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Observability / Operations

Red Hat Ansible Gets Event-Triggered Automation, AI Assist on Playbooks

Event-driven processing comes to the Ansible IT automation tool, as does AI-based assistance for generating Ansible Playbooks.
May 24th, 2023 6:22am by
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Red Hat’s Chief Product Officer Ashesh Badani introducing Ansible Lightspeed on stage at the Red Hat Summit in Boston this week.

In their unceasing conquest to rule over humankind, machines have scored yet another key victory.

Red Hat‘s IT automation tool Ansible will soon have the ability to execute certain actions, automatically, without human input. Heretofore Ansible’s automation scripts required a human to mash down on the go button to set in motion the actions captured in that script, called an Ansible Playbook.

As an option in the upcoming Ansible 2.4, administrators can have Ansible automatically execute a special kind of Ansible Playbook called a Runbook, whenever it is triggered by an external alert, such as a notice from an observability tool that a service is down.

“What we’re trying to do with Event-Driven Ansible is automate that decision making that a system administrator often goes through in the operations flow,” explained Red Hat Principal Product Manager Joe Pisciotta, during a presentation of the new technology at the Red Hat Summit, being held this week in Boston. “‘Ops-as-code’ is what we’re going for here. It’s codifying that operational logic.”

With Event Driven Ansible, messages that can come from an external systems monitoring app such as Datadog, Prometheus or Dynatrace, can trigger an action. Red Hat is working with select partners for custom plug-ins, though Ansible can be configured so that any message that arrives by way of a Webhook can trigger an action.

Ansible event triggers can come from these sources (Red Hat).

Ansible event triggers can come from these sources (Red Hat).

The resulting actions can be anything under the IT management purview of Ansible, such as restarting a server or provisioning more memory.

System actions that result in a lot of tickets being generated by the service desk, even though the remediation is well-known, would be a good use of Event Driven Ansible. Capacity metrics could be another trigger, allowing Ansible to archive data when a storage threshold of a certain capacity is reached.

Administrators have to specify what can trigger an Ansible automation. The automation controller that handles the event triggers is not a full-fledged messaging bus, though depending on the rules provided, it can execute actions such as collecting additional information, and then filling in a service ticket with that data.

“You have a high degree of confidence that the action that you want to take is consistently correlated to the event that you’re observing,” said Chris Wright, Red Hat chief technology officer and senior vice president of global engineering, in an interview with The New Stack.

Event Driven Ansible will be an optional feature of Ansible 2.4, due to be released in June.

Computer Help

Another new feature for Ansible comes from a partnership with IBM Research (Red Hat is a subsidiary of IBM): An AI-assisted natural language interface for Ansible, in a feature called Ansible Lightspeed.

Through a plug-in from Watson Code Assistant, users are given a  freeform dialogue input box, where they can ask Ansible to execute a task. It can be used to carry out an action such as starting an EC2 instance, where the user may not know the exact commands to trigger that action.

Think of Ansible Lightspeed as a version of ChatGPT, but one that answers only with Ansible Playbooks.

Lightspeed isn’t quite at the point where a complete novice could use it, but it could very useful to a junior developer or admin to get up to speed more quickly.

“You still need to have someone who understands Ansible,” Wright said. Administrators should still validate that the AI-generated Playbooks do what the administrators expected them to do. Still, the automation can reduce the time it takes to write a Playbook from 30 minutes to about five, Wright suggested.

IBM build the Code Assist service on foundational models derived from thousands of Playbooks. In the future, Ansible may see new capabilities of this service, such as the ability to parse what an existing Playbook does, or if the Playbook has any inherent security vulnerabilities, Wright predicted.

Other news today from the Red Hat Summit:

Disclosure: Red Hat paid for this reporter’s travel and lodging to attend the Red Hat Summit.

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