06/14/23

IAC Tools: Terraform vs. Pulumi

How do the established IaC tools stack up?

4 Min Read

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is a key element in the DevOps toolbox. It simplifies the process of managing, provisioning, and configuring cloud infrastructure through readable files, ensuring consistency, accountability, and repeatability. Among the variety of tools available, Terraform and Pulumi have carved out notable spaces. This article will delve into each tool, considering their advantages, pitfalls, and the circumstances in which one might be a better fit than the other.

Terraform

Terraform, created by HashiCorp, is an open-source IaC tool widely recognized for its flexibility and functionality. It uses a declarative language to define and provide infrastructure, which can span multiple cloud service providers.

Strengths of Terraform

  1. Provider Agnostic: Terraform's ability to work across numerous cloud providers and third-party services grants unparalleled flexibility.
  2. Declarative Language: Terraform uses HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL), which outlines what to achieve, leaving the 'how' to the tool itself.
  3. Modularity and Reusability: Terraform promotes the use of modules, reusable infrastructure components, aligning with the DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself) principle.

Weaknesses of Terraform

  1. State Management: Terraform uses a state file to track the provisioned resources. Coordinating this file amongst teams can be complex and challenging.
  2. Learning Curve: Grasping HCL and understanding the specifics of individual cloud provider resources requires significant effort.
  3. Developer-DevOps Gap: Terraform's configuration requirements often lead to a bottleneck where developers are dependent on DevOps for infrastructure provisioning.
  4. Cost Optimization Issues: Setting up cost-efficient infrastructures for development and staging environments demands additional work and often results in overprovisioning.

Pulumi

Pulumi, a newer entrant to the IaC arena, sets itself apart by allowing infrastructure definition using general-purpose programming languages.

Strengths of Pulumi

  1. General-Purpose Languages: Developers can leverage languages like Python, TypeScript, and Go, making Pulumi an extension of the development workflow.
  2. Real-Time Feedback: Pulumi previews changes before they are applied, aiding in avoiding potential issues.
  3. Secrets Management: Pulumi has robust built-in support for handling sensitive data.

Weaknesses of Pulumi

  1. Imperative Syntax: Pulumi's support for imperative languages can lead to overly complex configurations and may be less intuitive for those accustomed to declarative models.
  2. Managed Service Requirement: Pulumi necessitates a managed service for state management. While it offers greater scalability, it also leads to dependency and might have implications on speed.

What to choose

Choosing between Terraform and Pulumi often boils down to your project's specific requirements and the team's skill set. Terraform's wide-ranging provider support and declarative syntax make it a solid choice for complex, multi-cloud deployments, though it requires careful handling of the state file and a greater focus on cost optimization. On the other hand, Pulumi's support for popular programming languages and strong secrets management make it a strong contender, particularly for teams that prefer using familiar languages for infrastructure configuration.

Encore: An Alternative Approach to IaC

Encore, a backend development platform, offers a compelling alternative to traditional IaC solutions. It addresses the disconnect between application developers and DevOps by providing a declarative Infrastructure SDK that lets developers define the infrastructure requirements directly in application code, in a cloud-agnostic way.

Encore orchestrates the provisioning of the necessary infrastructure in local, preview, and cloud environments on AWS and GCP. It mitigates the cost optimization challenges of Terraform and Pulumi, by providing an automated path to use cheap serverless alternatives for dev and staging environments while relying on more robust options in production.

Suitable For

Teams that want to concentrate on developing their application and prefer not to spend time on complex DevOps processes and manual setup of their infrastructure.

When to consider Encore

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Conclusion

While Infrastructure as Code offers a flexible model for managing digital infrastructure, it also presents challenges in terms of manual effort, escalating costs, and creating silos in organizations. Platforms like Encore offer alternative approaches, enabling companies to build scalable applications while keeping costs under control. By utilizing solutions like Encore, businesses can leverage the benefits of IaC, while sidestepping its potential drawbacks.

Ready to escape the hamster wheel?

Encore is Backend Development Platform purpose-built for creating event-driven and distributed systems — from developing locally to scaling in your cloud on AWS/GCP.