Terraform vs Ansible : Understanding the Key Differences and Similarities

Deployment and automating configuration of IT infrastructures is quite a lengthy and technical process.

Nevertheless, this article will put light on how you can use "Terraform" and "Ansible" to help you through the process. These tools help in cloud provisioning and configuration for your projects, and make the process much easier.

You will learn about the details of these tools, how they work, and how you can use them to boost your business management and performance!

What is Terraform? A brief overview! 

Terraform is known to be an open-source code AS software tool. It can be used for more effective, efficient, and secure infrastructure creation along with modification and versioning. 

Terraform uses HashiCorp configuration language (HCL), which is a declarative language. You will learn more about declarative language below and how it works!

It is an orchestrating and provisioning tool, made with a code approach.

Terraform supports numerous cloud providers such as Google Cloud Platform (GCP), AWS, and Microsoft Azure. Its bonus point is that the declarative language it uses only demands end goals to be submitted, rather than each and every task which makes it less time-consuming to use.

What is Ansible, and what are its uses?

Quite similar to terraform, Ansible is also an open-source tool that provides automated provisioning, deployment, orchestration, configuration, and various other IT processes. The key benefit of Ansible is that it simplifies, automates, and optimizes IT support for cross-platform environments.

Focused on configuration management, this tool follows a procedural approach.

Deploying Ansible does not require security infrastructure or agent software, which makes it ideal for simplifying IT processes in organizations.

The language used by ansible is known as YAML, which describes tasks and workflows, making it less troublesome for users to automate processes across multiple systems.

What are Terraform’s use cases?

With its strong multi-cloud compliance strategy, Terraform has cut down the server management and setup time for servers and DevOps tools.

 Before getting into its use cases, let us look into how it works step by step!

  • How does it work?

  • As mentioned above, terraform is divided into 2 components, also known as core and plugins.

  • While terraform is open-source binary software, it is directly installed into your device and then runs according to command lines. The core mainly handles lifecycle management.

    The core then checks the available systems and tallies them with your desired applications. It then suggests whether you need to add or remove components once the task is completed.

  • Besides the core, terraform plugins act as intermediaries between the system as a service (SaaS) and your system, communicating back and forth with the core through Remote Procedure Call (RPC).

  • Use cases for Terraform:

  1. 1

    Using multiple clouds:

    You must be aware by now that terraform supports multi-cloud compliance and is very useful in providing disaster mitigation strategies.

    This means that if one cloud fails, the system can keep on working by switching to another cloud server smoothly. This keeps the provisioning working without disturbances in case of any unknown errors.

    Do not worry, your failed attempts will be less harmful once you work with terraform!

  2. 2

    Building and disposing of environments:

    Software development phases include many steps such as building, testing, staging, and production.

    At this point terraform works its magic by making this process easier, as it offers smooth deployment of new features in a new environment. For testing new features, terraform can quickly create a new environment.

    Likewise, you can create backup software or environments easily through terraform for quick recovery in case of any disaster.

  3. 3

    N-tier application deployments:

    Multi-tier purposes make it feasible to have separate tiers for precise uses.

    For instance, internet software wants a database tier and some other tier for internet servers. Web servers count on databases for proper operation.

    The net servers additionally rely on load balancers to ship the requests to special servers except overloading any server.

With Terraform, it becomes less complicated and quicker to enforce dependencies correctly. You can additionally scale up or down multi-tier functions by including or putting off infrastructure assets as imperative in the use of Terraform.

What are the use cases for Ansible?

Before exploring how ansible can be used, you must know about its workflow. Let's dive in!

  • How does it work?

As mentioned in the overview of ansible, it consists of 2 components; command lines, and playbooks.

Playbooks are a set of tasks written in YAML language, giving a clear direction of what tasks need to be done. 

Now let's get to the use cases and check out how you can utilize Ansible’s services!

  • Use cases for Ansible:

  1. 1

    Configuration management:

    Ansible is known for its configuration. You can use it for day-to-day configurations of new infrastructures, and for hosting new requirements.

  2. 2

    Firewall configurations:

    Ansible can help you create firewalls on host servers to avoid any errors and open ports that are necessary.

  3. 3

    Provisioning environments:

    Ansible is no less than terraform and is capable of provisioning new environments for your web deployments. It uses clouds such as bare metal, private cloud, and public cloud.

How are both tools similar?

Terraform and Ansible are highly similar tools based on their features. Let us look into it deeper:

  • On the newly created virtual machine, remote commands can be carried out by both Terraform and Ansible. Therefore, each tool is agentless and masterless. 

  • Both tools allow you to manage infrastructure through IaC code, instead of manual configuration.

  • Terraform and Ansible collectively support multiple cloud providers and on-premise infrastructure.

  • Each tool provides idempotent operations, allowing infrastructure to be managed consistently over time.

  • Both tools allow for version control of infrastructure configuration and changes through source code management.

Terraform vs Ansible for Provisioning. Which one is better?

The above section gives us an overview of how both tools are similar, and whether they can be used simultaneously. Nevertheless, let's dive deeper into their features and check out their benefits over each other.

Declarative vs imperative language:

Firstly, both tools have different languages. Terraform uses HCL (HashiCorp configuration language) declarative language where you only input your destined goal, and the rest is done itself.

On the other hand, Ansible uses YAML syntax imperative language where you need to provide step-by-step instructions. You will have to write guided steps from top to bottom, which makes it procedural work unlike terraform.

Hence, terraform makes it easier for you to convert codes into an infrastructure.

Task Performance

Both tools can perform each task, however, terraform specializes in comprehensive infrastructure management.

On the other hand, Ansible can also perform cloud infrastructure creation but it is not entirely comprehensive. It specializes in keeping dependencies and applications up to date through configuration management.

Therefore, Terraform performs a better and more thorough job at cloud provisioning!

Mutable vs Immutable:

A mutable infrastructure is where you can regularly update and modify your software after deployment.

Whereas, Immutable infrastructures do not allow modifications or any kind of new implementations once the software has been deployed. In this case, Terraform is a mutable infrastructure whereas Ansible is an immutable one.

Mutability seems reasonable and beneficial as it repairs issues within the infrastructure without changing the whole cloud.

However, keep in mind that when new modifications are installed into the old infrastructure, there are procedures to uninstall the old applications, which makes it risky as it can result in uneven configurations.

State management:

Terraform and Ansible have proved to be very different in terms of state management/ lifecycle management. 

Terraform is aware of lifecycle management and manages all resources according to the configuration under the state files. 

Unlike terraform, Ansible does not support lifecycle management as it assumes immutable infrastructure by default.

Conclusively, Ansible is more efficient regarding this matter.

Nevertheless, a blue/green deployment strategy may be used to work with both tools, reducing the risk of failure.

Final words 

Conclusively,  what we have deduced is that you can use Ansible and Terraform together for provisioning and configuration management.

However, both do better jobs regarding their specialties ie Terraform would do a perfect job at provisioning and an average job at configuration management, whereas Ansible would do vice-versa.

 We hope the concept of these tools is clear now, wishing you the best in your IT journey!

About the author


Youssef is a Senior Cloud Consultant & Founder of ITCertificate.org

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