There’s always the concern, when a big vendor acquires a smaller company, that the acquisition will end up with a once great product orphaned and forgotten within the borg. We’ve seen it time and time again – Microsoft acquired Yammer and then let it rot on the vine. VMware acquired SlideRocket and did similarly. Pretty much every big vendor has their own example of when some executive in a strategy role got a rush of blood to the head and decided an acquisition had fantastic synergy.

So when Red Hat acquired Ansible Labs a couple of years ago, it could have gone either way. Red Hat could have done the right thing and invested in the product or left it out in the outer depths of its ecosystem to die slowly (or even quickly.) Ansible is, of course, an IT automation tool that plays in the same space as offerings from Chef and Puppet. Ansible itself was founded a bit later than the other two, in 2013, but with a similar vision – to help enterprises automate their increasing use of virtual machines by way of recipes, standard specifications, and scripts.

At the time of the acquisition, Red Hat detailed why it was acquiring Ansible, and how it would sit within Red Hat’s existing product portfolio. In answer to its own question about why an IT automation system is needed, Red Hat opined that IT automation generally, and Ansible by extension, would help with a number of key initiatives, including:

  • Support for cloud-native applications through the deployment of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) clouds
  • Agile application development through the DevOps practice
  • Service orchestration through IT process automation

In answer to the obvious question about why Red Hat was acquiring a product that, at first blush, seemed to compete with one of its own products, the company stated that:

Red Hat CloudForms, our cloud management platform, is top in class at orchestrating the whole lifecycle of an enterprise application (from provisioning to retirement), according to configuration and compliance policies. However, a great orchestration engine still depends on last mile automation to compose each tier of the application. The more flexible and powerful the IT automation engine is, the more complex applications that can be provisioned

Red Hat committed to keeping the pedal to the metal in terms of supporting the growth and development of Ansible as a project and a product. In terms of the project itself, it seems to be a flourishing open source initiative – Ansible has nearly 3,000 unique contributors, more than 32,000 commits to the upstream Ansible open source project, and a user base that spans industries and the globe.

But did Red Hat keep to their commitment?

Spoiler alert: Yes. As news this week shows, Red Hat is continuing to invest in Ansible, despite arguably a cooling in the attitude towards these more heavy weight orchestration initiatives. You see in a container-centric world (not to mention a serverless-centric one), virtual machine-centric orchestration feels a little bit monolithic. That said, there’s still a massive number of virtual machines needing automation, and Red Hat is well positioned to fulfill that need.

Either way, Red Hat continues to support Ansible, and today rolled out some new innovations including Ansible Engine a new offering designed to make Ansible more “enterprise ready.” In addition, the release includes the latest version of the overall Ansible automation platform.

Red Hat Ansible Engine

With Ansible Engine, Red Hat is introducing a new offering that provides support for the open source Ansible automation technology. While the upstream Ansible community is strong and, as such, maintains a good velocity of new features, the sad reality is that many more conservative enterprises require a more secure, stable and reliable (read, older) approach. With Ansible Engine, organizations can access the Ansible tools in what they see as an “enterprise-grade manner.” Ansible Engine features:

  • A set of Ansible automation packages, modules, and capabilities
  • 8×5 or 24×7 support from Red Hat’s support organization
  • All the stuff that comes with a Red Hat subscription, including Open Source Assurance, Service Level Agreement (SLA) response, regular product, security, and maintenance updates

A networking play

Ansible Engine is also available with new networking capabilities which will allow network operators to use Ansible modules, developed and maintained in-house for many popular networking devices. With the release of Ansible Engine, customers get to use declarative intent to define the configuration of their network environments. This offering includes support for the following networking-specific Ansible modules:

  • Arista (EOS)
  • Cisco (IOS, IOS-XE, IOS-XR, NX-OS)
  • Juniper (Junos)
  • VyOS

Red Hat reiterates ongoing support for Ansible

Just in case the product roll out wasn’t enough, Joe Fitzgerald, Red Hat’s vice president in charge of management, made a statement setting out the market interest, and Red Hat’s commitment to Ansible:

Around the world, we have seen strong interest in Ansible. Enterprise customers are interested in a more stable and reliable automation technologies in order to be able to adopt these powerful capabilities enterprise-wide. Additionally, as more automation implementations directly impact mission-critical business applications and environments, the requirements for greater security, support and stability become even more important. By expanding our portfolio with Red Hat Ansible Engine and Ansible Engine for Network Automation, we are aiming to fill a need to help organizations adopting these technologies with greater confidence.

MyPOV

Good work Red Hat. I’ve been critical of your moves before, but it seems you’ve done the right thing by Ansible. There’s still the slightly thorny question about what part IT automation platforms will play in a more modular, composable and service-based world, but that is a discussion for another day.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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