Saltstack vs Ansible: Detailed Comparison

Today’s IT infrastructures are complex and consist of a disparate mix of systems such as cloud servers, virtual machines, in house IT assets, legacy systems, and many more. Managing the complexity with manual efforts is impossible and requires gross effort. For such scenarios IT automation and configuration management tools come handy such as Saltstack and Ansible. IT automation / CM tools help admins and developers by eliminating the need to write custom scripts to set up new servers and pushing out software updates. 

Today we look more in detail about IT automation and configuration management tools Saltstack and Ansible, their features, use cases and how they are different from each other. 

What is Saltstack? 

Saltstack was created by Thomas Hatch in 2011. Saltstack is a modular, python-based configuration management tool which was designed to handle high speed data collection and execution. It has ZeroMQ messaging library : a concurrency framework to establish persistent TCP connections between agents and servers (known as Salt master and Salt minions). It is available as an open-source project and in commercial offering known as Saltstack enterprise. 

Features of Saltstack 

  • It is flexible and can be implemented in several management modes such as agent and server, agent only, server only or all of the above for same environment 
  • There are multiple Salt masters in a setup so in case one Salt master goes down Salt minions can connect to another salt master 
  • It gives scalable configuration management and can handle ten thousand Salt minions per master
  • SaltStack can enable commands to execute remote systems in parallel way
  • SaltStack configuration files, templating engine and file type supports any language 

Use cases of Saltstack

  • Checking disk usage 
  • Getting list of softwares installed on minions 
  • Setup a firewall configuration on minions 
  • Built and deploy servers 

What is Ansible? 

Ansible was developed by Michael DeHaan in 2012 as a tool for software provisioning and application development. It is written in Python, Ruby, and PowerShell. Ansible works on Linux, UNIX, MacOS, and Windows. It manages declarative language to configure systems. Ansible also has a concept of playbook which is a file to define a series of modules execution for a set of hosts. This helps to orchestrate multiple machines. 

Features of Ansible  

  • It is agentless and do not require any agent on client machines so it is quick to deploy 
  • It is supported by Red Hat
  • It uses YAML language which is easy to learn and understand 
  • Uses very simple language structure called playbooks which are almost similar to plain English language to describe automation tasks 

Use cases of Ansible 

  • Complete IT automation
  • Hybrid cloud automation
  • Infrastructure provisioning 
  • Event driven automation 
  • Security patch deployment
  • Hardening deployment 

Saltstack vs Ansible

  • Saltstack has more speed in comparison to Ansible as it operates with messaging data bus and information exchange is prompt. Ansible works slowly as it needs time to retrieve information passed as there are no message buses.
  • Saltstack is more flexible in data center automation and also it is scalable for many tasks. Ansible is not flexible but simple to use. It cannot be scaled for different tasks.
  • Saltstack is less secure and has more security flaws. Ansible is comparatively more secure.
  • Saltstack displays ease of remote execution. On the other hand, remote execution is not possible with Ansible.
  • Saltstack requires agents to make configuration tasks easier and manageable by users. Ansible does not require agents as functions can be done by self.
  • Plugin APIs are used in Saltstack to make it scalable to an extent. No APIs are used in Ansible.
  • Backward compatibility is there in Ansible. There is backward compatibility in Saltstack.
  • Saltstack is easy to install and takes less space. On the contrary, Ansible is difficult to install and takes a lot of space for installation.
  • Saltstack works with windows and does not require plugins. However, in the case of Ansible, there is a need to install plugins for smooth functioning with Windows.
  • Saltstack integrates with AWS, Scaleway, Stackstorm cloud providers. Amazon EC2, Docker, Kubernetes and DevOps tools are supported in Ansible.
  • Saltstack requires less scripting as it is mostly used to control loads while using a greater number of machines and software can be customized. Ansible is a deployment tool that uses a lot of scripting as Shell and Python is used here.

Below table summarizes the differences between the two:

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