Deploying and Maintaining Cloud Infrastructure? Take a Look at Terraform

Goodbye, individual data centers. Hello, cloud computing.

As technological advances propel us further into the digital age, the cloud truly simplifies a company’s computing infrastructure, delivering on-demand services such as processing power, applications, databases, load balancers, storage of files and more. With cloud computing, all of this is now done online on a pay-as-you-go basis. With the right browser and access, it doesn’t matter whether users have a PC, a Mac, a smartphone or tablet or some other to-be-developed new device — as long as they can access the cloud.

From low upfront costs and a rapid return on investment to rapid deployment, customization, scalability, reliability and efficiency, cloud computing resources that can be scaled up or down depending on an organization’s evolving needs reduce the cost and complexity of owning and operating computers and networks. Consequently, cloud application development has exploded in popularity over the last decade, with a recent State of the Cloud report revealing 94% of enterprises use cloud services today.

Managing IT Infrastructure with Infrastructure as Code

In the past, system administrators were forced to manually configure and then manage all of the hardware and software that was needed for their applications to run. Throughout this incredibly arduous and time-consuming process, sysadmins and other IT professionals had to physically put servers in place and configure them. Then, once machines were configured to the correct setting required by the OS and applications, applications could be deployed. As you might expect, this manual process often results in a myriad of problems — from higher costs to the requirement of more labor.

Now, thanks to infrastructure as code (or IaC), sysadmins and other IT pros are able to manage and provision their IT infrastructure (networks, virtual machines, load balancers, connection topology, etc.) through text files that look like code, rather than physical hardware configuration or interactive configuration tools. Without IaC, the settings of individual deployment environments must be maintained because, over time, each environment becomes a unique configuration that cannot automatically be reproduced through notes, memory or some combination thereof. Inconsistencies lead to deployment issues, so it’s important to remain as consistent as possible.

Because an infrastructure’s configuration takes the form of a code file with IaC, it’s simple for IT pros to edit, copy and distribute that configuration. Thus, speed and consistency are invariably improved. With IaC, all of an organization’s infrastructure configurations from AWS, Azure or Google Cloud can be replicated faster and more accurately than the click of a mouse, which helps to solve challenges posed by deploying and maintaining infrastructure at scale. Today, IaC is how forward-thinking organizations are managing their IT infrastructure (networks, virtual machines, load balancers, connection topology, etc.) using text-based configuration files.

Terraform — Our IaC Tool of Choice

At Cardinal Peak, our favorite infrastructure as code tool is Terraform. What is Terraform? An open-source IaC software tool created by HashiCorp, Terraform enables users to define and provision data center infrastructure using a simple, human-readable configuration language called HCL (HashiCorp Configuration Language), expressing the infrastructure as code.

With Terraform, IT pros can set structured and automated pipelines for infrastructure, which lead to faster and less error-prone deployments because manual maneuvering is minimized. Plus, the same blocks of code can be used to create infrastructure for development and QA environments, helping to ensure consistencies within the production environment.

Terraform vs. CloudFormation and Other IaC Tools

An improvement over AWS CloudFormation and Azure Resource Manager, Terraform provides near-full support for AWS and Azure features and works across multiple cloud providers for complex deployments, facilitating infrastructure management in the cloud at scale. Rather than using provider-specific tools for each one, Terraform supports AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and others, enabling a consistent deployment experience across multiple clouds.

While competing Terraform providers offer similar functionality, there are differences in the implementation details between AWS, Azure and Google. For Terraform, this means that, while the code structure remained the same across providers, individual components had to be rewritten using provider-specific syntax. Thus, IT professionals don’t get full code reuse across cloud providers, but they do get a consistent overall structure and deployment process.

For as much as we like the tool, Terraform is not perfect. As is the case with any deployment, occasional problems with cyclic dependencies (resources that depend upon one another so Terraform doesn’t know which one to process first) occur. Plus, new cloud provider features might not be supported as soon as they are released.

In spite of those minor faults, we believe Terraform is the best tool for developers deploying infrastructure. Terraform’s declarative syntax is clear, more readable and easier to organize than that of CloudFormation or Azure RM. Plus, Terraform modules offer a very natural way for software developers to design or produce infrastructure in separate sections and reuse their infrastructure code, which allows complex deployments to be nicely organized. At the end of the day, the clearer, more readable and easier to understand an IaC tool is, the better.

As an example to demonstrate the power of infrastructure as code, on a recent project using Terraform, we were able to reliably create and destroy multiple complete, isolated cloud systems, with each system consisting of over 100 individual AWS resources. This was all done from the command line with a single command.

Experts in cloud development and transformation, Cardinal Peak has been developing on AWS since day one. We’ve used Terraform as our IaC tool of choice for the past year, and we’ve already saved a significant level of effort trying to provision multiple pieces of infrastructure and maintain them one by one. We believe Terraform is the best tool in the market to manage cloud deployments at scale, and our expertise empowers clients to spend more time developing their innovative products than dealing with infrastructure and servers.

Want to learn more about infrastructure as code, Terraform or how we can help you deploy and maintain infrastructure at scale? Connect with us today. We’ve helped a wide range of customers across industries transform their organization through innovative cloud-based applications.

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