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Stephen P. Potter
Looking to understand the difference between Ansible vs. Puppet? In a DevOps landscape crowded with different tools that can handle configuration management, complex tasks, and compliance requirements— you’ll want to make sure you are equipped with the right tool for your org’s needs.
Table of Contents:
Both Ansible and Puppet can help manage infrastructure as code (IAC) and deploy configuration management across an entire organization. However, Puppet’s scalability and use in complex, long-term deployments make it a preferred platform for larger organizations, while Ansible’s ability to easily reprovision made it ideal for smaller teams who need flexibility with deployment.
Both Ansible and Puppet start with strong open-source software that share a singular goal: to make IT operations run more efficiently by automating routine tasks such as patches, updates, and software deployment. Both also provide configuration management and compliance capabilities to keep organizations compliant to regulations in their industry.
Both platforms offer free open source and paid commercial options. For Puppet, this commercial option is Puppet Enterprise. For Ansible, this option is Ansible Automation Platform.
To assess which platform is the right fit, you’ll want to ask yourself questions about what you need from an infrastructure automation platform:
By better understanding the end state — exactly what you’d like to accomplish with infrastructure automation— you can sort through key differences between Ansible vs. Puppet to make the right decision for your needs. It’s also not uncommon for infrastructure to be built using different sets of tools like Ansible and Puppet. Some organizations build their infrastructure using one platform and then switch to another as their needs change.
Let’s dive into the specific line-items you’ll want to consider between Ansible vs. Puppet.
Ansible is known for its quick setup and ease of use, as well as it’s user-friendly language, YAML. This language is procedural and task based. For anything that is more complex and requires conditional logic, users will need to implement the Jinja2 language.
Puppet’s Domain Specific Language is declarative, and was designed to be more like Ruby, and it requires set up on both the server and client as it’s installed. The additional set up required for Puppet provides greater visibility across devices as we will see, as well as greater flexibility and control when changes are required. The orchestrator can use tasks which can also be written in any language the managed nodes understand, such as BASH, Python, Ruby, Go, or PowerShell (for Windows).
Ansible’s automation sequences are made up of a list of commands that must be run in a certain order to work. The Puppet server compiles code into a deterministic set of controls that are automatically performed in the appropriate order, which adds to their flexibility and customization.
For tasks such as continuous compliance and drift remediation for example, Puppet server compiles code into a deterministic set of controls that are automatically performed in the appropriate order.
Ansible Controller (formerly Tower) offers a visual user interface to schedule and run tasks. However, both reporting and historical auditing capabilities are not included, which makes it difficult to preview the impact of new code.
Puppet’s interface was built with viewing, managing, and monitoring in mind. Impact Analysis (available in Continuous Delivery for Puppet Enterprise) will parse changes to your existing code, adding additional visibility.
Puppet’s reusable blocks of infrastructure as code (IaC) can apply policies at scale across complex IT environments. Because of this, Puppet is a fantastic platform for scaling for growth.
What happens when something goes wrong, or you need additional support? Both Puppet and Ansible have backups in the event of a failure, which means there are no interruptions within either platforms.
Because the Puppet agent runs on the managed node, even the loss of a primary server means only that no new code is delivered to the managed node. The existing catalog will still be applied, keeping the system in compliance and remediating any drift. If the Ansible controller is lost, playbooks cannot be executed, potentially leaving managed nodes to drift and increase risk in the environment.
Since Ansible works primarily by pushing playbooks from a centralized control plane (potentially through “execution engines”) to the managed nodes, scalability is limited to the number of outgoing network connections each “execution engine” can establish at one time. It is also common to add execution engines for every 500-1000 nodes under Ansible control.
On the other hand, since Puppet primarily works on a pull model where clients check in on a more random scale, each “compiler” can generally handle 3-5x more nodes for the same hardware capability. In some cases, the push model that Ansible uses (and that Tasks/Plans leverage), changes may propagate through an environment in a shorter time period.
Both Puppet and Ansible have strong user communities that can provide support for both open source and commercial needs. The Puppet Community connects through an active Slack channel and contributes modules and tutorials to the always-growing Puppet Forge.
Both declarative/desired state and procedural/task-based capabilities – tell Puppet what you want, and Puppet will figure out how to get there OR bring your own scripts in any language
Procedural/task-based – can be written declaratively with more effort
Server/client OR client-less
GUI in Puppet Enterprise with visibility to events & config details
Basic GUI in Ansible Automation Controller (formerly Ansible Tower)
Built to scale with your automation needs
Quick setup, but complex at scale
A bustling dev community and thousands of modules on the Forge (including many supported by Puppet)
Global meetups, large community, supported Content Collections
Automate 10 nodes for free as long as you want
60-day limited trial
Designed to scale for enterprise automation
More nodes, more potential for problems
Puppet DSL and some YAML
YAML and Jinja files
AWS, Azure, GCP + more
In the case of Ansible vs. Puppet, “scale” is at the heart of the comparison. Some organizations are small and lean — they might work in regulated industries where compliance and visibility are key. Those orgs might look for something more “off the shelf” for automation needs when customization is not critical. For this purpose, Ansible is always ready to deploy and relatively easy to get running.
Puppet was built to handle complexity and scale, and it’s a more robust tool for organizations that need to implement a long list of tasks, are handling compliance concerns, and are continuing to grow. When reporting and consistency is a concern, Puppet is a fantastic option.
The best way to see if Puppet is a good solution for your org is to try it — we offer a free trial of Puppet Enterprise where you can run up to 10 nodes:
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Senior Solutions Engineer, Puppet by Perforce
Stephen is a Senior Solutions Engineer at Puppet by Perforce. His years of experience in the Puppet ecosystem and decades in IT operations include roles as sysadmin, engineer, and architect for Unix, Linux, Virtualization, and Cloud technologies.