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Stephen P. Potter
Hunting for a Terraform alternative but not sure about the differences between Puppet vs. Terraform? Both work within the IT automation space, but they are not true alternatives—as we will explore in this article. They are complementary solutions that are used to solve different use cases.
Table of Contents:
Both Puppet and Terraform are tools that can manage infrastructure as code (IAC) within an organization. However, Terraform provisions and manages low-level components (such as servers, storage, and networking devices) and Cloud Native Services, while Puppet manages operating systems and application-level configurations.
Developed by Hashicorp, Terraform is cloud-agnostic and can support many different providers to help manage a multi-cloud environment. It is a powerful building tool that can manage virtual machines, perform OS installations, provide NFVs (Network Functions Virtualizations such as routers, firewalls, and load balancers), and install cloud services (IaaS and PaaS).
With a suite of offerings to support configuration management, Puppet can help organizations and teams who are working with some level of existing infrastructure. In an infrastructure operations lifecycle, Terraform is primarily Day 0/Day 1 and Puppet is Day1/Day2 and so on.
Choosing any tool for your infrastructure requires you to assess what you’ll need. Consider these questions:
If you’re building infrastructure from scratch and you are looking toward the future for configuration management, both Terraform and Puppet are tools that can work together to achieve your goals.
Both Puppet and Terraform are “target state management,” stateful, and conceptually similar. Both tools use declarative language to define a model of what the end state should look like and attempt to always ensure it returns to that state. But let’s dive into the specifics to see the differences between Puppet and Terraform at a deeper level.
Both Puppet and Terraform use their own Domain Specific Languages. Terraform’s HCL (HashiCorp Configuration Language) was designed to be more like JSON. Puppet’s Domain Specific Language was designed to be more like Ruby.
Terraform is agentless and communicates to underlying services primarily using APIs that must be written for every different service it needs to interact with (plug-ins). Puppet is agent-based and communication is standardized between the server and agent.
The biggest difference between Puppet and Terraform lies within their implementation, and their respective mutable or immutable structures.
Immutable infrastructure is destroyed and replaced any time a change is necessary. Mutable infrastructure can be changed by modifying the configuration in place.
As an immutable infrastructure, Terraform compares a new state to the state that was established, it might need to destroy a resource to make a change. An example might be, if you want to move from a small EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) instance to a larger one, it can’t simply change the configuration. It must tear down the existing small EC2 image and then rebuild a brand new large EC2 image.
When running Puppet, a mutable infrastructure, changes can be made by modifying the configuration and potentially restarting the OS rather than removing the former configuration entirely.
Aside from specific needs, the question of whether you want to use Terraform or Puppet comes down to the current state of your infrastructure as code. Has the bulk of your infrastructure already been scripted and set up? If so, you might have moved past the need for Terraform’s offerings and should look toward configuration tools for state management like Puppet.
As a powerful and light infrastructure build tool, Terraform can allow your infrastructure to be shared and re-used with planning support. Your infrastructure can be efficiently built and rolled out like you would deploy any other kind of code.
Puppet Enterprise can be a great infrastructure as code alternative if you are looking for insight into your current environment and provisioning modules that you have already set up.
You might think about Terraform and Puppet as a complimentary combination, like peanut butter and chocolate. Each is tasty on its own, but when combined, they create something incredible. No matter if you decide to use Puppet or Terraform, you will be supported by a community of developers who can help you reach your infrastructure as code goals. The only question that remains is: what will meet your specific needs?
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Senior Solutions Engineer, Puppet by Perforce
Stephen is a Senior Solutions Engineer at Puppet by Perforce. His years of experience in the Puppet ecosystem and decades in IT operations include roles as sysadmin, engineer, and architect for Unix, Linux, Virtualization, and Cloud technologies.