Trying to decide between Ansible vs Chef can be a tricky decision. Both the Ansible server and the Chef server have their pros and cons, and as is the case with any DevOps tools, you’ll hear all Chef clients rave about Chef and Ansible clients rave about Ansible. But which tool is actually better for you?
Whether you are just beginning to learn DevOps or are already a seasoned pro, you’ll want to master at least one configuration management tool before that big DevOps interview. Luckily, we have compiled the ultimate list of differences and similarities, pros and cons, and the best advantages of both Ansible and Chef.
What Is Ansible?
Ansible is arguably the simplest configuration management software tool in existence. This open-source client server is designed to be used by those in information technology (IT) careers, though it can also be used by other DevOps engineers and system administration professionals. Ansible is used by professionals for configuration management, software provisioning, and application deployment, amongst other things.
Since Ansible is designed specifically to be easy to use, it is a relatively simple software tool. The makers boast of its ability to easily speed up work, make collaborations go smoothly, and seamlessly integrate technologies.
What Is Chef?
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Chef, on the other hand, is a code-driven configuration management tool. This tool is based on programming codes and is described by the creators as actually transforming infrastructure into code. Chef is primarily used to manage infrastructures and translate tasks into reusable terms, making the configuration management job easier.
While Chef is not always used in this way, it is a cloud-based software tool. This allows Chef to be used in both an on-premise and cloud format, or any hybrid version of the two. You can use chef in any format to automate how infrastructures are deployed, configured, and managed, no matter what size they are.
Ansible vs Chef: The Most Important Differences and Similarities
Comparing the differences and similarities between tools like Chef and Ansible is an important part of the decision-making process. These two automation tools have quite a bit in common, but there are some important differences you should be aware of.
Difference: Configuration Language
One of the biggest and perhaps most important differences between Ansible and Chef is the configuration language used. Ansible, on the one hand, uses the language YAML for all commands. This language is relatively easy to learn, regardless of your prior experience or lack thereof.
Chef’s configuration language is the programming language Ruby DSL. This is a language aimed more at advanced developers rather than those with little to no programming experience. To put it plainly, you will either need a strong programming background or a lot of motivation to learn this challenging configuration language.
Ansible is the more reasonably priced of the two configuration management tools. There are three tiers of pricing available for Ansible users. The standard tier offers no outside support and costs $5,000 per year for up to 100 nodes. The next tier, with 8×5 support, costs $10,000 per year for up to 100 nodes, and the premium tier, with 24×7 support, costs $14,000 per year or $17,500 per year with Ansible Engine.
Chef is a bit more pricey when you compare the cost to nodes. At $137 per node per year, Chef is a fantastic price for those using a smaller amount of nodes. But, at this price, for 100 nodes you will end up spending $13,700 per year. However, this does include a good support network.
Difference: Configuration Type
The last major difference you should know about is the type of configuration used. Ansible uses what is known as a push configuration. This means the server will push information to individual nodes using YAML, making it relatively easy to manage.
Chef uses the other type of configuration known as pull configuration. This means Chef clients have to pull information from the server using Ruby DSL, which requires programming knowledge to do. However, users can create a system for automatically pulling information, rather than having to continuously do it manually.
Both Ansible and Chef have decent availability. If for any reason the primary server goes down, both configuration management tools have backup servers that will begin running until the primary server is back up. Ansible’s system uses a primary and backup instance, or single active node, rather than server, but the concept is the same.
Scalability is extremely important when working with configuration management tools. Luckily, both Ansible and Chef have great scalability. Both tools are easily scalable and capable of running large infrastructures. Both are also capable of managing decreases and increases in the size of infrastructure as needed to continue to meet needs.
When using Ansible or Chef, you’ll need to have the correct operating equipment. Both of these configuration management tools run best when using Linux or Unix machinery, and without the extensions, having this type of machinery is a must. However, with certain extension versions of both Ansible and Chef, you can run the tools on Windows as well.
Ansible vs Chef: Pros and Cons
Comparing the pros and cons of Ansible vs Chef is crucial when deciding between the two. While the tools have many similarities and differences, there are certain pros and cons which will stick out to you based upon your goals in using the tools.
- Easier and Faster Set Up. The biggest pro Ansible has is its easy and fast set-up and installation. Ansible is well-known for being simple and easy to use, and the designers nailed the simplicity with the set-up process. It is so easy, anyone can do it.
- Easier to Manage. Since Ansible uses YAML for its configuration language, it is much easier to manage than Chef. YAML is quite similar to English, making it an easier language for non-programmers to learn, and paving the way for easy management.
- Anyone Can Learn. One of Ansible’s best features is that it was designed for anyone to be able to learn. Though people with IT, DevOps, and programming backgrounds will be able to learn it faster, literally anyone can master it because it has such a simple user interface.
- Fewer Functions. Unfortunately, the simplicity of Ansible is also its downfall. Due to how basic the tool must be to remain so simple and easy to use, there are far fewer functions available when compared to other tools such as Chef and Puppet.
- Unable to Handle Complex Tasks. Ansible is also unable to handle more complex and difficult tasks because of its simple design. While this may not be an issue for people with little to no experience, if you are wanting an advanced tool, Ansible may not work for you.
- Lower Cost = Less Support. While Ansible does offer a lower cost option than Chef, you get what you pay for. The cheapest version of Ansible offers no support at all, while the middle option only covers 8×5 support. This could be an issue for you if you think you will need a lot of support.
- More Functions Available. Though Chef is a bit more complex than Ansible, this allows for more functions to be available. Since users of Chef are expected to be more advanced in the area, there are a plethora of functions to be explored and used.
- Large Support Base. Chef has been around for a lot longer than Ansible, which means it has had time to grow its support base. This plays in favor of new Chef users, as there is a large support community to help you learn.
- Can Handle Extremely Complex Tasks. Since Chef is so much more advanced than Ansible, it can handle extremely complex tasks. If you want to do anything more than the basics, Chef can definitely make it happen.
- Higher Cost. Unless you are only using a few nodes, Chef can get pretty pricey. While this may not be a huge issue for large companies and businesses, it will still take a toll on any budget.
- Difficult to Learn and Operate. Even experienced professionals struggle to learn Chef. The tool can be incredibly rewarding to learn, but it is difficult to learn and operate after learning, so you’ll have to tough it out for a good payoff.
- Must Have Programming Experience. Unfortunately, Chef was designed specifically for those with experience in programming. Since Ruby DSL is the configuration language, you will likely need to take a Ruby course or have prior programming and coding experience to master Chef.
Should You Use Ansible or Chef?
We know how difficult it can be to confidently choose the right tool for your work. Though we can’t make the decision for you, we will leave you with a compilation of the biggest advantages of both Ansible and Chef to help you decide.
Advantages of Choosing Ansible
The biggest advantages of choosing Ansible over Chef is its simplicity and ease of use, easy management, use of YAML, and the simple fact that anyone can learn to use it. This tool may be lacking in the complex features department, but for smaller projects and beginners, it is perfect.
Advantages of Choosing Chef
Chef’s biggest advantages are the options for more functions, the ability to handle complex tasks, its larger support community, and the fact that you will be charged by the node. The ability to use more functions on complex tasks is fantastic, as is the support community. Being charged by the node may become expensive, but when learning the tool or working on smaller projects, it can save you some money. Both tools have serious advantages and disadvantages, and it’s up to you to determine which is best.
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