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Red Hat bolsters Ansible-Kubernetes bond via OpenShift ACM

Red Hat previewed new ties between its Ansible Automation Platform and OpenShift Kubernetes within its Advanced Cluster Management tool, as container platform competition intensifies.

Red Hat revealed plans this week for tighter integration between Ansible and Kubernetes for commercial users that streamlines management for legacy enterprise apps and infrastructure alongside container-based resources.

The new integration between Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform, the commercially supported version of the Ansible infrastructure-as-code tool, and Advanced Cluster Management (ACM) for Kubernetes, a multi-cluster management portal the vendor shipped in July, will be released in tech preview in the coming weeks. With this new tie-in, ACM will trigger automation within the Ansible Automation Platform to complete tasks before and after Kubernetes apps are deployed to OpenShift, such as configuring network resources and updating service desk tickets.

Open source Ansible already supported Kubernetes modules, and users could also achieve some Ansible Kubernetes integration by building Kubernetes Operators with Ansible automation on their own. But the new integration includes a Kubernetes custom resource definition (CRD) for Ansible that can be deployed automatically by ACM, which will initiate Ansible playbooks in the context of Kubernetes-based applications. This context will include metadata about the cluster and set of containers where applications reside, and will make the interlinked automation more efficient and consistent than DIY methods, Red Hat officials said.

"Previously, customers used scripts or manual techniques to use these tools together in complementary fashion," said David Lindquist, GM and VP of Engineering for Hybrid Cloud Management at Red Hat. "Now, when a new application is deployed, ACM can automatically fire up an Ansible playbook for an F5 load balancer, for example, [and] notify the right people for approval before the automation fires."

Mary Johnston TurnerMary Johnston Turner

Most mainstream enterprises are in early stages of adopting Kubernetes, and thus, the new Ansible Kubernetes hooks won't have immediate widespread appeal, said Mary Johnston Turner, an analyst at IDC.

"First, you've got to be an OpenShift user, focused on container-based development; then you have to be mature enough to worry about multiple clusters," Turner said. "It's a relatively small group of users initially."

However, Turner added, what is today an incremental step may have important strategic implications in the long run.

Red Hat keeps pace with OpenShift competition

For users already committed to the OpenShift Kubernetes platform, this integration shows that Red Hat is keeping pace in the escalating Kubernetes platform competition between large IT vendors. It gets ahead of rival VMware Tanzu as it prepares to bake in infrastructure-as-code tools from SaltStack, for example.

This sets [ACM] up to be a broader, more consistent control plane that ultimately can integrate container-based infrastructure automation with other kinds of automation that Ansible can support.
Mary Johnston TurnerAnalyst, IDC

Ultimately, tying in ACM with Ansible could also lock down Red Hat OpenShift's support for legacy, VM-based workloads, which users already manage with Ansible, and where VMware also has a significant install base, Turner said.

"This sets [ACM] up to be a broader, more consistent control plane that ultimately can integrate container-based infrastructure automation with other kinds of automation that Ansible can support," she said. "[Red Hat]'s laying the groundwork for integration of many different automation use cases ... something that ultimately could compete more with VMware Tanzu, Google Anthos or Microsoft Azure Arc."

Red Hat must also fend off competition from Rancher, now a SUSE subsidiary, which added advanced multi-cluster support to its Kubernetes platform this month, including integrations with cloud service providers' value-add features that were not previously included with its cluster import tool.

Red Hat users can import Kubernetes clusters into OpenShift and manage them with ACM, but Red Hat would be wise to similarly deepen its support for third-party Kubernetes distros, Turner said.

ACM opens up to community development

Another key strategic development for ACM is that Red Hat and IBM have begun to deliver on a pledge made in April to donate the product to open source. So far, the ACM control plane and policy engine have been donated, and Red Hat's ACM team plans to get more involved with the Open Policy Agent and GateKeeper projects as well, according to Lindquist.

Ultimately, the goal is for all ACM product development to occur first in the open source community before it becomes part of Red Hat's commercial products, but that will take a year to 18 months to come to fruition, Lindquist said.

Tom PetrocelliTom Petrocelli

"The timelines for open sourcing ACM have been getting more firm," said Tom Petrocelli, analyst at Amalgam Insights, a tech consulting firm. "I would like to think that it is at least due in part to the complaints from the community [in April.]"

While VMware and Rancher have had multi-cluster management products available for longer, ACM is based on a relatively mature product previously offered by IBM, "so it's a wash" competition-wise, Petrocelli said.

However, as cloud-native technology trends continue to emerge and shift, that can change quickly, he added.

"In order to meet the needs of large enterprises, Red Hat has to recreate the operations single page of glass for OpenShift," Petrocelli said. "Thing is, everyone else is doing this."

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