Hello everybody and welcome back to the Cognixia podcast. We hope you are safe and fine, wherever you are listening to us from.
In today’s episode, we compare two top-notch DevOps tools – Terraform vs. Ansible. This should be an interesting comparison, considering how immensely popular both these tools are in the market today. We will cover some key points about both the tools and try to understand which tool among the two works best in which situation. So let’s get started.
- First, let us understand what these tools are.
What is Terraform?
HashiCorp Terraform is an open-source Infrastructure-as-Code management tool created chiefly for orchestration and provisioning in data center environments. By itself, Terraform does not directly configure or install applications or software. Terraform is mainly used for creating, changing, and destroying servers to reach a particular desired end state. As a tool, Terraform has a declarative approach to network management. This means that the user gets to decide which end-state has to be maintained during operations, and then Terraform will do the necessary actions to maintain this end state.
That is Terraform. Now let us find out what is Ansible?
Red Hat Ansible is also an Infrastructure-as-Code management tool. However, compared to Terraform, Ansible uses a procedural approach. This is the main way Ansible is different from Terraform – their approaches. With Ansible, user-defined steps are used in a configuration for achieving a desired state or change. So, if intend to add installations or software over existing networks, Ansible would be your go-to tool. Besides, Ansible is agentless, uses SSH or other authentication methods for communication, and is lightweight & efficient. Moreover, there is no need to install Python on targets when using Ansible. Ansible installs small modules using JSON which get removed automatically after being executed.
So, let us take a quick look at the chief comparisons between Terraform and Ansible.
The first criteria we have on our list is, Purpose
Terraform: The main purpose of using Terraform is provisioning and orchestration.
Ansible: Compared to this, the main purpose of using Ansible is configuration and adding software.
Next on our list we have the Approach
Terraform: As we mentioned earlier, Terraform uses a declarative approach to deal with network management.
Ansible: Compared to this, again as we mentioned earlier, Ansible uses a procedural approach to deal with network management.
Now, the third criteria on our list to differentiate between Terraform and Ansible is, Network
Terraform: Terraform as a tool can be considered best suited for building services from the ground up, like from the scratch.
Ansible: In comparison, Ansible as a tool works best on an existing network. Ansible would deliver the benefits of simple, powerful, agentless automation to the systems.
How about Mutability for Terraform and Ansible?
Terraform: Unfortunately, Terraform is not mutable.
Ansible: Ansible is mutable.
Ahhh…Moving on, what’s next on the list?
The writing language, let’s talk about the writing language for both these tools. What is Terraform written in?
Terraform: Terraform uses the HashiCorp Configuration Language or HCL. What’s Ansible written in?
Ansible: Ansible is written in everybody’s favorite language – Python. So, you can imagine the flexibility and ease this gives users. Python is the most user-friendly language we have ever seen and used, that’s for sure.
Absolutely, but let’s keep moving with this comparison.
Next on the list we discover how both these tools rank on being Masterless.
Terraform: Well, Terraform is a masterless management tool. Terraform would not require a central server for saving the state of your infrastructure. What about Ansible?
Ansible: Ansible is also a masterless management tool and will not require a central server for saving the state of one’s infrastructure. So, in this case, Terraform and Ansible score the same.
That’s great. So, the next criteria on the list…
Next on the list, we consider agentless capabilities.
Terraform: Terraform is an agentless system. In Terraform, commands are first sent to the cloud, and then the cloud would use its agents to accomplish the tasks. That works out well for the tasks that one aims to accomplish using Terraform.
Ansible: Well, well, Ansible is also an agentless system. However, unlike Terraform, in Ansible, one would need to run the SSH Daemon. You would also need to install a Python module for executing the tasks. However, you don’t need to hold onto these modules and they can be easily removed once execution is complete.
So, both the tools are masterless and agentless.
Absolutely. I think we are getting a much clearer picture of how Terraform and Ansible stand up against each other in the DevOps ecosystem. Are any more criteria on the list?
Oh yes, one last criterion, and I would say, a very important one – Open-source capabilities.
Terraform: Now, Terraform is an open-source tool with a large, active community. The community is very helpful and friendly, they are very supportive when building updates and resolving security issues. How about Ansible?
Ansible: Well, Ansible is also an open-source tool with a very large active community that is just as helpful and supportive to all the users.
That’s great. But I am still confused, which one is the best Infrastructure-as-Code tool that one should choose?
I would say, a business or a user can choose whichever tool fits their requirement and fits into their existing infrastructure. Terraform would work best when you want to maintain a steady-state n your infrastructure without needing too much human intervention, it has a declarative approach which is helpful in this regard. Terraform would also be a great choice if you building an infrastructure from the scratch, and have a designated goal of what specific state you want to reach.
However, if you are somebody who needs to manage and configure the infrastructure in different ways and these ways evolve and change over time, then Ansible might be a better fit for you. Ansible works well in already-configured environments, Terraform may not work very well in such environments.
I agree, I agree. I would also like to highlight that the general opinion in the market is that out of Terraform and Ansible, Ansible is relatively easier to use. I think that comes from the fact that the tool is written in Python. But the catch here is that even though Ansible is based on a command-line interface, it has a new web-based UI, and all the features of the command-line interface are not available in Ansible. Compared to this, Terraform is more, I would say, streamlined and intuitive. Ansible gets an edge here because of its ease of use and its interface, though.
But don’t let us make your decisions, feel free to choose whatever works best for you and the requirements you have at hand.
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