Configuration Management Tools

Configuration Management Tools
Configuration Management Tools

In this article we will talk about Configuration Management Tools, and in previous article we already discussed about Securing Communications.

Configuration management tools make use of RESTful API requests to automate tasks and can scale across thousands of devices. Configuration management tools maintain the characteristics of a system, or network, for consistency. These are some characteristics of the network that administrators benefit from automating:

  • Software and version control
  • Device attributes such as names, addressing, and security
  • Protocol configurations
  • ACL configurations

Configuration Management Tools

Configuration management tools typically include automation and orchestration. Automation is when a tool automatically performs a task on a system. This might be configuring an interface or deploying a VLAN. Orchestration is the process of how all these automated activities need to happen, such as the order in which they must be done, what must be completed before another task is begun, etc. Orchestration is the arranging of the automated tasks that results in a coordinate process or workflow.

There are several tools available to make configuration management easier:

  • Ansible
  • Chef
  • Puppet
  • SaltStack

The goal of all of these tools is to reduce the complexity and time involved in configuring and maintaining a large-scale network infrastructure with hundreds, even thousands of devices. These same tools can benefit smaller networks as well.

Ansible, Chef, Puppet, and SaltStack all come with API documentation for configuring RESTful API requests. All of them support JSON and YAML as well as other data formats. The following table shows a summary of a comparison of major characteristics of Ansible, Puppet, Chef, and SaltStack configuration management tools.

CharacteristicAnsibleChefPuppetSaltStack
What programming language?Python + YAMLRubyRubyPython
Agent-based or agentless?AgentlessAgent-basedSupports bothSupports both
How are devices managed?Any device can be “controller”Chef MasterPuppet MasterSalt Master
What is created by the tool?PlaybookCookbookManifestPillar
  • What programming language? – Ansible and SaltStack are both built on Python whereas Puppet and Chef are built on Ruby. Similar to Python, Ruby is an open-source programming language that is cross-platform. However, Ruby is typically considered a more difficult language to learn than Python.
  • Agent-based or agentless? – Configuration management is either agent-based or agentless. Agent-based configuration management is “pull-based”, meaning the agent on the managed device periodically connects with the master for its configuration information. Changes are done on the master and pulled down and executed by the device. Agentless configuration management is “push-based.” A configuration script is run on the master. The master connects to the device and executes the tasks in the script. Of the four configuration tools in the table, only Ansible is agentless.
  • How are devices managed? – This lies with a device called the Master in Puppet, Chef, and SaltStack. However, because Ansible is agentless, any computer can be the controller.
  • What is created by the tool? – Network administrators use configuration management tools to create a set of instructions to be executed. Each tool has its own name for these instructions: Playbook, Cookbook, Manifest, and Pillar. Common to each of this is specification of a policy or a configuration that is to be applied to devices. Each device type might have its own policy. For example, all Linux servers might get the same basic configuration and security policy.

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