Published Dec 24, 2023 ⦁ 13 min read
Config Management Tools: An Overview

Config Management Tools: An Overview

Most IT professionals would agree that managing application and infrastructure configurations efficiently is crucial, yet challenging.

In this post, you'll get an overview of the top configuration management tools that can help streamline ops and enable infrastructure-as-code.

We'll explore what configuration management is, the benefits of adopting these tools, a comprehensive list of the most popular options, and key factors in selecting the best fit for your needs.

Introduction to Configuration Management Tools

Configuration management tools are software applications designed to streamline operations in modern software development environments. As development teams and infrastructure grow larger and more complex, these tools have become essential for managing system configurations efficiently.

At a high level, configuration management tools allow teams to define the desired state of their systems and infrastructure as code. This infrastructure-as-code approach enables version control, testing, and automation of system configurations. Some key benefits of using configuration management tools include:

  • Automated provisioning: Tools can automatically spin up new servers, applications, and environments based on predefined configurations. This eliminates many manual processes.

  • Consistency and compliance: Configurations are applied consistently across environments, ensuring standardization and compliance.

  • Idempotency: Tools are designed to safely apply configurations repeatedly with the same outcome. This makes them resilient and reliable.

  • Auditability: Changes are tracked within version control, enabling auditability and rollbacks.

Some of the most widely used open-source configuration management tools are:

  • Ansible
  • Chef
  • Puppet
  • SaltStack

These tools have robust communities behind them and integrate well into modern software development pipelines. As teams scale, configuration management becomes mandatory for efficiency and velocity. The tools highlighted here are leaders in enabling infrastructure-as-code for streamlined operations.

What is configuration management tool?

Configuration management tools are software applications that help IT teams manage, track, and control changes made to a system's configuration over time. They provide visibility into an infrastructure's current and historical state to simplify troubleshooting issues when they arise.

Some key capabilities of configuration management tools include:

  • Automated provisioning - Automatically deploy and configure new servers and resources based on a desired state specified in code. This is the basis for infrastructure-as-code practices.

  • Change management - Track all changes made over time for improved auditability and rollbacks when needed.

  • Compliance enforcement - Define and enforce configuration policies to ensure systems adhere to organizational standards and regulations.

  • Drift detection - Identify when a system's configuration has drifted from the desired baseline to avoid configuration errors.

Popular open source configuration management tools used in DevOps environments include Ansible, Chef, Puppet, and SaltStack. Commercial options are also available such as AWS OpsWorks and Microsoft System Center.

Overall, these tools play a critical role in modern IT by enabling greater control, consistency, efficiency, and automation in infrastructure management workflows. Their capabilities align closely with core DevOps principles.

What is configuration manager tools?

Configuration manager tools are used to help support and manage infrastructure and applications in IT environments. Some key things to know about configuration manager tools:

  • They are used to automate and standardize configuration management processes like installing software, managing updates, ensuring compliance with policies, etc.

  • Common capabilities include machine provisioning, configuration drift monitoring, application deployment, patch management, access control, and more.

  • Popular open source tools include Ansible, Chef, Puppet, SaltStack, Terraform, and more. There are also proprietary tools like AWS Config, Azure Automation, etc.

  • These tools help implement infrastructure as code (IaC) practices, where infrastructure is provisioned and managed through machine-readable definition files rather than manual processes.

  • They integrate with CI/CD pipelines and help enable DevOps practices by facilitating faster, safer infrastructure and app changes.

  • Configuration manager tools provide visibility, efficiency, consistency and compliance for IT infrastructure and apps. They are essential for modern IT automation.

In summary, configuration management tools standardize and automate manual IT management tasks through code to improve efficiency, minimize errors, and accelerate delivery of infrastructure and applications.

Configuration management tools help automate and standardize system configurations across infrastructure. They are a critical component of DevOps toolchains. Some of the most popular open-source configuration management tools include:


Ansible is one of the most popular configuration management tools due to its simplicity and agentless architecture. Key features:

  • Agentless - Uses SSH to connect to nodes
  • Declarative - Define end state instead of scripts
  • Idempotent - Won't make changes if config is already correct
  • Large library of modules
  • Push-based model - Changes pushed from central control machine


Puppet is another widely used configuration management tool. Key features:

  • Agent-based - Agents installed on nodes
  • Declarative language
  • Idempotent
  • Can manage various platforms
  • Open source and enterprise versions available


Chef provides desired state configuration management. Key features:

  • Ruby-based DSL
  • Idempotent
  • Integrates with cloud platforms
  • Cookbooks define components of system config
  • Active community

Based on popularity, flexibility, and ease of use, Ansible currently leads as the most widely adopted configuration management tool. However, Puppet and Chef also have strong followings. The choice depends on the specific use case and infrastructure environment.

Which two configuration management tools are?

Configuration management tools allow IT teams to automate and standardize server configurations across an organization's infrastructure. This helps ensure consistency, save time, and reduce errors caused by manual processes.

Two of the most popular open source configuration management tools are:


Ansible is an agentless configuration management tool that uses SSH to connect to servers and push out configurations defined in playbooks written in YAML. Key features and benefits include:

  • Agentless - No need to install agents on every server
  • Push-based - Pushes configs to nodes instead of nodes pulling configs
  • Idempotent - Won't make changes if the current state matches the desired state
  • YAML playbooks - Easy to read and write configuration code
  • Large ecosystem - Lots of existing modules and integrations


Chef is an agent-based configuration management tool that uses a client-server architecture with nodes that pull configurations from a central server. Key features and benefits:

  • Powerful DSL - Custom DSL for writing infrastructure code
  • Cookbooks and recipes - Modular approach for configurations
  • Idempotent - Like Ansible, won't make unnecessary changes
  • Node agents - Agents installed on nodes handle communication
  • Reporting and compliance - Dashboards and validation of node state

In summary, Ansible and Chef are two leading open-source tools for automating IT configurations. Both take an Infrastructure-as-Code approach but differ architecturally in their push vs pull models and agent vs agentless connectivity.


Defining Configuration Management Tools

Configuration management tools help manage, organize, and track changes to infrastructure and application configurations. They allow developers to define desired system states and automatically provision and configure resources.

Infrastructure as Code: The Foundation

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools like Terraform and CloudFormation allow declarative infrastructure provisioning, saving time over manual server and network setup. By defining infrastructure configurations in code, developers can version control and replicate environments faster.

Some key benefits of IaC:

  • Automated, consistent provisioning of servers, databases, networks, etc.
  • Version controlled infrastructure definitions
  • Faster environment replication
  • Increased productivity over manual work

Popular open source IaC tools include:

  • Terraform
  • CloudFormation
  • Pulumi

Promise Theory in Action

Configuration management tools like Chef, Ansible, Salt and Puppet enforce desired system states across machines to maintain consistency.

The "promise theory" mindset shift helps understand their value. Instead of manually running commands, developers define promises of how each system should look in its desired end state. The tools then automatically enforce these promises through idempotent configuration scripts.

Benefits include:

  • Consistent server configurations
  • Automated setup of applications, databases, web servers etc.
  • Infrastructure self-healing when drift occurs
  • Horizontal scaling with identical systems

Continuous Infrastructure: The Other CI

Configuration management tools play an important role in continuous integration (CI) and continuous deployment (CD) pipelines. They allow "infrastructure as code" practices for consistent, automated environment provisioning.

In CI/CD pipelines, config management tools like Ansible, Chef and Puppet can spin up test environments on demand. They then tear down these environments after tests complete, optimizing infrastructure efficiency.

Application Configuration Management Tools

Tools like Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and Alibaba Application Configuration Management handle application-specific configurations across environments.

They allow centralized management of:

  • Application installations
  • Software update deployments
  • Application settings and preferences
  • User-based application customization

With robust configuration management, organizations can better manage their infrastructure, gain efficiency, and enable innovation. The ecosystem of open source and enterprise tools in this space continues to evolve rapidly.

Advantages of Adopting Config Management Tools

Configuration management tools provide automated ways to provision, deploy, and manage IT infrastructure and applications. Adopting these tools offers several key benefits:

Streamlining DevOps Workflows

Config management tools help streamline DevOps practices by automating provisioning of environments and enforcing desired state configuration. This speeds up setup of testing, staging, and production environments. Developers can quickly spin up infrastructure needed to test applications.

Ensuring System Consistency and Reliability

These tools allow admins to define configuration policies that enforce consistency across environments. By always reverting to the desired system state, config drift is avoided ensuring reliability. Config policies also facilitate disaster recovery.

Facilitating Regulatory Compliance

The audit trails from automated config changes provide transparency into system changes over time. This supports compliance with regulations like HIPAA and PCI by having detailed reports for audits.

Configuration Management Tools in DevOps

Configuration management is a foundational DevOps practice. By codifying and automating system config, tasks like deployment, scaling, and disaster recovery are more agile. Integrating these tools into CI/CD pipelines is key for velocity.

Popular open source configuration management tools include:

  • Ansible
  • Chef
  • Puppet
  • SaltStack

Commercial tools like AWS OpsWorks and Azure Automation also exist. Choosing the right tool depends on needs, environment, and language support.

Comprehensive Config Management Tools List

Some of the most widely used open source configuration management tools include:

Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) Tools: Terraform

Terraform is an open-source infrastructure as code software tool created by HashiCorp. It allows users to define and provision data center infrastructure using a high-level configuration language known as HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL).

Some key features of Terraform:

  • Supports major cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, DigitalOcean and more
  • Executes changes incrementally to reach desired state
  • Creates execution plans showing what will change before applying
  • Integrates with version control systems like Git for collaboration
  • Offers reusable infrastructure through modules

Terraform is great for teams collaborating on infrastructure across various clouds. It translates configurations into API calls to provision resources.

Ansible for DevOps: The Ansible Configuration Tool

Ansible is an open source configuration management and automation tool by Red Hat. It uses YAML playbooks to configure systems and deploy software.

Key features:

  • Agentless - Uses SSH to connect to machines
  • Idempotent - Won't run tasks that have already been completed
  • Push-based - Pushes configurations to target nodes
  • Simple and readable automation syntax
  • Vast module library for common tasks
  • Ansible Galaxy role ecosystem
  • Ansible Tower for enterprise automation

Ansible is a great choice for streamlining IT processes with little effort. Its modules and easy syntax facilitate infrastructure automation.

The CHEF Configuration Tool: Automating with Cookbooks

Chef is an open source DevOps tool to automate infrastructure, workflows and policies. It uses a pure-Ruby DSL for writing system configuration recipes called cookbooks.


  • Powerful abstraction for cross-platform automation
  • Cookbooks offer reusable, shareable automation code
  • Supports major clouds like AWS, Google Cloud and Azure
  • Chef Supermarket hosts thousands of community cookbooks
  • Chef Habitat for building application packages
  • Chef InSpec provides compliance automation
  • Chef Automate dashboard for visibility

Chef enables teams to eliminate manual configurations and ensure consistency across environments. Its cookbooks streamline server setups and maintenance.

Open Source Options: Puppet, SaltStack, and CFEngine

There are several other capable open source tools for config management:


  • Uses Puppet manifests to provision and manage infrastructure
  • Model-driven approach with master-agent architecture
  • Huge module library for common infrastructure needs
  • Integrates with monitoring tools like Nagios
  • Available open source or as Puppet Enterprise


  • Infrastructure automation and event-driven orchestration
  • Remote execution for commands and state management
  • Jinja templating for configuration files
  • Salt SSH for agentless orchestration
  • Scalable communication using ZeroMQ


  • Lightweight agent on nodes enforce desired state
  • Promise theory guides infrastructure management
  • Policy-based approach focused on autonomy
  • Efficient for state convergence at scale
  • Enterprise version offers advanced features

This covers some of the most popular open source tools for delivering configuration management today. They each take a unique approach while solving common pain points.

Selecting the Best Config Management Tools for Your Needs

When evaluating configuration management tools, consider the language and architecture, level of abstraction, and cloud vs on-prem support.

Assessing Programming Language and Architecture

Some popular languages used for config management tools include:

  • Ruby (used by Chef)
  • Python (used by Ansible)
  • HCL (used by Terraform)

The programming language and architecture can impact flexibility, performance, and ease of use. For example, Ruby provides a flexible framework for Chef recipes while HCL offers a declarative structure focused specifically on infrastructure as code.

Determining the Level of Abstraction Required

Config management tools have different levels of abstraction:

  • Higher-level tools like Terraform and CloudFormation allow more abstraction and flexibility for infrastructure as code.
  • Lower-level tools like Chef and Puppet provide more granular control.

Choose based on your need for customization vs out-of-the-box automation.

Comparing Cloud vs On-Premises Environment Support

Some tools are focused on:

  • Public cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and GCP.
  • Hybrid cloud or on-premises data centers.

Evaluate whether you need support across cloud, on-prem, container, or serverless environments.

DevOps Monitoring Tools Guide: Ensuring Optimal Performance

Incorporating monitoring tools like SolarWinds Server Configuration Monitor and ManageEngine Network Configuration Manager can provide visibility into the config management process. This helps ensure optimal performance across dynamic infrastructure.

Conclusion: Embracing Configuration Management for Development Success

Configuration management tools provide essential capabilities for provisioning infrastructure, enforcing desired system state, and streamlining compliance. As development teams scale their operations, leveraging leading configuration management options can optimize deployment workflows.

Some key benefits include:

  • Infrastructure as Code - Codify and automate provisioning of servers, networks, storage systems. This eliminates manual setup and reduces human error.

  • Enforce System State - Define and automatically apply config policies so systems remain consistent and compliant. Fix drift and bugs faster.

  • Streamlined Compliance - Configuration management tools help adhere to security, regulatory and organizational requirements through policy enforcement.

Popular open-source options like Terraform, Ansible and Chef provide robust capabilities that can significantly improve development and operations. By embracing configuration management, teams gain agility, consistency and compliance - enabling them to deliver higher quality software more efficiently. The future is bright for those leveraging these tools strategically.