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Terraform – The Ultimate Infrastructure as Code Tool

In the years gone by, system admins used to set up IT infrastructure manually. Although managing services and servers manually in a data center is not very tedious, it all changes when you switch to Terraform or to multiple cloud-service providers.   

Imagine yourself using resources from multiple cloud service providers (AWS, Azure, GCP, etc.). Achieving on-demand capacity can slow things down if you manually set up and configure your infrastructure. Moreover, all manual processes tend to be error-prone.   

The traditional approach is thus unscalable and cannot meet present-day DevOps rapid software development cycles. How do you rectify it? By embracing Infrastructure as Code.   

Let us explain Infrastructure as Code (IaC) and why Terraform is an excellent IaC tool.  

What is Infrastructure as Code?  

Infrastructure is one of the essential principles of software development. It is the critical factor that ensures stability in an application’s performance. Infrastructure can refer to servers, firewalls, load balancers, databases, container clusters, etc.   

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is the practice of managing, provisioning, and configuring infrastructure by using a defined code in a descriptive cloud-operating model. It completely circumvents the manual approach to managing a company’s infrastructure. IaC allows users to review, modify, test, maintain, and reuse their infrastructure without depending on the IT team.  

Let us explain how an IaC environment works in a step-by-step manner.  

  • A developer uses a domain-specific language (DSL) to define configuration frameworks.  
  • Instruction files are then sent to a management API (Application Programming Interfaces), a master server, or a code repository.  
  • The IaC tool follows the given instructions to create and configure the infrastructure.  

Infrastructure as Code removes the need to configure an environment every time software is developed, tested, and deployed. Instead, all infrastructure parameters are already saved in files called manifests. Like any other code file, manifests are simple to reuse, edit, copy, and share.   

So, what is Terraform, and what advantages does it offer?  

What is Terraform?  

Terraform is one of the most popular Infrastructure as Code tools available today. It is an open-source provisioning tool created by HashiCorp to create, change, and version infrastructure efficiently and safely. It can also provide custom solutions while working with popular cloud service providers.  

What do provisioning tools do? They create servers and associated services instead of managing configuration on existing servers. Terraform can manage infrastructure with low-level components (storage, networking, compute instances, etc.) and high-level components (SaaS features, DNS entries, etc.)  

Configuration files play a critical role here, because they inform Terraform of the components (infrastructure resources) required to run a single application or an entire data center. Terraform takes these instructions and creates an execution plan explaining how it aims to achieve the desired state.   

It then executes the plan to create the required infrastructure. If any changes are made in the configuration files, Terraform power knows what they are and accordingly creates applicable incremental execution plans.  

But what is Terraform? Being a DevOps engineer, you would want tools that automate your tasks and make your workflow easier. We will explain this later in the article. But before we move on to discussing the benefits of Terraform, it is important to shed some light on infrastructure possibilities.   

On-cloud vs. On-premises Infrastructure  

When building a corporate network infrastructure, you must consider two important possibilities: on-premises infrastructure and cloud-based infrastructure. The difference between the two? The location of your infrastructure; is it on-premises or cloud?  

On-premises implies that all infrastructure is installed on your company’s physical servers, which are usually located on-site (on-premises). Cloud, on the other hand, means that instead of using your own servers, you use third-party service providers’ servers. Your networking resources on the cloud are thus managed and run by third-party vendors.  

Which one should you use? We suggest you go for the cloud. That’s because it’s easier to scale on the cloud, and deployment is much more convenient than on-premises. Moreover, you pay for only the resources you use and don’t require any physical infrastructure.   

But there is a downside to using the cloud approach. Your team will have to develop scores of components and configure each in such a way that it all works together efficiently, because that requires a lot of work! It is here that Terraform enters the scene to make the entire exercise more convenient for you.  

Terraform and DevOps  

Terraform as an IaC tool allow your DevOps developers to automate as well as manage the infrastructure, platforms, and services on those platforms from one location. It also allows for sharing and reusing the same.   

You do not have to manually log in to, say, AWS Web Console to create your infrastructure components. You can simply do it in code. Also, you only need to update the Terraform code and apply it if you wish to make any changes.   

This is how Terraform automates your configuration and cloud infrastructure as well as automation here means restricting the amount of human-IT system interactions. It does not refer to provisioning, which is the process of acquiring and setting physical components needed to run a particular application.   

This is achieved by creating functions or scripts with an IaC tool like Terraform, which can be reused, thus saving you precious time. You create the script once and keep using it repeatedly!  

Advantages of Terraform  

  1. Open-source and cloud-agnostic – Being an open-source tool makes Terraform publicly accessible to everyone. Being cloud-agnostic enables it to deploy, test, and configure infrastructure across various cloud-service providers like Azure, AWS, GCP, etc. 
    Your DevOps engineers can use a single solution to manage all their cloud infrastructures! Moreover, Terraform is written in Go, a programming language known for its efficiency.   
  2. Declarative – Terraform uses a declarative approach which means that you only need to define how you want your infrastructure to look. You don’t have to define the necessary steps to make your infrastructure look how you want it to, but itself figures out how to achieve the desired state!  
  3. Agentless – Most IaC and automation tools require you to install agent software on every server you want configured. The agent software’s task is to install the latest configuration updates while functioning in the background. But Terraform requires no such agent software installation, thus making it easily installable and usable.   
  4. Modular structure – Think of Terraform modules as functions in a programming language. They offer a standard interface for making resources by giving inputs and returning outputs. Modules help you in arranging, encapsulating, and reusing configurations. Moreover, they help you stay consistent and in line with best practices.  
  5. A large user-base – Whenever you choose a tool or a platform, you also choose to become part of a community. It may seem trivial to you, but it is not. A tool’s community ecosystem determines how many extensions and integrations are available, whereas how much online help is available. Terraform boasts a large community which can be crucial in helping your DevOps team use it.

Conclusion:

 We hope you now understand what Infrastructure as Code is all about. And why Terraform is an excellent IaC tool for you to use. Terraform is backed by HashiCorp, an industry leader in its own right. They also offer paid plans for enterprise support and large teams.   

Do you need any further help regarding Terraform? Feel free to reach out to us at info@xavor.com 

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Muhammad Abbas

Muhammad Abbas is an anthropologist at heart and a Marketing Specialist by profession. He has worked with leading marketing agencies over the years. While he considers himself a history buff, his interests also extend to topics like politics, economics, social justice, climate change, and tech.