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Ansible AWX vs Ansible Tower- The Key to Automation

Updated: Jan 24

Short Answer

Ansible Tower and AWX are both tools that help manage and run Ansible, which is a popular tool for automating tasks like software deployment, configuration management, and many other IT needs.

  • Ansible Tower is like the polished, professional version. It's officially supported by Red Hat, the company behind Ansible. This means it gets regular updates, better security, and technical support. Think of it as a premium, ready-for-business product.

  • AWX, on the other hand, is more like the experimental, community version of Tower. It's where all the new features are tried out first. It's free and open-source, but it doesn't have the official support or the polished finish that Tower has. It's a bit like a testing ground for new ideas that might eventually make their way into Tower.

Long Answer

Has your organization increased demands and needs automation? Ansible may be the tool you you’re seeking. Whether you are looking at installing packages or configuring large numbers of servers, Ansible can provide immense time savings as it automates and simplifies repetitive, tedious, and complex operations. With its simple yet efficient architecture and the benefits it brings to organizations, it is no wonder that Ansible is widely used within the DevOps industry. This article will introduce you to the idea of Ansible AWX and Ansible Tower and examine their benefits to see which option may be most suitable to your organization’s needs and goals.

What is Ansible?

Simply put, Ansible is an automation tool that allows for the implementation of changes across server environments in an automated way. Put more specifically, Ansible is an open-source IT automation engine that automates cloud provisioning, application deployment, configuration management, and orchestration among many other tasks. Essentially, it automates your entire application and IT environment life cycle, such as your servers, clouds and so forth. The purpose of Ansible is to increase scalability, reliability, and consistency within your IT environment. Ultimately, to ensure large gains in productivity to a wide range of automation challenges.

So, how exactly does it work? One reason Ansible is a great tool is because of its simple yet efficient architecture. Ansible is written in Python. It works by connecting to your nodes and pushing small programs called “Ansible modules” to them. These programs make the system comply with a desired state. Ansible then executes these modules and removes them when they have finished their tasks. Ansible works over SSH and does not incorporate the use of daemons, libraries, or special servers.

There are a few other key advantages contributing to Ansible’s wide implementation within DevOps and in being the tool of choice for automation. Among these are that Ansible is agentless, thus no additional software is required. It also uses a declarative language style as opposed to a procedural language style. This means that as opposed to writing code and the steps required to achieve a desired state, Ansible allows for you to simply define the final state of the machine and it will find the most efficient means to attain it. Lastly, Ansible uses a simple language, YAML, in the form of Ansible playbooks, thus making it easy to implement and be used across IT teams, whether it be system and network administrators or developers.

What Distinguishes Ansible Tower from Ansible AWX?

If you are leaning towards implementing Ansible in your organization, in choosing this tool, you will be introduced to Ansible Tower and Ansible AWX. With these two options at hand, you may be wondering what these tools are meant for and which is a better option. Let’s examine the distinction between these two options by first examining Ansible Tower.

A key turning point on why an organization may opt to use the commercialized version, Ansible Tower, is due to what that company may encounter when it scales. Specifically, as a company scales, they may find that managing the Ansible automation environment with the simple Ansible command-line tools they were previously using may be insufficient or difficult. This is what Ansible Tower helps with.

Ansible Tower aims to resolve this by providing features that allow for a more scaled approach for multiple automation users. Ansible Tower is the enterprise version of Ansible and specializes in helping organizations to scale very efficiently and quickly; managing complex multitier deployments; and managing speed productivity. Ansible Tower allows businesses to manage their environment more easily by providing an officially supported GUI interface, API access, scheduling and so forth. However, with Ansible Tower, there is a cost associated with installing it and getting the software up and running.

Ansible AWX, on the other hand, provides an open-source version of Ansible Tower and is the foundation on which Ansible Tower was developed. With Ansible AWX you have all the enterprise features for an unlimited number of nodes. However, one drawback to note is that Ansible AWX undergoes minimal testing and quality engineering testing.

Deciding on Ansible Tower or AWX:

In deciding which option is optimal, we should note the key features that distinguish Ansible Tower and AWX from one another. First, in examining the commercial Ansible Tower, we can note benefits including that this version is fully supported with updated release cycles, and full testing for quality and engineering issues before its release. Furthermore, it offers free handling of up to 10 nodes with full enterprise features. Further, Ansible Tower provides a neat graphical user interface dashboard, role-based access control; job scheduling; real-time job status updates; and Red Hat technical support. One downside is that due to this being a commercial product, it does have a cost associated with it that may be expensive depending on your organization’s needs and requirements. However, the return on this investment is the added stability and support that you ultimately receive with a commercial product.

On the other hand, with the free download of Ansible AWX, you can have all the features and functionality that you see with Ansible Tower. Furthermore, another added benefit is that Ansible AWX is not limited to 10 nodes. However, in choosing Ansible AWX, there are a few drawbacks in that you don’t receive the same support as you do with Ansible Tower and there can be multiple releases in a single day, potentially impacting stability.

Thus we can see that with Ansible Tower and AWX we can gain similar benefits in terms of scaling, with the main key differences lying in terms of the support received and the stability in terms of fully-tested software releases. Whether you choose Ansible Tower or Ansible AWX, ultimately the requirements of your organization will be the driving factor. However, whichever tool you end up choosing in the end, Ansible can provide the solution to automation and scaling that you seek.

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