A good year for Ansible users

About a year ago, Stephen O’Grady of Redmonk published a comparison of the community metrics of the major configuration management tools. It’s a good read, and I won’t rehash its points. Go read it first.

Today I’d like to take a look at where Ansible is, a year later, using last year’s report as a benchmark. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve done pretty well for our users in 2014.

Debian Popcon

Debian’s Popularity Contest is an opt-in way for Debian users to share information about the software they’re running on their systems.  Although it represents only a small sample of the Linux distro world, it’s useful because it’s one of the few places where we can really see an apples-to-apples comparison of install bases of the various tools.

First, though, a note about the original Popcon analysis: for Ansible, it was an apples-to-oranges analysis.  Stephen’s report compared the Ansible control tool — the functional equivalent of a “server” — to Puppet/Chef/Salt agents. When comparing the Ansible package to the server packages of the other configuration management tools, the picture is quite different, and more in line with what we’re seeing elsewhere:

Debian Popcon comparison, configuration management servers
Debian Popcon comparison, configuration management servers

Strong growth demonstrated by Ansible in 2014. Important caveats about the above chart:

  • The Puppet line shows far more variability than do the other lines, which may be an artifact of collection method.
  • It appears that Chef has moved away from the distro distribution model for their server, so they are significantly under-represented. libchef-ruby was chosen because it appeared to be the best proxy. (If anyone has a better “chef server” package for Popcon comparison purposes, let me know.)
  • Ansible is also under-represented to some degree, since a significant amount of Ansible’s user base installs Ansible from PyPi.
  • Puppet and Salt could also be under-represented for similar reasons.

Because of Ansible’s agentless model, it’s impossible to get a realistic picture of how many systems are under active management by Ansible.  However, If we look at “systems immediately addressable by each configuration management system”, then we would use openssh-server as our “agent”, and the comparison looks like this:

Debian Popcon: Systems immediately addressable by the various configuration management tools
Debian Popcon: Systems immediately addressable by the various configuration management tools

Obviously, not every system that has openssh installed is currently being managed by Ansible. Still, I include the graph because it’s a compelling picture of the power of not having to bootstrap an agent.

Github Metrics

Stephen tracked three metrics last year for the four projects: stars, forks, and merged PRs in the last 30 days.  A key caveat for all of these graphs: because Ansible and Salt are both Github-native projects, the Github numbers for both projects are understandably higher than their older counterparts.

First, stars. Ansible has opened up its lead from last year, and now has 2-3x more stars than its counterparts.


Second, merged pull requests in last 30 days. This graph looks very similar proportionally to last year, and represents different stages of maturity and different upstream philosophies among the projects. In number of lifetime contributors, Ansible (935) and Saltstack (934) significantly outpace Chef (363) and Puppet (344).


Third, forks. Ansible had a slight lead at the end of 2013; that gap has widened in 2014.


Hacker News Jobs

In his analysis from last year, Stephen referenced a metric he called “Hacker mentions adjusted for growth.”  I was unable to replicate that metric, so instead I used Ryan Williams’ excellent “Hacker News Hiring Trends” metric, which pulls from the “whoishiring” discussion threads.  It’s a narrow metric, but it shows steadily growing demand for Ansible knowledge among the Hacker News crowd.


Caveat: neither “Salt” nor “Saltstack” appear to be tracked in Ryan’s dataset.

Indeed.com Job Trends

On last year’s chart from indeed.com, Ansible was practically invisible.  This year’s chart shows significant growth, even though there’s a long way to go to catch up with incumbents Chef and Puppet.

Caveat: Stephen’s original search used “technology” as the term to try to weed out extraneous data.  In my search I used the term “devops” instead, which shows similar results but also allows for the inclusion of Salt.


LinkedIn.com User Groups

Again, as a function of time, Ansible lags behind the incumbents Chef and Puppet, but has made significant strides in the past year, almost tripling the number of users in Linkedin.com user groups.


StackOverflow Questions

The total number of StackOverflow questions tagged with the different terms. Interestingly, although Ansible’s numbers are higher here than last year, there have still been fewer questions asked about Ansible than about any of its competitors.


Given the evidently increasing popularity of Ansible along all other metrics, it’s a curious stat — but I like to think that the gap can be explained by Ansible’s ease of use, strong documentation, and large and helpful user community. That explanation may even be reasonable. 🙂


Ansible demonstrated strong growth in 2014, and people have noticed. Thoughtworks moved us rapidly from “trial” to “adopt” in 2014 in their technology radar, with some very kind words of endorsement. Opensource.com ranked us as one of the top ten open source projects of 2014.

Which means that the bar has been raised. SDTimes called us the #1 company to watch in 2015. We’ll see about that.

As always, our success is a direct reflection of the success of our passionate community of users and contributors. Thanks to all of you. We’re looking forward to a great new year.

A good year for Ansible users

Trunk Club. Wow.

I am privileged to be able to visit so many of the Ansible meetups around the world — but rarely am I so privileged as I was last night to attend the Ansible meetup in Chicago.

Dean Strelau and Rick Pollak of Trunk Club invited us to host our inaugural Ansible Chicago meetup at their headquarters in downtown Chicago.  This is often how it happens: a company that uses Ansible volunteers to host a meetup, and gets the benefit of being seen as a technology leader in their community; we get to show the local community how a prominent user puts Ansible to best use. Everybody wins! We’ve done similar meetups in New York, San Francisco, London, and many other cities.  (And maybe yours soon! It’s easy to start your own meetup; take a look.)

Trunk Club, though, was one of the most fascinating yet. For those who aren’t familiar with the business model, check out their site for a detailed description. The short version: they talk to you about what you like, they use business intelligence to help their stylists pick out the best clothes for you, and then they send you a trunk full of clothes they think you’ll like. And then you keep what you like, send back what you don’t, and they charge you appropriately.  Great model, and lots of room in there for IT automation.

Their headquarters, though, was like nothing I’d ever seen. We went up the elevator to the top floor of their building, and it was like an immaculate department store and a swanky bar and a hi-tech startup — all in the same room.  Seriously.  There were racks full of clothes, and customers trying things on with the help of their stylists, and then, literally in the same room, tables full of well-dressed geeks at their workstations, surely working on the software that makes Trunk Club happen.  I should have taken pictures.  Next time I will.

The talk was fun, too. A little bit of intro talk, a little bit of a demo of a pet use case of mine (using Ansible to set up the ELK stack to do Twitter analysis, and hi to our Elasticsearch friends!) and a lot of good pizza and beer and conversation.

Thanks to everyone who came out, and thanks again to Trunk Club for being such great hosts.  Dean says the rooftop will be available for meetups when the weather improves; I can’t wait.

Trunk Club. Wow.

Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!

London’s a great city, and it’s full of great advocates for Ansible. To everyone I met at the meetup earlier this month: thanks for coming. It was a delight to be able to meet all of you.

I wasn’t expecting to speak at this inaugural meetup, but due to a last minute cancellation (Richard, hope the family is doing better) I found myself pressed into service. I’m not really much for presentations anyway, so it was no hardship; Ali Asad Lotia and Mudassar Mian provided the technical firepower, and then when it was my turn to speak, I fell back on my tried and true strategy of asking questions and listening. This was the first opportunity a lot of people in London have had to talk with someone from Ansible in the flesh, and I’ve learned how very important it is just to meet people where they are and share stories with them.

The first thing I generally do when speaking with a roomful of users, whether I’m giving a formal presentation or not, is to survey the room for expertise. I tend to ask the same series of questions: “who has heard of X? who uses X? who uses X extensively?” What impressed me most about the crowd in London was how many of the hands stayed up through all of those questions. These were serious, serious users of Ansible. Granted, it was an Ansible meetup, so I expected more expertise than at a typical generic meetup — but it seemed as though there were hardly any novices at all.

Except for me, of course. 🙂

There were a lot of questions; I think we had more than an hour of Q+A. The audience was engaged, not only with me, but with one another; the crowd frequently came to my aid when I didn’t have an answer, and by the end of the evening, I was pretty much an afterthought as people in the crowd carried on their own conversations.

The evening also confirmed the good sense of our decision to hold our first AnsibleFest outside of North America in London. Stay tuned for details on that front soon.

Thanks again to all who attended. Looking forward to my next pint and curry.

Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!

Back to the Future

In September of 2007, I sat down at Three Cups, a coffee shop in downtown Chapel Hill, NC, with three friends from Red Hat: Michael DeHaan, Adrian Likins, and Seth Vidal. We’d all been lamenting the poor state of systems management tools, and figured that we could do better. Rather: they figured they could do better, but wanted me along to help them with the “community stuff”. I contributed exactly two things: a dogged insistence on simplicity and modularity, and the name: Func.

Here’s the blog post I wrote about it at the time:


The key quote from that blog post, which now looks prescient: “The takeaway: it’s not enough to write code and say ‘look, it’s open source.’ If you want to build communities around useful open source projects, you must architect them the right way to begin with.”

In February of 2012, Michael DeHaan started the Ansible project, building on the lessons he’d learned from Func and elsewhere. Here’s the very first check-in:


The key quote from that check-in, which now looks prescient: “As Func, which I co-wrote, aspired to avoid using SSH and have its own daemon infrastructure, Ansible aspires to be quite different and more minimal, but still able to grow more modularly over time.”

Simplicity, modularity, community: tested in Func, perfected in Ansible.

* * *

In a little more than two years, Ansible has built one of the largest and most passionate communities of users in the open source world. Just a few examples of that passion (and really, just a few, because there are hundreds):

Pablo Roman
.@TheNextWeb is moving to a brand new server infrastructure with the help of @ansible. I’ve never been so in love with a tool.
11:07 AM – 17 Jun 2014

Hart Hoover
OH: “if a vegan does crossfit and uses Ansible, what do they talk about first?”
8:57 AM – 18 Mar 2014

Florian Heigl
I’ll have to admit I like watching this @ansible playbook updating servers a lot more than #soccer
Finals: “All patched”
4:13 PM – 12 Jun 2014

James Conroy-Finn
How have I only just found out how awesome @ansible is?!
3:38 PM – 15 Jun 2014

Kozure Okami
@ansible Thanks for making dealing with #Heartbleed extremely easy. Patched ~100 servers in no time at all. Deployed new SSL keys as well.
4:33 PM – 8 Apr 14

Erik Anderson
Hey @ansible – you do most everything else I need except for completing my income taxes. Would you accept a pull request? 🙂
3:43 PM – 7 Apr 14

That’s the kind of excitement you can’t buy with marketing dollars. It’s the kind of excitement you can’t manufacture with press releases and trade show gimmicks. It’s a genuine enthusiasm that people feel when they discover something insanely great that makes their lives easier.

To have a significant role in building such a thing would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any technologist.

That is why, with humility and great excitement, I’m joining Ansible today. It’s literally a dream job for me, with a dream company and a dream community.

We’re going to accomplish great things together. I can’t wait to get started.

* * *

p.s. if you’re ever in Durham, stop by the office for a visit! Here are the directions:

* Drive to downtown Durham.
* Look up at the Lucky Strike smokestack.
* Park your car somewhere close to it.
* Walk towards it until you’re close enough to touch it.
* Walk through our front door. 🙂

See you at a meetup soon.

Back to the Future