When Ansible was acquired by Red Hat in October 2015, the world’s leading provider of open source solutions added a (if not THE) popular IT automation tool to its hybrid cloud portfolio. With this acquisition, Red Hat could now offer IT automation integration backed by the world-class Red Hat support and certification that helps to make open source innovation consumable for the enterprise. At the product level, Ansible matched Red Hat’s desire to deliver automation through a more frictionless design and a modular architecture built the open source way. At the portfolio level, Ansible matched Red Hat’s desire to support a multi-tier architecture, provide greater multi-layer consistency, and deliver multi-vendor support.

Ansible has gone through many phases, beginning as a purely IT automation tool but evolving into a focal point for intelligent application strategies, at the same time seeing an expansion of complementary certified partner solutions and new use cases to meet customers where they are. Even with all of this change, at its core Ansible begins and ends with solving human problems in technology, like tackling repetitive tasks and processes at scale. 

Solving an individual’s problem 

Ansible began as a way to solve an individual's problem. It offered non-specialists a technology that simplified technical complexity, turning repeatable sets of tasks into actions that can be done without manual intervention, opening up the potential for massive time savings.  

These core principles served as the foundation for future iterations, with Red Hat’s version scaling individual automation needs to the level of enterprise control. The simple, powerful and agentless nature of Ansible extended to delegation, logging and governance in what was Red Hat Ansible Tower (now automation controller). The centralized management console meant individuals could run Ansible Tower across the entire enterprise IT infrastructure estate. But simply scale is not the final stop for innovation; as business needs evolve, so should the automation technology.  

Tackling repeatability at an organizational level

Disparate tools are symptoms of siloed teams, which compound process inefficiencies, unnecessary duplication of work, and hindered coordination. Businesses started to see the potential of automation technology as a true amplifier, and the mindset of automation shifted from what was once personally advantageous to a force multiplier. But to successfully make this shift, more people and teams needed access to automation delivered consistently and efficiently across an organization.

Red Hat launched Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform with capabilities for cross-team collaboration and governance and analytics to make it easier to create, share and manage automation across the enterprise. An enterprise-grade platform for building and operating automation at scale, organizations could be more efficient, lower their risk and get a more consistent experience across infrastructure and technology domains. Its cloud-native re-architecture further extended this idea, adding self-contained automation capabilities to scale across IT footprints while shifting automation more deeply into the application development lifecycle.

Individuals and teams could now collaborate with a platform that gave the structure, control and architecture to execute the strategic vision of an organization, with the technical capabilities to bridge traditional systems with modern services, spanning the hybrid cloud, and stretching from the enterprise datacenter to the far edge.

Expanding use cases with partners

The extensive nature of Ansible Automation Platform means that it’s easy to write modules and connection plugins to different technologies for different use cases. The mindset began as how much can we run, and then transitioned into where we can run. As we’re adding new capabilities, they still all follow the same principle: there’s a set of tasks that are time consuming so how can I make them quicker and more efficient? Remember, automation has a problem to solve.

More native interaction between Ansible Automation Platform and network, storage, mainframe and edge devices offered a way to address a dearth of tooling in those spaces. With a connection plugin, teams can now talk to those devices and communicate with commands and sequence tasks, using skills and workflows with which they’re already familiar. 

Ansible Automation Platform also has a continuously expanding ecosystem of partners and certified content. In just the last three years, Red Hat Ansible Certified Content Collections have increased by more than 125%, with an average of nearly three new partner Collections each quarter.

Connecting IT automation with intelligent capabilities

This notion of connecting Ansible to other systems extended into another idea: as we aspire to make individuals more powerful with automation, how do we make other systems more powerful, too? We introduced Event-Driven Ansible to extend the value of existing IT investments across the enterprise, integrating with event sources from third-party monitoring, observability and IT analytics tools that customers are already using. After receiving events from these third-party tools, it determines the next steps and acts automatically based on predetermined rules with no human interaction. By giving Event-Driven Ansible this power, it helps to alleviate otherwise manual, error-prone and high-volume routine tasks which contributes to faster and more efficient issue resolution.

To this point, we’ve expanded who can use automation and have expanded the technologies that can use automation. But as skills gaps continue to expand in the IT world, there’s an even further demand to empower greater numbers of people with IT automation.

Red Hat Ansible Lightspeed infuses domain-specific AI from IBM watsonx Code Assistant directly into Ansible Automation Platform. This means that users can input a straightforward English prompt to produce an appropriate Ansible Playbook, making it easier to translate domain expertise into YAML code to tackle industry- or function-specific challenges right away. It drives more consistent and accurate automation adoption across an organization, so novice users can start automating tasks while experienced automators are unburdened by low-level task creation. At the core, we’re empowering more individuals to write effective Ansible code for their own purposes, by giving them a tool for easier access to deeper knowledge.

Where do we go from here? The age of AI

We know the value of IT automation, and the reasons we need IT automation aren’t going away. The IT skills gap is ever increasing. Day 2 operations are still far too manual. There’s already so much complexity and it’s growing. There’s pressure to do more with less. 

So the next step in Ansible Automation Platform is to help minimize these burdens by offering the tools to fully embrace and accelerate automation adoption. We believe that some of the most important capabilities we can offer our customers revolve around AI. Imagine AI teaching automation novices what a playbook does so they can expand their expertise. Or automation developers speeding up productivity by using AI to find the content they need on the spot. Or even for AI to review an automation SMEs playbook and make it even better, so they can bring ideas to fruition with superior content creation. 

While this future is in reach, the first step for users is to get accustomed to Red Hat Ansible Lightspeed, which is now an integrated part of the Ansible Automation Platform experience. The introduction of Red Hat Ansible Lightspeed is an exciting first step towards infusing Ansible with AI, and Red Hat will continue expanding what’s possible with the same automation mindset we’ve always had: help the customer solve a problem. 

Empowerment drives automation innovation

We don’t talk about empowerment enough in what we do. All of this technology, at its core, is here to empower automation users, of all experience levels, to effectively automate to solve problems. 

IT automation flips our measure of value, which historically relied on individual contributors doing something particularly quick. Now with IT automation, nearly anyone in an organization can execute tasks at an accelerated pace. The value of individual contributors becomes their ability to innovate, and to extend knowledge to others so they can quicken their own pace and amplify innovation across an organization.  

This is what drives our innovation: Empowered customers and community members applying new ways of thinking to automation, which highlight new use cases and drive further innovation built on more powerful technologies. Empowered users and teams no longer rely on others to make moves; they will make it happen, because they can.

About the author

Richard is responsible for the Ansible Automation Platform strategy. With more than 16 years of experience in Financial Services IT across a range or operational, design and Architecture roles. As well as being an Ansible customer before joining the Red Hat team, he brings a customer focused viewpoint to compliment the strong engineering capabilities of one of the most popular open source projects.

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