A Guide to Terraform vs CloudFormation Infrastructure Tool

February 15, 2024
A Guide to Terraform vs CloudFormation Infrastructure Tool

How to differentiate between the two: Terraform vs CloudFormation? CloudFormation is an AWS service created especially for establishing AWS resources, whereas Terraform is an open-source Infrastructure as a Code tool that can deploy resources to many cloud providers.

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Understanding Terraform vs CloudFormation

Two well-known names spring to mind when people are asked which tools are best for automating infrastructure provisioning: AWS CloudFormation vs Terraform. This article goes into great detail about the differences between Terraform and CloudFormation.

What is Terraform?

HashiCorp’s Infrastructure as Code tool is called Terraform. Terraform enables programmatic infrastructure definition through the use of a syntax known as the HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL). One of Terraform’s most noteworthy features is that it is “cloud agnostic,” allowing resources to be deployed to numerous cloud providers.

Even though the phrase “cloud-agnostic” is frequently used when referring to Terraform, utilizing Terraform does not automatically make you “multi-cloud” or any more cloud-agnostic than using AWS CloudFormation. This is due to the fact that resources cannot be deployed from one cloud provider (like AWS) to another (like Azure) using the same code. Rather, you’ll find yourself writing code uniquely for every cloud provider.

There are other advantages to consider in addition to Terraform’s “multi-provider” support, like its capacity to create resources dynamically using its for_each or count features and its dynamic block functionality, which allows you to configure a resource’s properties dynamically. Furthermore, Terraform has built-in functions that you can call and utilize in your code; these come in rather handy for routine chores.

What is CloudFormation?

Amazon CloudFormation is an excellent solution that allows the operations and development teams to automate AWS infrastructure provisioning effortlessly. With the help of this managed AWS service, you can plan and set up both AWS and outside resources for your cloud setup. The configuration is handled by Cloudformation using templates in JSON format. The user can achieve infrastructure scalability and reusability with the help of these templates. YAML format is another option for cloudformation templates.

Terraform vs CloudFormation

Why do we need tools like Terraform vs CloudFormation? Nearly every configuration pertaining to a system can be handled by these CM tools. What happens if a user needs to keep a layer of abstraction between the services and the bare-metal components underneath? In such cases, the two powerful tools, CloudFormation and Terraform, come into the picture.

Primary difference: Terraform vs CloudFormation

Terraform is a multi-cloud platform, whereas CloudFormation is exclusive to AWS. This is the main distinction between the two. While CloudFormation is an AWS-specific solution that offers a standard approach to creating and managing AWS resources, Terraform offers a common language to describe and provision cloud architecture.

  • Code Syntax: The most obvious and significant distinction between Terraform and CloudFormation is likely their syntax; many users are already accustomed to authoring YAML and JSON-based templates, whereas Terraform uses an HCL syntax.
  • Features: One significant capability that Terraform offers that CloudFormation does not yet match within its basic capabilities is the ability to create and configure resources dynamically. With Terraform’s “count” and “for_each” features, you may programmatically construct logic to generate a resource numerous times. Additionally, you may use the dynamic block capability to customize your resource dynamically.
  • Functions: You may access a wide variety of functionalities in Terraform. Here are some sample categories of Terraform functions: date/time, filesystem, encoding, numeric, text manipulation, and so on. This is by no means an exhaustive list! By contrast, CloudFormation offers a remarkably restricted set of intrinsic functions—less than fifteen altogether. For simple activities, the absence of auxiliary functions might result in frustrating and complex circumstances.
  • Cloud providers: As the name implies, AWS CloudFormation is exclusive to Amazon Web Services. Although using custom resources to deploy to third-party resources is theoretically possible, doing so is somewhat cumbersome, and CloudFormation does not really support such third-party resources. However, you may also deploy to different cloud providers using Terraform. Granted, using the same codebase across cloud providers won’t be possible.
  • Enterprise support: You may rest easy knowing that AWS can help you directly with any problems you may have with your AWS CloudFormation if your company makes use of AWS Enterprise Support. This is in contrast to Terraform, where HashiCorp support is also available directly or via the open-source community.

Side-by-Side Comparison: Terraform vs CloudFormation

  • Easy to use: Terraform covers the majority of AWS resources, whereas CloudFormation is limited to the services provided by AWS. Terraform is compatible with numerous cloud service providers, including AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and many more.
  • Language: CloudFormation works with either YAML or JSON. This facilitates reading and managing CloudFormation. However, there is a restriction that prevents developers working with AWS from creating CloudFormation templates larger than 51MB. Should the template grow larger than this, developers will have to build a layered stack for the templates. However, Terraform makes use of HCL, a proprietary language developed by Hashicorp (Hashicorp Configuration Language). This language is also compatible with JSON.
  • State-management: Because CloudFormation is a managed AWS service, it continuously monitors the infrastructure to determine whether or not the supplied infrastructure is keeping its current condition. If anything changes, a thorough response is sent to CloudFormation. However, Terraform keeps track of the infrastructure’s current state on the provisioning machine—which may be a distant computer or a virtual machine. Terraform uses a JSON file to represent the resources it maintains as a map, and this file contains the state information.
  • Cost: The fact that these tools are free is their biggest feature. These two technologies have sizable communities with a wealth of information and inspiration. There is no cost for CloudFormation. Users only have to pay for the AWS services that CloudFormation provides. One free and open-source tool is called Terraform. On the other hand, Terraform provides a commercial enterprise edition with more governance and collaboration features.
  • Multi-cloud integration: Terraform is your best choice if you want to supply services across several cloud platforms. While CloudFormation is limited to AWS, Terraform supports all cloud suppliers, including AWS, GCP, Azure, and many more. Therefore, Cloudformation is not for you if several cloud deployments are part of your infrastructure. If you are utilizing AWS services such as S3, EC2, and so forth, Cloudformation is the ideal option. The most recent version of Terraform now fully supports every AWS service in order to address interoperability with AWS. When it comes to managing AWS cloud resources, this version of Terraform is said to be comparable to CloudFormation.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, the use of infrastructure tools depends on your requirements. The overall feeling of Terraform vs CloudFormation is that CloudFormation is more professional and dependable than Terraform, despite its imperfections, and it is strongly suggested for any project that isn’t exclusively multi-cloud. Convert CloudFormation to Terraform for improved management and flexibility due to Terraform’s broader support for multi-cloud environments, its declarative syntax, and its robust ecosystem of community-maintained modules.

Read more: Cloud Transformation Vs. Cloud Migration: What’s the Difference?

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