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26 Apr
min read

A Detailed Ansible vs Terraform Comparison for Modern DevOps

Ansible vs Terraform: which tool is right for your infrastructure automation? Explore the strengths and weaknesses of each in this comparison.

Jack Dwyer

Platform Engineering + DevOps

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Overview of IaC

person using iaC - ansible vs Terraform

What is Terraform and IaC? Infrastructure as Code is a game-changer when it comes to managing infrastructure. The benefits are substantial, including speed, efficiency, and reduction in human error. By defining and provisioning infrastructure using code instead of manual processes, Infrastructure as Code automates infrastructure management. This automation means that developers can focus on building and improving applications instead of managing environments. One key advantage of Infrastructure as Code is the ability to control costs, reduce risks, and respond with speed to new business opportunities.

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What is Ansible?

definition of ansible - ansible vs Terraform

Let's delve into Ansible, an open source IT automation engine that is a versatile tool for automating IT processes. Ansible is renowned for its simplicity and ease of use, enabling it to be utilized by various teams to boost efficiency. 

Exploring Ansible's Features

YAML, Modules, Playbooks, Plays, Inventories, and Roles are the core features of Ansible that collectively offer a wide array of automation functionalities. YAML is a human-readable data format that allows for easy comprehension. Modules are standalone scripts designed for specific tasks. 

Playbooks are YAML files that define configurations, deployments, and orchestration. Plays represent a subset within a playbook, specifying tasks to run on specific hosts. Inventories list all the machines used with Ansible, while Roles are redistributable units for organizing automation code.

Harnessing Ansible's Strengths and Advantages

Ansible is built using Python, making it easily readable and extendable. The simplicity of installing and configuring Ansible is a notable advantage. Ansible's agentless client configuration eliminates the need for installing agents on managed hosts, simplifying setup. 

The tool's scalability is another standout feature, offering flexibility for a wide range of automation tasks. Ansible Galaxy provides access to a central repository for sharing content, fostering collaboration and code reuse.

Identifying Limitations and Disadvantages

The limitations of Ansible include a subpar user interface, complicating certain operations. Conflicting query results may also occur due to the disparity between the CLI and GUI functionalities. 

Ansible's lack of a notion of state can be challenging for users who require detailed ordering catalogs. Ansible has somewhat limited support for Windows compared to Linux/Unix systems, which may pose challenges for organizations predominantly using Windows operating systems.

Zeet Terraform and Helm Product Overview

What is Terraform?

man exploring ansible vs Terraform

HashiCorp Terraform is an infrastructure as code tool that lets you define both cloud and on-prem resources in human-readable configuration files that you can version, reuse, and share. You can then use a consistent workflow to provision and manage all of your infrastructure throughout its lifecycle. Terraform can manage low-level components like compute, storage, and networking resources, as well as high-level components like DNS entries and SaaS features.

How does Terraform work?

Terraform creates and manages resources on cloud platforms and other services through their application programming interfaces (APIs). Providers enable Terraform to work with virtually any platform or service with an accessible API.

HashiCorp and the Terraform community have already written thousands of providers to manage many different types of resources and services. You can find all publicly available providers on the Terraform Registry, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Kubernetes, Helm, GitHub, Splunk, DataDog, and many more.

The core Terraform workflow consists of three stages

1. Write

You define resources, which may be across multiple cloud providers and services. For example, you might create a configuration to deploy an application on virtual machines in a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) network with security groups and a load balancer.

2. Plan

Terraform creates an execution plan describing the infrastructure it will create, update, or destroy based on the existing infrastructure and your configuration.

3. Apply

On approval, Terraform performs the proposed operations in the correct order, respecting any resource dependencies. For example, if you update the properties of a VPC and change the number of virtual machines in that VPC, Terraform will recreate the VPC before scaling the virtual machines.

Key features of Terraform

1. State management

Terraform tracks resources and their configuration in a state file.

2. Declarative code

Users describe the desired state of their infrastructure, and Terraform manages it.

3. Widely adopted

Terraform supports over 3k providers.

4. Declarative language

You can divide your infrastructure into multiple reusable modules

Advantages of Terraform

  • Provides stable infrastructure as code that supports smooth changes in configuration.
  • Supports numerous popular service providers, including Google Cloud, AWS, and Azure.
  • Capable of configuration management and orchestration.
  • The HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL) used is simple to learn. An alternate JSON-compatible syntax is also supported.
  • Allows for smooth transition among providers.
  • Removes the need for additional server-side configuration management through support for client-only architecture.

Disadvantages of Terraform

  • Lack of error handling.
  • Continuous need for states to be synchronized with the infrastructure.
  • HCL must be learned if the user does not opt for the alternate JSON-compatible syntax.
  • Some users may find it challenging to rename resources or shift them deeper into modules.

Unlocking the Potential of Cloud Investments with Zeet

Zeet helps you to get more from your cloud, Kubernetes, and Terraform investments and helps your engineering team become strong individual contributors through our CI/CD & deployment platform. 

Contact Zeet to learn more about how Zeet help you get seamless cloud deployments every time, and helps your team to become a top-performing engineering team.

Detailed Ansible vs Terraform Comparison

woman doing detailed comparison of ansible vs Terraform

Orchestration vs. Configuration Management

When it comes to orchestration and configuration management, both Terraform and Ansible have their strengths and weaknesses. Terraform excels in managing infrastructure by using cloud provider APIs to provision and de-provision resources. 

On the other hand, Ansible is more tailored towards configuration management, ensuring that applications and dependencies remain up to date. In essence, Terraform is best suited for Day 0 activities - creating the infrastructure, while Ansible shines for Day 1 and subsequent activities - managing configurations and keeping applications updated.

Declarative vs. Procedural Language

Another critical difference between Terraform and Ansible is the method in which they execute tasks. Terraform uses HCL (Hashicorp Configuration Language) to write Infrastructure as Code (IaC), which is declarative and allows for code to be dispersed in multiple files without impacting its functionality. 

On the other hand, Ansible employs YAML syntax for playbooks, which are procedural in nature. This means that tasks are executed in the sequence they are written. While Terraform excels in recognizing dependencies and provisioning infrastructure efficiently, Ansible offers a more structured approach to task execution.

Mutable vs. Immutable Infrastructure

Mutable and immutable infrastructure are terms that define how newer versions of applications and services are deployed. Mutable infrastructure involves deploying new versions of applications onto existing infrastructure, while immutable infrastructure deploys new versions on completely new infrastructure. Terraform's strength lies in handling the entire infrastructure lifecycle, making it more adept at supporting infrastructure immutability. 

Meanwhile, Ansible is better suited for handling configuration changes, leveraging its configuration management capabilities. It is recommended to combine both tools - with Terraform managing infrastructure and Ansible handling configuration changes - to adopt a Blue/Green deployment strategy and reduce the risk of configuration failures.

State Management

State management is a crucial aspect of infrastructure management. Terraform maintains state files that map infrastructure resources to their current configuration, allowing users to query and understand the existing infrastructure components and attributes. 

In contrast, Ansible does not support lifecycle management and automatically executes changes on the target resource when they are introduced. This makes Terraform more adept at tracking changes and provisioning infrastructure, while Ansible focuses on configuration management and immutable infrastructure.

Configuration Drift

Configuration drift occurs when there is a variance between the desired and actual state of configurations. Both Ansible and Terraform aim to mitigate drift, but they approach it differently. 

Ansible relies on idempotent tasks and continuous execution without persistently storing the state of infrastructure, while Terraform uses a stored state to detect and manage drift. Terraform's declarative approach to infrastructure as code allows it to effectively manage drift, ensuring that the desired state aligns with the actual state of infrastructure configuration.

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Can Terraform and Ansible Be Used Together

woman understanding ansible vs Terraform

When it comes to managing infrastructure and configuring software on your compute instances, Terraform and Ansible each play a key role. Terraform is incredibly valuable for orchestrating and managing your infrastructure. Still, if you need to install and set up software on your compute instances, Ansible is the tool you require. 

Exploring Provisioning Alternatives in Terraform

Terraform's provisioners can be employed to mimic Ansible's configuration management capabilities; they are not always dependable. HashiCorp even suggests using them as a last resort. 

Navigating Infrastructure Provisioning Complexity with Ansible

On the other hand, you could utilize Ansible to provision your infrastructure via collections that are implemented for cloud providers, but it becomes significantly more complex to achieve a highly customized infrastructure without having to write an extensive amount of code.

Example setup - How to use Ansible with Terraform

One common approach is to employ Terraform to configure foundational infrastructure elements like networking, VM instances, and other essential resources. Following this foundation setup, Ansible can be called to configure these instances, install the necessary software, and deploy applications, either manually or via Terraform. This orchestration approach is effective, providing a streamlined workflow that takes advantage of the strengths of both Terraform and Ansible to ensure a robust infrastructure setup.

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Best Practices for Integrating Terraform and Ansible

woman in a meeting on ansible vs Terraform

Define Roles and Boundaries: Clear Roles for Terraform and Ansible

When it comes to managing infrastructure and configurations, Terraform and Ansible have clearly defined roles. Terraform is the go-to tool for infrastructure provisioning and management, while Ansible is the powerhouse for configuration management. To make these tools work seamlessly together, we need to understand their boundaries and roles.

State Management: Handling Changes and Avoiding Conflicts

Terraform relies on state files to manage infrastructure. To keep state changes in check and steer clear of conflicts, using remote backends, state locking, workspaces, modules, variables, and outputs is a great strategy. 

On the other hand, Ansible doesn't use a state file, simplifying management. With Ansible, it's crucial to maintain clear documentation and version control for playbook and role management.

Structuring Projects and Repositories: Organizing Terraform and Ansible Projects

When using both Terraform and Ansible, organizing your projects and repositories is crucial. For Terraform, keeping configuration files in a separate repository, maintaining a consistent naming convention, and ensuring all dependencies are included is key. 

Likewise, for Ansible, storing playbooks and roles in a separate repository, maintaining a naming convention, and including all necessary dependencies is essential.

Change Management: Streamlining the Process

Implementing a change management process helps maintain consistency and control over infrastructure and configuration changes. Utilizing tools such as Git, Jenkins, or other CI/CD tools can streamline the deployment process and ensure changes are tested and validated before going live.

Integration: Bringing Terraform and Ansible Together

Terraform and Ansible can work together harmoniously if you know how to integrate them properly. By using the Ansible provisioner to run Ansible playbooks on newly created resources and using dynamic inventory plugins to update the inventory, you can make these tools work hand in hand effectively.

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Zeet is a powerful platform that enhances the capabilities of your cloud, Kubernetes, and Terraform investments. By utilizing Zeet, you can achieve seamless cloud deployments every time. This ensures that your projects are consistently stable and reliable, contributing to the success of your overall infrastructure.

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Zeet also plays a crucial role in the development of your engineering team. By leveraging Zeet’s CI/CD and deployment platform, your engineering team can become strong individual contributors. This empowers them to take ownership of their projects and deliver exceptional results, ultimately transforming them into a top-performing engineering team.

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Zeet is a valuable tool that can help you make the most of your cloud, Kubernetes, and Terraform investments. Reach out to Zeet today to discover how you can optimize your deployments and empower your engineering team to achieve success.

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