops alike, Sibley says.
“If you really think about it, now you need one set of skills, one set of processes,” he says. “You don’t have to have AIX experts, IBM i experts. You’ll have to have one or two. But most of your processes can be the same for your entire infraorder, including now through the public cloud, because you use Ansible to deploy, provision your VMs in the cloud as well.”
“I think it’s going to be really significant to our client base, as well, as I think it will bring new clients to Power when they say ‘Oh, you mean I don’t have to manage this differently? I don’t have to go hire a different infrastructure team to manage Power?’” he says. “It’s one of the most exciting things I think we have.”
IBM i customers can get Ansible in one of two ways: installing the Ansible Galaxy application, or installing directly from open source.