I’ve been playing with ansible off and on for several years now, usually in fits and starts. Ansible is a tool for managing computers. It lets you do things like setup a new web server in exactly the same way you setup your old web server, or make sure that your new laptop has all the software you routinely use installed, or configure a cluster of computers identically regardless of their underlying operating system, package manager, or authentication system.

In short, it’s a super powerful tool for automating everything about all your computers.

Every time I manually provision a new server I tell myself, “this time I’m going to use ansible”, and every time I start I end up getting frustrated that it’s so hard to get started using ansible and I just provision the sever manually, again. Finally, I found a course on pluralsight (thanks $EMPLOYER) that walks you through setting up ansible to manage just your local machine. This was the guide I needed. It gave simple instructions that clearly told you how to get ansible working for just this one machine, from there it was pretty easy to apply the same learnings to several machines and I’m now happy to say that I’m using ansible to manage:

  • my work laptop
  • my personal laptop
  • my home router/firewall

This means that if I ever need to replace my router, I can just run the router playbook that I’ve created on the new machine and my router will be provisioned exactly the same way as my current router. It also means that if one of my laptops kicks the bucket, I can be up and running again on a new machine quickly. I won’t need to remember all the stuff I usually have to install, I won’t need to remember the special way I have to configure my local smtp server to relay outgoing mail to my real smtp server. I won’t have to spend time trying to get my firewall rules just right. As long as I keep only using ansible to manage these machines, I’ll have no snowflakes!

It also means that I can reuse the work I’ve done to get these machines setup to get my other machines setup as well. The ones that are left to do are:

  • smtpd server
  • httpd server
  • minecraft server
  • vpn server

Each of those has their own unique tweaks that I’ll have to port to ansible before I can fully use it to provision them, but there will also be a fair amount of overlap from the work I’ve already done.

If you have a pluralsight license, I can happily recommend this course: Getting started with ansible and if you don’t here’s a blog post that takes a similar approach (i.e. managing your personal laptop with ansible). Finally, the ansible docs are a useful if daunting resource.