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DevOps Startup Refactr Introduces Ansible-as-a-Service

The cloud-based version of the configuration manager, playbook.cloud, requires no setup, no standing up of server nodes, and is billed by the minute. It will later be integrated into Refactr’s CSAP DevOps automation platform.

Refactr, a startup looking to ease DevOps headaches, introduced on Thursday a cloud-based version of Ansible—the first serverless, consumption-billed take on the popular configuration management technology.

The product, called playbook.cloud, initially comes to market as a standalone service, but will later be integrated into Refactr's Cloud + Security Architect Platform (CSAP) used by MSPs to manage their infrastructure, said Refactr CEO Michael Fraser.

"Our goal was to prove out this technology in a single, smaller SaaS play, and then we'll be adding this technology into CSAP," Fraser told CRN.

[Related: The 10 Hottest DevOps Technology Startups Of 2018]

Red Hat, which acquired Ansible in 2015, didn't work with Refactr on development of playbook.cloud.

The new Ansible-as-a-Service delivers a backend container sandbox and an online playbook editor.

By taking a serverless approach to Ansible, the startup focused on security delivers greater process and network isolation, Fraser said. Execution environments are containerized and ephemeral, with runtime data destroyed when the playbook completes and input variables encrypted in transit and at rest.

Red Hat offers Ansible Tower as a web-based solution, but it doesn't take the serverless approach to that product.

Refactr's playbook.cloud requires no setup, no need to stand up an Ansible server, and is billed by the minute. The service enables sharing Ansible playbooks through a link and can be connected to a larger workflow.

"You have the ability to run everything online," Fraser said.

Refactr, based in Seattle, ultimately plans to support several configuration tools on its no-code DevOps platform, like HashiCorp's Terraform, though Ansible will probably be the only offered as a standalone version, Fraser said.

"Anybody from novice to advanced user can get in here and use this thing," Fraser said.

The aim is to support partners managing increasingly complex infrastructure for their customers in an era of heightened security concerns, he said.

"A lot of people in the channel don't want to spend any legwork other than to get in and start using stuff," Fraser told CRN. "You can't make Ansible easier to use—it's a simple product offering, but any barrier to entry can preclude a ton of people in the channel from wanting to use any product."

The serverless approach immediately appealed to Fishtech and its managed services subsidiary, CYDERES, said COO Eric Foster.

The Kansas City-based company was founded as a modern cybersecurity solutions provider, with a heavy focus on cloud and DevOps, said Foster, who leads the managed services business.

That emphasis on cloud security led the MSP to assess Refactr, which appeared on Fishtech's radar after it won a startup competition hosted by ConnectWise.

"We liked what they were doing," Foster said. "We're big fans of the serverless approach."

With Ansible-as-a-Service, Fishtech engineers can use the configuration manager when in the field with clients, delivering playbooks and DevOps automation without worrying about standing up underlying infrastructure.

"It's zero management, zero overhead, and available for free to start with," Foster said. "We go into a client with specific needs. We can send them a link and say, 'sign up for this free service and you'll be able to run this playbook in your environment'."

That enables moving fast and delivering value almost immediately to customers while being confident security is always baked in.

"They kind of flipped the script of what you normally think about Ansible and a lot of the approaches to this. The DevOps side of this is where it makes the most sense, but for us the security has been really interesting," he said.

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