ansible versus jenkins comparison, lead image.
Image: iStock/Deagreez

Ansible and Jenkins are two popular IT automation tools. Both tools include features that can help developers implement DevOps principles and streamline software development without sacrificing product quality. But while these DevOps tools are valuable and widely adopted, the products have different strengths that make them more useful for different applications. Here’s a look at the key differentiators between Ansible and Jenkins.

What is Ansible?

Ansible is an IT automation tool intended for use in a variety of automation applications, including cloud provisioning, configuration management and intra-service orchestration. It is one of the most popular IT automation tools available.

Ansible is open source and does not require additional software. In general, it’s regarded as being easier to set up than other IT automation tools. Its simplicity, however, can hold it back when it comes to more complex IT automation tasks.

What is Jenkins?

Jenkins is an IT automation tool used for building, testing and deploying software projects. The tool is written in Java and is primarily designed to support continuous integration/continuous delivery and deployment (CI/CD).

Like Ansible, Jenkins is open source and is regarded by developers as being both flexible and easy to use. A wide range of plugins and APIs helps development teams integrate Jenkins with the other tools they already have in place.

Ansible vs. Jenkins feature comparison

While Ansible and Jenkins have a lot in common, their strengths, weaknesses and primary use cases differ significantly. For most teams, it’s likely that only one of these tools will be a good fit.

Primary use casesConfiguration management, intra-service orchestration and provisioning for complex cloud environmentsAutomation of build and release for CI/CD; orchestration of CI/CD pipelines
UI and data dashboardsWeb-based GUI dashboard availableWeb-based dashboards available with plugins
Programming languagePythonJava
SyntaxYAML syntax for Ansible playbooksGroovy syntax for pipeline orchestration
Application weightLightweightHeavyweight

Intended use cases

Jenkins is built to support and automate continuous integration/continuous delivery and deployment. With the Jenkins pipeline, it is possible to automate entire deployments and streamline the CI/CD approach to development. Jenkins’ compatibility with a wide range of other tools via plugins and APIs also makes it a good fit for teams that need to manage complex IT automation or DevOps technology stacks. For teams that are managing complex tech stacks, but simpler environments, Jenkins will probably be a better option.

Ansible, by contrast, isn’t meant to support CI/CD. Instead, the tool really shines when used for orchestration and configuration management. With Ansible, you can define your infrastructure once and then use it anywhere you need. For teams that are managing complex environments, Ansible is likely the better option. Cloud-first organizations, in particular, may find that Ansible helps them secure the benefits of cloud-first development. Teams that need an IT automation tool for CI/CD should also look to Jenkins, rather than Ansible.

SEE: Top 5 programming languages for systems admins to learn (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Data dashboards

With Ansible, you’ll be able to use Ansible Tower, a web-based visual dashboard intended to act as the hub for a team’s automation tasks. The GUI dashboard provides features like role-based access control, job scheduling and real-time job status updates. The GUI can, however, sometimes fall out of sync with the command line, so it may not provide a 100% accurate view of automation jobs. Use of the command line may be necessary to ensure Tower is providing correct information.

Jenkins, by contrast, does not offer a web-based GUI dashboard or similar analytics tool out of the box. But the software’s flexibility and compatibility with other tools means it will be easy to find and integrate an analysis solution that may fit a similar niche. For example, a number of third-party dashboard plugins for Jenkins are available. These plugins can provide functionality similar to what Ansible Tower offers. However, finding and configuring these plugins will take some work. Identifying the best dashboard plugin for your team’s particular needs may also be a challenge.

Usability and ease of setup

Ansible does not have a reputation for being particularly difficult to use or set up. A team that uses Ansible may be able to quickly set up the product for use in cloud configuration. Ansible Tower, however, does have an involved setup and configuration process, meaning that teams that need a GUI dashboard may find that setting up Ansible is harder than expected.

Jenkins is generally regarded as easy to use. However, sourcing and installing plugins may make the setup process more complex for a team, depending on their particular needs. For example, Jenkins lacks a built-in deployment tool. But you can integrate Jenkins with just about any deployment tool you’d like to use. Configuration of Jenkins may take somewhat longer as a result, but the lack of a deployment tool likely won’t hold the software back.

Choosing between Ansible and Jenkins

While both Ansible and Jenkins are useful for supporting teams that want to follow DevOps principles, the two applications are built for significantly different use cases.

Ansible will likely be a good fit for teams that need IT automation software capable of handling complex cloud environments or need to streamline configuration, provisioning and similar tasks.

Jenkins, by contrast, is an excellent CI/CD tool that can be extended significantly with the right plugins. Teams that are aiming for CI/CD or that have complex tech stacks they need to consider will likely benefit more from Jenkins.

It is also possible to use both Jenkins and Ansible together — and Ansible developer Red Hat actually provides some documentation on using these tools at the same time on its website. Setting up and configuring these tools may be a challenge, though, compared to other IT automation tool combinations.