Ansible vs Terraform

When trying to determine what software solution best suits your needs, it can be difficult to sort through all of the available options. Oftentimes the differences between two given software solutions are not immediately apparent. In this article, we will outline the differences between two popular open-source software management solutions, Ansible and Terraform. While both of these solutions are considered Infrastructure as Code (IaC) solutions, there are a number of differences between the two.

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Configuration, Management, and Orchestration

One of the key differences between Terraform and Ansible is how each tool handles the installation, management, and configuration of software. Ansible is designed to function as a configuration management tool, which focuses on both the orchestration of software installations and the subsequent configuration and management of that software. 

Terraform is designed to focus on the installations of software on the server itself and leaves the configuration and management to other tools. As such, Ansible can be seen as an all-in-one solution for the configuration, management, and orchestration of automated software deployments whereas Terraform is better-suited for orchestration-heavy tasks. 

Mutable vs Immutable Infrastructure

Another key difference between Ansible and Terraform is how the two solutions approach the concept of infrastructure mutability. Mutable infrastructures allow for regular updates and modifications after the software has been deployed, whereas immutable infrastructures do not allow modifications once the software has been deployed. 

While mutable infrastructures can be custom-tailored to suit specific needs and allow for more flexibility, it can be difficult to maintain version control without adequate documentation of changes. Immutable infrastructure provides more consistency and reliability, but is more difficult to modify should the need arise. In short, Ansible provides a flexible, customizable solution while Terraform provides a rigid and reliable solution. 

Additional Differences

In addition to the aforementioned features, Ansible and Terraform differ in how they handle the following topics:

Programming Language

Ansible uses a procedural programming language, which simply contains a series of instructions that the system then executes in a stepwise fashion. In contrast, Terraform uses a declarative programming language that can be used to describe a desired result without needing to outline the specific steps that must be followed.

VM Provisioning, Networking and Storage Management

Virtual Machine (VM) provisioning, networking and storage management differs between Ansible and Terraform in that Ansible only partially supports these tasks. Terraform, by contrast, provides comprehensive support for these tasks.

Packaging and Templating

Packaging and templating also differs between Ansible and Terraform. Ansible provides complete support for packaging and templating tasks, whereas Terraform only provides partial support. 

Conclusion

In summary, it is clear that both Ansible and Terraform are powerful open-source tools for automated software deployment. Ansible provides a flexible, customizable solution that can be tailored to perfectly suit your needs, while Terraform provides a reliable, consistent solution for less dynamic operations. By knowing the differences between Ansible and Terraform, you can ultimately decide which solution is right for you. 

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