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Terraform vs Ansible: Key Differences

Hello. In this tutorial, we will explain the key differences between two popular tools among DevOps: Terraform vs Ansible.

1. Introduction

DevOps these days is gaining popularity these days due to the industry’s interest in automation tools. Here in this tutorial, we will explore the key differences between Terraform and Ansible.

1.1 Terraform

Terraform is an open-source tool developed by HashiCorp for building, changing, and versioning the infrastructure safely and efficiently. It is used to manage the infrastructure of the popular cloud service providers and custom in-house solutions. It helps manage both low-level (Compute, Storage, Networking, etc.) and high-level components (such as SaaS, DNS, etc.) Terraform deployment automation is divided into different sections i.e. –

  • IaaC – IaaC is popularly known as the Infrastructure as a Code wherein the infrastructure is described using a high-level configuration syntax. This allows a blueprint of the infrastructure which can be deployed, versioned, and shared for re-use
  • Execution Plans – Terraform has a planning step where it generates an execution plan. The execution plan tells the administrator what Terraform will do once applied and helps to avoid any surprises when it creates the infrastructure
  • Resource Graph – Terraform builds a graph of all the resources and parallelizes the creation and modification of non-dependent resources. This offers insights into learning the dependencies in their infrastructure
  • Change Automation – Terraform allows to apply of complex changesets to the infrastructure with minimal human intervention

1.1.1 Configuration language

Terraform has its configuration language designed to meet the infrastructure automation requirements. The main purpose of this language is to declare resources and a group of resources (gathered into a module) represents a larger unit of configuration. Language syntax consists of a few elements i.e. – Blocks, Arguments, and Expressions.

  • Blocks – Containers for other contents and represents the object configuration
  • Arguments – Assign a value to the name and appear within the blocks
  • Expressions – Represents a single value, referenced value, or combination of other values

1.1.2 Steps

To create the infrastructure via the Terraform scripts following commands need to be executed in a sequence. However, details and actions may differ between workflows.

  • terraform init – Initializing the new or existing terraform configuration
  • terraform plan – Generate the execution plan from the resources specified in the file
  • terraform apply – Create the infrastructure from the resources specified in the file
  • terraform destroy – Destroy the created infrastructure
Terraform vs Ansible - terraform workflow
Fig. 1: Terraform workflow

1.2 Ansible

Ansible is used in the industry to automate and configure the application and IT infrastructure. It is an open-source configuration management tool mainly designed for provisioning the services and applications using the infrastructure as a code (popularly known as the IaaC). Just like Terraform, Ansible also has its language and is agentless. If offers different features like:

  • Used to configuration management across industry
  • Deals with infrastructure platforms
  • Follows an idempotent behavior
  • Uses infrastructure as a code mechanism to set up the infrastructure
  • Offers rapid and easy deployment
  • Agentless in nature and hence no effort is required to manage and install an agent

2. Terraform vs Ansible: Key Differences

The below table lists the Terraform and Ansible differences:-

Terraform is a provisioning toolAnsible is a configuration (automation) management tool
Follows a declarative infrastructure as a code approachFollows a procedural approach
Best fit for cloud services like a load balancer, vpc, etcBest fit for configuring servers with the right software and updates
Does not provide support for packaging and templatingProvides support for packaging and templating

2.1 Which one to choose?

These days there is an ongoing discussion among the engineers that which one to choose as each tool has its pros and cons. Terraform comes with excellent cloud provisioning capabilities and is very user-friendly. While Ansible comes with better security and ACL functionalities. Ansible is considered a mature tool because it fits comfortably with existing automation frameworks while Terraform is still growing. One can choose between these two according to the business requirement and nature of the job.

That is all for this tutorial and I hope the article served you with whatever you were looking for. Happy Learning and do not forget to share!

3. Summary

In this tutorial, we explained the key differences between two popular tools among DevOps: Terraform vs Ansible.

They are both open-source tools. Terraform is used to manage the infrastructure of the popular cloud service providers and custom in-house solutions. Ansible is used to automate and configure the application and IT infrastructure.

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