A Comparison Between Automation Systems

This page is meant to compare the automation systems that are covered by this section of the MariaDB KnowledgeBase. More information about these systems are presented in the relevant pages, and more systems may be added in the future.

Code Structure Differences

Different automation systems provide different ways to describe our infrastructure. Understanding how they work is the first step to evaluate them and choose one for our organisation.

Ansible Code Structure

Ansible code consists of the following components:

  • An inventory determines which hosts Ansible should be able to deploy. Each host may belong to one or more groups. Groups may have children, forming a hierarchy. This is useful because it allows us to deploy on a group, or to assign variables to a group.
  • A role describes the state that a host, or group of hosts, should reach after a deploy.
  • A play associates hosts or groups to their roles. Each role/group can have more than one role.
  • A role consists of a list of tasks. Despite its name a task is not necessarily something to do, but something that must exist in a certain state.
  • Tasks can use variables. They can affect how a task is executed (for example a variables could be a file name), or even wether a task is executed or not. Variables exist at role, group or host level. Variables can also be passed by the user when a play is applied.
  • Playbooks are the code that is used to define tasks and variables.
  • Facts are data that Ansible retrieves from remote hosts before deploying. This is a very important steps, because facts may determine which tasks are executed or how they are executed. Facts include, for example, the operating system family or its version. A playbook sees facts as pre-set variables.
  • Modules implement actions that tasks can use. Action examples are file (to declare that files and directories must exist) or mysql_variables (to declare MySQL/MariaDB variables that need to be set).

Example

Let's describe a hypothetical infrastructure to find out how these concepts can apply to MariaDB.

The inventory could define the following groups:

  • "db-main" for the cluster used by our website. All nodes belong to this group.
  • "db-analytics" for our replicas used by data analysts.
  • "dump" for one or more server that takes dumps from the replicas.
  • "proxysql" for one or more hosts that run ProxySQL.

Then we'll need the following nodes:

  • "mariadb-node" for the nodes in "db-main". This role describes how to setup nodes of a cluster using Galera.
  • "mariadb-replica" for the members of "db-analytics". It describes a running replica, and it includes the tasks that are necessary to provision the node if the data directory is empty when the playbook is applied. The hostname of the primary server is defined in a variable.
  • "mariadb". The aforementioned "mariadb-node" and "mariadb-replica" can be childre on this group. They have many things in common (filesystem for the data directory, some basic MariaDB configuration, some installed tools...), so it could make sense to avoid duplication and describe the common traits in a super-role.
  • A "mariabackup" role to take backups with Mariabackup, running jobs during the night. We can associate this role to the "db-main" group, or we could create a child group for servers that will take the backups.
  • "mariadb-dump" for the server that takes dumps with mariadb-dump. Note that we may decide to take dumps on a replica, so the same host may belong to "db-analytics" and "mariadb-dump".
  • "proxysql" for the homonym group.

Puppet Code Structure

Puppet code consisists of the following components:

  • An inventory file defines a set of groups and their targets (the members of a group). plugins can be used to retrieve groups and target dynamically, so they are equivalent to Ansible dynamic inventories.
  • A manifest is a file that describe a configuration.
  • A resource is a component that should run on a server. For example, "file" and "service" are existing support types.
  • An attribute relates to a resource and affects the way it is applied. For example, a resource of type "file" can have attributes like "owner" and "mode".
  • A class groups resources and variable, describing a logical part of server configuration. A class can be associated to several servers. A class is part of a manifest.
  • A module is a set of manifests and describes an infrastructure or a part of it.
  • Classes can have typed parameters that affect how they are applied.
  • Properties are variables that are read from the remote server, and cannot be arbitrarily assigned.
  • Facts are pre-set variables collected by Puppet before applying or compiling a manifest.

Architectural Differences

The architecture of the various systems is different. Their architectures determine how a deploy physically works, and what is needed to be able to deploy.

Ansible Architecture

Ansible architecture is simple. Ansible can run from any host, and can apply its playbooks on remote hosts. To do this, it runs commands via SSH. In practice, in most cases the commands will be run as superuser via sudo, though this is not always necessary.

Inventories can be dynamic. In this case, when we apply a playbook Ansible connects to remote services to discover hosts.

Ansible playbooks are applied via the ansible-playbook binary. Changes to playbooks are only applied when we perform this operation.

To recap, Ansible does not need to be installed on the server is administers. It needs an SSH access, and normally its user needs to be able to run sudo. It is also possible to configure a dynamic inventory, and a remote service to be used for this purpose.

Puppet Architecture

Puppet supports two types of architecture: agent-master or standalone. The agent-master architecture is recommended by Puppet Labs, and it is the most popular between Puppet users. For this reason, those who prefer a standalone architecture tend to prefer Ansible.

Agent-Master Architecture

When this architecture is chosen, manifests are sent to the Puppet master. There can be more than one master, for high availability reasons. All target hosts run a Puppet agent. Normally this is a service that automatically starts at system boot. The agent contacts a master at a given interval. It sends facts, and uses them to compile a catalog from the manifests. A catalog is a description of what exactly an individual server should run. The agent receives the catalog and checks if there are differences between its current configuration and the catalog. If differences are found, the agent applies the relevant parts of the catalog.

An optional component is PuppetDB. This is a central place where some data are stored, including manifests, retrieved facts and logs. PuppetDB is based on PostgreSQL and there are no plans to support MariaDB or other DBMSs.

If a manual change is made to a remove server, it will likely be overwritten the next time Puppet agent runs. To avoid this, the Puppet agent service can be stopped.

Standalone Architecture

As mentioned, this architecture is not recommended by Puppet Labs nor popular amongst Puppet users. It is similar to Ansible architecture.

Users can apply manifests from any host with Puppet installed. This could be their laptop but, in order to emulate the behaviour of an agent-master architecture, normally Puppet runs on a dedicated node as a cronjob. The Puppet apply application will require facts from remote hosts, it will compile a catalog for each host, will check which parts of it need to be applied, and will apply them remotely.

If a manual change is made to a remove server, it will be overwritten the next time Puppet apply runs. To avoid this, comment out any cron job running Puppet apply, or comment out the target server in the inventory.

Inventory

As mentioned, Puppet supports plugins to retrieve the inventory dynamically from remote services. In an agent-master architecture, one has to make sure that each target host has access to these services. In a standalone architecture, one has to make sure that the hosts running Puppet apply have access to these services.

Storing Secrets

Often our automation repositories need to contain secrets, like MariaDB users passwords or private keys for SSH authentication.

Both Ansible and Puppet support integration with secret stores, like Hashicorp Vault. For Puppet integration, see Integrations with secret stores.

In the simplest case, Ansible allows to encrypt secrets in playbooks and decrypt them during execution using ansible-vault. This implies a minimal effort to handle secrets. However, it is not the most secure way to store secrets. The passwords to disclose certain secrets need to be shared to the users who have the right to use them. Also, brute force attacks are possible.

Ecosystems and Communities

Automation software communities are very important, because they make available a wide variety of modules to handle specific software.

Ansible Ecosystem

Ansible is open source, released under the terms of the GNU GPL. It is produced by RedHat. RedHat has a page about Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform Partners, who can provide support and consulting.

Ansible Galaxy is a big repository of Ansible roles produced by both the vendor and the community. Ansible comes with ansible-galaxy, a tool that can be used to create roles and upload them to Ansible Galaxy.

At the time of this writing, Ansible does not have specific MariaDB official modules. MySQL official modules can be used. However, be careful not try to use features that only apply to MySQL. There are several community-maintained MariaDB roles.

Puppet Ecosystem

Puppet is open source, released under the GNU GPL. It is produced by a homonym company. The page Puppet Partners lists partners that can provide support and consulting about Puppet.

Puppet Forge is a big repository of modules produced by the vendor and by the community, as well as hot-to guides.

Currently Puppet has many MariaDB modules.


Content initially contributed by Vettabase Ltd.

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