Terraform has been a revelatory experience for many people new to the platform. The software offers a powerful approach to infrastructure automation. It is one of the most innovative examples of infrastructure as code (IAC) available today. Delivering a cloud-based approach to networking whereby cloud architecture is rendered entirely via code. Terraform helps configure cloud resource specifications in such a way that hasn’t been on offer before, which can have huge and exciting implications for businesses.
While the concept of IAC is an easy sell to most IT departments, as with any technology there is something of a learning curve to it. IAC is still a ‘relatively’ niche idea. Albeit one that is rapidly growing in popularity. As a result, it is not yet as accessible as many of us who it impacts would like.
However, currently, Terraform represents one of the most user-friendly ways into the world. With more esoteric technologies such as IAC, the availability of easy-to-use tools and resources can make or break them, so Terraform could potentially be very significant in bringing IAC to a wider audience.
What Is Terraform Again?
In understanding exactly what Terraform is and how it works, it helps to begin with the name itself. Terraforming is to alter our physical surroundings, to be able to change the landscape around us at will. Terraform the software package gives users the ability to easily manage all our infrastructure resources from containers, to virtual machines and AWS to GCP, creating, destroying and controlling your foundational needs.
Terraform generates components with properties and configurations defined by the user. These components can either be virtualizations of physical hardware or less tangible components such as DNS addresses. For more on Terraform in detail, don’t forget to read our Spotlight on Terraform post here.
Why Is Terraform Significant?
Prior to Terraform, IACs was mostly focused on configuration managers, which considered just a small section of the overall concept. A configuration manager, as you’ve probably guessed, is a tool that handles the configuration of operating system environments (OSEs).
Before Terraform, IAC configurations were possible, but with the platform, IAC can go another mile beyond OS level. AWS CloudFormation (AWS CF) could be considered the older sibling to Terraform, but AWS CF is less programmatic, and so fundamentally less dynamic. Terraform, however, brings a lot of fairly revolutionary features to the table. It has set a new standard for what users will expect from their IAC setups.
Under the old approach, virtual machines had to be offloaded to the CM in order to be configured and have settings changed. Terraform, however, configures your virtual machines for you. It handles all of this on its own and can arrange components on the fly by leveraging the many service providers it twins with. Terraform providers are generally an IaaS (e.g., Amazon Web Services (AWS), GCP, Microsoft Azure, OpenStack, etc.), PaaS (e.g., Heroku, etc.), or SaaS services (e.g., Terraform Enterprise, DNSimple, CloudFlare, etc.).
Why Use IAC?
While Terraform undeniably makes managing an IAC system much easier, you might still be wondering why IAC is used to begin with. The advantages to IAC are numerous, but there are three key factors that are particularly important.
- Reproducibility: Perhaps the most significant advantage of the IAC approach is that it is so easily replicable. The configuration of every virtualized component in your IAC system is set using code through your chosen provider, and these components can be generated with whatever configurations you require. The same code can then be executed whenever you want to virtualize such a system or any individual component within it.
- Speed: Running through a list of pre-defined tasks is what computers do best. This is essentially what happens when a computer reads the source code of an IAC setup. It works through it line-by-line, setting everything up according to the instructions in the code. This is much quicker and less error-prone than a human operator setting up a virtual configuration.
- Quality: Because it is easy to take a piece of code, run it multiple times, and hunt down any bugs or inefficiencies, IAC setups tend to be of superior quality. As time goes on, source codes will naturally be refined, and more errors will be unearthed and rectified. IAC reduces the amount of room for human error, leading to overall more reliable and consistent results than other virtualization methods.
Terraform with AWS
Terraform is becoming an increasingly popular way for users to manage AWS. IAC has never been so easy, especially for those who don’t have much experience with virtualization. There is still a learning curve involved, but Terraform has significantly reduced the barriers that have prevented many developers from taking the plunge into the world of IAC.
There are a number of notable advantages to utilizing Terraform with AWS over other IAC approaches:
- User-friendly custom syntax in addition to JSON support.
- The ability to preview changes before they happen.
- In-built understanding of resource relationships. For example, when failures occur they are isolated to dependent resources.
- Meanwhile, non-dependent resources continue to be created, destroyed, and updated as usual.
- It’s open source, meaning it carries with it all the usual benefits of open source software and a thriving and eager community of users.
AWS and Terraform Benefits
One of the most significant advantages of IAC is that your configurations act as your future documentation. Deconstructing infrastructure into customized elements makes it simpler to upgrade as you grow. New team members can catch up on the way your build process works much quicker too.
Breaking infrastructure down into bite-size pieces allows you to setup a logical structure to your components. With AWS, that might come in the form of Terraform files by AWS service, application or microservice. Through Terraforms modules you can organize complex services for structure and versioning capabilities. For example, configure autoscaling and load balancers by group, which allows us to make variable updates to components at scale.
Terraform is a powerful IAC tool. Those who are looking for a more dynamic and powerful way of managing their AWS should give Terraform a whirl. IAC is undoubtedly an important part of the future of cloud computing. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, you should start riding that wave as soon as you can.
If you’re keen to get your hands dirty with Terraform but don’t know where to start, check out my beginner through to advanced Udemy course on Terraform with AWS—which is currently on offer for a limited time only.
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