CIQ spins out its own Red Hat Ansible interface take: Ascender

CIQ, Rocky Linux's founding support and services partner, has customized its own take, Ascender on the Ansible AWX front end to the popular DevOps program Ansible.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
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Best known for supporting Rocky Linux, CIQ  also offers high-performance computing (HPC) and server management programs such as Fuzzball, Warewulf, and Apptainer. Now, it's taken the open-source Ansible AWX, a web-based user interface, application programming interface (API), and task engine built on top of the Ansible DevOps program to create its own DevOps interface take. Ascender AWX is also one of Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform (RHAP)'s upstream projects.

Red Hat recently changed the rules for getting Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) open-source code. This ticked off the RHEL clone vendors, such as AlmaLinux and Oracle Linux. In particular, the Rocky Linux Software Foundation (RLSF) strenuously objected to this and has elected to keep building Rocky Linux off RHEL source code. 

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In short, CIQ and Red Hat are not getting along well these days. 

That said, Ascender doesn't attempt to replace RHAP. True, it automates enterprise infrastructure deployments and maintenance via Ansible playbooks, But it's not an Ansible for RHEL replacement. As Gregory Kurtzer, CIQ's CEO, explained, "We have not forked Ansible or AWX." 

He continued, "If we decide to make any changes to Ansible or AWX, we will contribute them back upstream. If those changes are not accepted back upstream, they can be obtained via our public Git repository where the community can access, enhance, and use our version."

What Ascender actually does is target Rocky Linux workloads. It can, however, be used with or without Rocky Linux. For example, it can manage Windows, VMware, and other RHEL-compatible systems. Essentially any operating system that Ansible supports can be managed with Ascender.  

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The platform empowers a single administrator to apply complex patches, security hardening standards, or other changes to a fleet of servers or devices with a simple click or an API call. It also features built-in reporting capabilities to track patching and the current state of Rocky Linux and Windows servers.

Ascender features a comprehensive suite of supported, open-source CIQ Ansible playbooks. These are designed to automate the management of Rocky Linux at scale, as well as workloads, networking, devices, public clouds, and other enterprise-level infrastructure.

In particular, Ascender can be integrated with CIQ Mountain, the company's hybrid data center management and security platform. This integration allows for reduced complexity, enhanced agility, and optimized return on investment for enterprise Linux applications, solutions, and support at scale. 

Kurtzer explained, "Ascender does integrate open-source Ansible and AWX into Mountain, but the real value comes from the turnkey playbooks and supported solution stacks which come as part of Ascender and Mountain."

As Zane Hamilton, CIQ Senior VP of Sales, said, the real point of Ascender is "enterprises can use Ascender to automate tedious tasks at scale and eliminate the bottlenecks that plague application users and infrastructure administrators alike."

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Ascender's key features include centralized management, role-based access control (RBAC), auditing and reporting, and a representational state transfer application programming interface (REST API). Altogether Ascender makes it easy to manage systems either via an easy-to-use web interface or by programming. These features make it easier to maintain and scale automation infrastructure, enhance security and compliance, assist in compliance, troubleshooting, and performance analysis, and allow third-party applications and services to integrate with Ascender.

And, what does Red Hat have to say about all this? Tom Anderson, Red Hat's Ansible VP and general manager, said, "We welcome new contributors that build upon existing open-source projects which feed the upstream ecosystem, so we encourage any innovations derived by vendors forking the AWX Project. We hope that the intent here includes adding value back to the community of contributors and users."

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