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Understanding Ansible, Terraform, Puppet, Chef, and Salt

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Choosing the automation solution that works best for your organization is no easy task. There’s not a single "right" approach—you can automate your enterprise in multiple ways. Indeed, many IT organizations today use more than one automation tool, and a major consideration is how well they work together to achieve business goals.  

Other factors to keep in mind when evaluating automation tools include architecture (is it agent-based or agentless?), programming (is it declarative or procedural?), and language (is it data-serialized or domain-specific?). And of course your operating system.  It’s also important to understand the level of community support for each product and what each is primarily engineered to do, such as provisioning, configuration management, and compliance.    

Clearly, there are many considerations when choosing an automation software for your business. This article helps explain the differences between Red Hat® Ansible® Automation Platform and other common open source automation tools.

With open source at its core, Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform is a security-hardened, tested subscription product that offers full life cycle support for organizations. It’s built upon the foundation of its upstream project, Ansible, and benefits from the experience and intelligence of its thousands of global contributors.

So where does Ansible fit in the wider landscape of automation tools that includes Terraform, Puppet, Chef, and Salt?  Each of these products is supported and takes a distinct approach to automation, and all are available as enterprise solutions sold by different software companies.  

  • Terraform was created in 2014 by HashiCorp. 
  • Puppet is supported by Perforce and is available in a series of commercial products including Puppet Enterprise and Puppet Bolt.
  • Chef was acquired by Progress in 2020 and is available in a series of commercial products including Chef Enterprise Automation Stack. 
  • Salt (commercially known as SaltStack) was acquired by VMWare in 2020, to be included as part of the vRealize Automation portfolio that was recently rebranded as VMware Aria Automation. VMware was acquired by Broadcom in 2022. 


Known for its simplicity and ease of use, Ansible Automation Platform is an open source, command-line IT automation software application that uses YAML-based "playbooks" to configure systems, deploy software, and orchestrate advanced workflows to support application deployment, system updates, networking configuration and operation, and more. It does not require the installation of an agent on managed nodes, which simplifies the deployment process. And it has strong support for cloud-based infrastructure. 

What’s the difference between Ansible and Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform? Get the details.


Terraform is a cloud infrastructure provisioning and deprovisioning tool with an infrastructure as code (IaC) approach. It’s a specific tool with a specific purpose—provisioning. Like Ansible, it has an active open source community and well-supported downstream commercial products. And it has strengths that—when combined with Ansible Automation Platform—work well to create efficiencies for many businesses.


Puppet is an automation application designed to manage large and complex infrastructures. By using a model-driven approach with imperative task execution and declarative language to define configurations, it can enforce consistency across a large number of systems. It also has strong reporting and monitoring capabilities, which can help IT teams identify and diagnose issues quickly.


Chef is an IT automation platform written in Ruby DSL that transforms infrastructure into code. Similar to Ansible Playbooks, Chef uses reusable definitions known as cookbooks and recipes (thus the product name) to automate how infrastructure is configured, deployed, and managed across networks—whether on-premise, in the cloud, or in a hybrid environment. It has strong support for testing and verification of configurations, which can help catch issues before they affect production systems.


 Salt is a modular automation application written in Python. Designed for high-speed data collection and execution, it’s a configuration management tool with a lightweight ZeroMQ messaging library and concurrency framework that establishes persistent Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) connections between the server and agents. 

Ansible Automation Platform is engineered to help organizations create, manage, and scale their automation workloads. It offers a flexible, stable, and security-focused foundation for deploying end-to-end automation solutions—including automation for hybrid cloud, edge locations, networks, security, infrastructure, and many other use cases.  

And with more than 140 Red Hat Ansible Certified Content Collections from 60+ partners—and features like automation analytics and Red Hat Insights—Ansible Automation Platform takes the guesswork out of installing, configuring, and supporting automation in your organization. 

IDC report: Ansible Automation Platform delivers business value

According to IDC research, organizations who standardize operations with Ansible Automation Platform significantly improve IT operational efficiency, speed, and scalability—realizing benefits worth an annual average of US$14.81 million and earning a 668% three-year ROI.

Get the report

Keep reading


Learning Ansible basics

Ansible automates IT processes like provisioning and configuration management. Learn the basics of Ansible with this introduction to key concepts.


What's an Ansible Playbook?

An Ansible Playbook is a blueprint of automation tasks, which are IT actions executed with limited manual effort across an inventory of IT solutions.


Why choose Red Hat for automation?

Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform includes all the tools needed to share automation across teams and implement enterprise-wide automation.

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