Diving Deep into Ansible and Terraform: A Guide for Aspiring DevOps Engineers

default image

Hey there! If you‘re looking to level up your DevOps skills, learning Ansible and Terraform is a great place to start. These tools have become essential for automating infrastructure, deploying apps, and managing configurations.

In this guide, I‘ll provide an in-depth look at Ansible and Terraform. I‘ll explain how they work under the hood, key differences between them, when to use each, and resources to help you learn. My goal is to provide lots of insightful info so you can master these tools on your journey to becoming a DevOps pro!

What Exactly is Ansible?

Ansible is an open source automation and configuration management tool created by Red Hat in 2012. Since then, it has taken the DevOps world by storm!

Ansible works by connecting to machines over SSH and pushing small programs called "modules" to them. These modules are pre-packaged units of automation code written in Python. They handle tasks like installing a package, changing a config file, or deploying an app.

Instead of using agents, Ansible relies on SSH access and Python being installed on your nodes. It follows a simple architecture:

Ansible architecture diagram
Ansible‘s architecture is agentless, using SSH to push modules to nodes.

You define the tasks and configs you want Ansible to carry out in YAML playbooks. These human-readable playbooks are one of Ansible‘s killer features!

Here are some cool benefits Ansible provides:

  • Idempotent – You can run playbooks multiple times without side effects.

  • Agentless – No agents needed makes Ansible lightweight.

  • Simple and readable – YAML playbooks are easy to write and understand.

  • Strong community – Ansible provides thousands of pre-made modules and roles.

According to the 2021 State of DevOps Report, Ansible remains one of the top 3 tools used by DevOps professionals! The community around it is huge.

Terraform – Provisioning Infrastructure as Code

Terraform is a younger open source tool created by HashiCorp in 2014. It has quickly become popular for provisioning infrastructure safely and efficiently.

The key difference from Ansible is Terraform focuses on your infrastructure – spinning up servers, databases, networks, load balancers, and more. It uses a declarative language to define the desired "infrastructure state" in config files.

Terraform determines the steps needed to reach that state and makes the required infrastructure changes. This allows you to provision and manage infrastructure as code!

Some awesome features of Terraform:

  • Execution Plans – Preview infrastructure changes before applying.

  • Graph of Resources – See relationship between parts of your infra.

  • Infrastructure Agnostic – Supports all major cloud providers.

According to Datadog‘s 2022 DevOps Trends report, Terraform adoption has grown from 21% in 2018 to 51% in 2021. It‘s become a must-have skill for DevOps engineers!

Key Differences Between These DevOps Tools

Although Ansible and Terraform are both automation tools used in DevOps workflows, there are some notable differences:

Provisioning vs Config Management

Terraform focuses on provisioning infrastructure – creating cloud servers, DBs, networks, etc.

Ansible focuses on configuration management – installing software and updating configs on existing servers.

Declarative vs Procedural

Terraform uses a declarative language to define the desired end state infrastructure.

Ansible playbooks are procedural – defining each step to reach end state.

Mutable vs Immutable

Ansible can mutate and update existing servers. This can cause "configuration drift".

Terraform creates new infrastructure from scratch for each deployment, avoiding drift.

Master vs Masterless

Ansible follows a master-slave architecture with the control node managing target nodes.

Terraform is masterless, interacting directly with cloud provider APIs.

Here‘s a quick comparison table:

Ansible Terraform
Type Config Management Provisioning
Language Procedural Declarative
Infrastructure Mutable Immutable
Architecture Master-Slave Masterless

When Should You Use Each Tool?

With their different strengths, when should you use Ansible vs Terraform?

Ansible is great for configuring and deploying to existing servers. Use it for:

  • Config management
  • Deploying software
  • Orchestrating workflows

Terraform shines for provisioning infrastructure and cloud resources like:

  • Servers, databases, networks
  • Load balancers, firewalls, storage
  • Multi-cloud and hybrid-cloud infra

Many DevOps teams use both tools together – Terraform to provision infrastructure and Ansible to deploy apps and configure systems. This complementary approach helps you manage both infrastructure and apps efficiently.

Resources for Learning Ansible and Terraform

If you‘re motivated to boost your DevOps skills with these tools, here are some resources I recommend:

I‘d also suggest starting small. Build some playbooks to install and configure apps on test VMs. Write Terraform configs to launch a few cloud servers. With hands-on experience, you‘ll quickly have these tools mastered.

Let‘s Start Automating Like DevOps Pros!

I hope this guide has helped explain Ansible and Terraform and how they empower DevOps automation. Both tools have become hugely popular for good reason – they‘re powerful, flexible, and collaborative.

Learning Ansible and Terraform is a great step towards becoming an awesome DevOps engineer. With practice, you‘ll be able to provision infrastructure, deploy apps, and manage configurations like a pro.

Now go grab a coffee (or tea) and start learning! I‘m excited for you to get hands-on experience with these tools. Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions on your DevOps journey!


Written by Alexis Kestler

A female web designer and programmer - Now is a 36-year IT professional with over 15 years of experience living in NorCal. I enjoy keeping my feet wet in the world of technology through reading, working, and researching topics that pique my interest.