Infrastructure as Code (IaC) revolutionized how companies design and build IT infrastructure by providing a reliable and robust way from the ground up. Infrastructure as Code allows DevOps teams to set up infrastructure resources, e.g., load balancers, virtual machines, and networks, using descriptive models and languages. Previously, setting up a large number of physical servers could take several hours. Now, with the correct IaC tool, you can have these servers entirely configured and ready to run in production in a fraction of the time.
In this blog, we explore the top 10 Infrastructure as Code tools that have earned a solid reputation in the market for automating complex and time-consuming tasks such as configuration, provisioning, and deployment of numerous devices at scale.
Table of Contents
- AWS CloudFormation
- Azure Resource Manager
- Google Cloud Deployment Manager
What do Infrastructure as Code (IaC) Tools Do?
A wide range of Infrastructure as Code tools available today help IT Managers address the following infrastructure management tasks:
Previously, installing, configuring, and updating programs for Cloud servers was a manual task for IT managers. Similarly, the network teams had to manually store and manage the configuration data. This was not only a time-consuming and tedious process, but also called for the collaboration of several IT personnel. The most pressing problem was scalability because administrators found it challenging to bring up new servers quickly enough to keep up with the speed and scope of continously evolving business operations. Furthermore, hiring and managing a team increased costs significantly.
It is important to be aware that some IaC tools are involved in the infrastructure setup, while others manage the infrastructure or the applications in your environment. Below we look at some popular tools, both cloud service providers and vendor-neutral solutions.
What are the Best Infrastructure as Code Tools for 2024?
Terraform is one of the most popular IaC tools in the market. It's an open-source project with incredible flexibility, supporting all the most prominent cloud platforms, including;
It also offers support to many providers such as DigitalOcean, GitHub, Cloudflare, and many others. Furthermore, Terraform also allows resource destruction through source control. This capability is essential when manipulating hybrid clouds, where plans can be made across multiple cloud providers and infrastructures, all while using the same workflow.
Primarily, Terraform improves reliability by ensuring your Infrastructure as Code plan is consistent across all different cloud providers. In addition, the CLI can be used to execute a validation check using the command terraform plan, where all configurations are measured and validated. This aspect ensures the result meets expectations to avoid any mistakes, destruction of resources, and potential extra costs.
Due to Terraform’s open-source nature, many essential tools and scripts are designed to improve Terraform's solid foundations. So, if you're looking to balance the costs of your project and have greater control over structural spending, integrations such as Infracost can cover your needs. On the other hand, if you're trying to avoid misconfiguration, improve IaC security, and be securely compliant with different benchmarks such as HIPAA, Bridgecrew covers security while moving it left in your project.
2. AWS CloudFormation
Like the all-rounder Terraform, AWS CloudFormation allows you to manage infrastructure and automate any deployments using code. The main difference comes down to how intimate CloudFormation is to AWS in that it only works with AWS IaC. However, it makes up for this by being integrated with the entire platform.
You can write CloudFormation templates in both YAML and JSON, which you can use to make managing, scaling, and automating AWS resources fast and straightforward. Furthermore, you can preview all the changes before deployment, which helps you visualize the impact a set of changes will have on your resources, services, and dependencies.
CloudFormation also offers Rollback Triggers that allow you to restore infrastructure to a previous state, guaranteeing controlled deployments in case of any mistakes or issues.
This tool’s close relationship with AWS enables infrastructure stacks to be deployed in several regions and accounts using the same CloudFormation template. These capabilities make Terraform one of the best Infrastructure as Code Tools to use for your projects.
3. Azure Resource Manager
Another top IaC tool is Azure Resource Manager, which is Microsoft's tool to manage Infrastructure in its platform. It uses the Azure Resource Manager template (ARM templates) to handle dependencies and infrastructure. For example, you can organize your resources into groups, delete them, control access levels to resources, just to name a few.
Controlling access to services and resources is made easy when using Azure, as it supports Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) natively. On the other hand, you can finetune the scope of access with management groups, subscriptions, and resource groups. Additionally, lower levels of hierarchy inherit settings from higher levels, ensuring that policy enforced by higher levels is applied at all desired lower level groups and resources.
ARM offers templates that can deploy resources in parallel, making it possible for faster deployments. Furthermore, the system comes with great organization tools, letting you attribute tags to resources, organize your groups, and check the costs of any resource sharing a specific tag.
4. Google Cloud Deployment Manager
Cloud Deployment Manager is Google's infrastructure deployment service. It uses declarative language to automate the management, creation, provisioning, and configuration of Google Cloud Platform resources. With it, you can use YAML or Python scripts to manage resources alone.
On conveniently organized resource groups, you can use this code in the future to produce equally consistent deployments. It also enables you to preview the impact of all your changes before they're applied. If the need arises, you can use the built-in console to check your current deployments as well.
However, what sets the Deployment Manager apart from the other Infrastructure as Code tools in this list is how deeply integrated it is to Google’s ecosystem. Essentially, it offers UI support inside the developer’s console, making it faster to visualize the architecture of deployments. In addition, being native to the platform, Deployment Manager requires no additional configuration software, and no additional cost is charged for it.
A unique aspect of Pulumi as Infrastructure as Code tool is that it does an excellent job keeping core concepts and features of established tools such as Terraform, while offering support for the cloud giants AWS, GCP, and Azure Cloud. Additionally, it has automation options for;
- Deployment delivery
- Quality assurance using policies
- Easy auditioning
- Comprehensive identity control
All of these capabilities come with high-quality documentation with easy-to-follow tutorials.
Ansible is Red Hat's orchestration and configuration tool. Ansible was created with simplicity and automation from the start. Its robust default configuration allows it to be used immediately without needing any extra configuration work.
As an IaC tool, Ansible uses configuration modules called "Playbooks" written in YAML, where you can configure the desired end state of your infrastructure. If you find a use case that cannot be solved with the default modules, Ansible allows you to write your modules and plugins. With that in mind, we recommend that you check the expansive community-created Ansible Galaxy, as your use case may have already been covered to save time.
Ansible improves development by automating many repetitive and complex tasks, saving a lot of time when installing packages or setting up a large number of servers. For example, building a set of Playbooks requires a time investment, but setting up new machines becomes incredibly fast once you have enough.
Chef is one of the most popular Infrastructure as Code tools currently in the market. It's currently going through some changes after it was acquired by Progress. However, this turbulent phase and the massive amount of layoffs that have followed have pushed many users to migrate to Ansible.
This IaC tool uses "recipes" and "cookbooks" relying on a Ruby-based Domain Specific Language (DSL). The user must write the code with each configuration step to attain the desired state for applications, services, and utilities. Chef is cloud-agnostic, working with big cloud providers such as AWS, GCP, and Azure Cloud. It also supports provisioning APIs, making it an excellent Infrastructure as Code tool to use together with Terraform.
Its absolute flexibility, paired with built-in drift elimination and the ability to configure policies as code, is scalable and enforceable in any existing CI/CD pipelines. These features make Chef one of the strongest contenders on our best Infrastructure as Code tools list.
Puppet has many similarities with Chef compared to other IaC tools in our list and is part of the foundation of many CI/CD pipelines built by DevOps engineers. It uses a DSL based on Ruby, where you can declare the end state of your infrastructure and what you wish it to do. Puppet then bridges the gap, finding the best way to reach the configuration state previously declared.
If any configuration deviation happens after this point, Puppet monitors and automatically fixes any incorrect changes. This open-source project currently supports all the prominent cloud platforms such as GCP, Azure Cloud, AWS, enabling automation across multiple providers.
Crossplane is an open-source Kubernetes Infrastructure as Code tool that supports all the major cloud providers. It aims to manage and provision cloud infrastructures and services by using kubectl. With it, you can extend your Kubernetes clusters functions, providing Custom Resources Definition (CRD) for any affected service or infrastructure.
The resources generated can be managed, deployed, versioned, and consumed by any third-party tool already integrated with your clusters. Crossplane also offers a consistent API that works across all cloud providers. In addition, Crossplane Resource Model (XRM) standardizes the way resources are managed between Kubernetes, Crossplane, and your cloud platform. It ensures that important information such as credentials, connection secrets, and status conditions work correctly, no matter which provider you use.
Developed by the same creator of Terraform, HashiCorp, Vagrant provides a solution for professionals using a small number of Virtual Machines instead of large cloud infrastructures. The product is aimed at developers working on a much smaller scale, as it excels in quickly creating development environments.
With Vagrant, you can set up a Virtual Machine, run your tests, and save all configurations on that VM in a Vagrantfile. You can share this with other developers to ensure they can reproduce the same results and work with the same development environment.
Vagrant can run together with VirtualBox, AWS, and any other cloud provider that provides VM solutions as part of their services. It can also be integrated with other IaC tools such as Chef and Puppet.
An open-source configuration managememt tool based on Python, Saltstack allows you to provision, deploy, and configure infrastructure on any platform at speed. Essentially, SaltStack is used to automate infrastructure, security, and networks within the organization. It is an easy-to-use IaC tool that comes in handy when mitigating and remediating common infrastructure problems. Furthermore, it is a secure and cost-effective IaC tool that facilitates both automation and orchestration, while reducing manual effort at the same time. If a need arises, it can automatically detect problems with event triggers and revert to the desired state. What's more? It offers SSH support that can facilitate agentless mode. Another notable feature is its scheduler that lets you specify how often the managed servers can run your code.
Spacelift is a Cloud-agnostic IaC software based on policy-as-code using an Open Policy Agent (OPA) Framework. This policy makes it possible for users to define policies covering a variety of decision points within the application such as:
Some of its key features include for Infrastructure as Code (IaC) include;
- Compatibility with the Big 3 Cloud platforms (AWS, GCP, and Microsoft Azure).
- Integration with Terraform, CloudFormation, Pulumi, and Kubernetes
- Declarative workflow management with an open policy agent (OPA)
- Role-based security policies, custom approval flows, and arbitrary Gitflow capability.
Checkov helps Developers and DevOps teams identify and fix misconfigurations and security risks in their infrastructure code before deployment. It’s used as an open-source static code analysis tool for Infrastructure as Code frameworks like Terraform, CloudFormation, and Kubernetes.
Checkov relies on a rules engine to scan Infrastructure as Code files and flag potential issues, including;
- Security vulnerabilities
- Compliance violations
- Best practice violations
Its popularity is down to its simple syntax and extensibility, which simplify adding rules and customizations. Another useful feature of Checkov is the fact that it enables collaboration and sharing of custom rules and configurations between team members or across organizations.
Check out our detailed Checkov installation guide to learn more about this open-source tool.
Infracost aims to help companies estimate the cost of every IaC change made to their Cloud infrastructure using IaC templates. This cost optimization tool readily integrates with popular Infrastructure as Code frameworks like Terraform.
It also supports multiple Cloud providers like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform and excels at providing granular cost summaries for each resource in your infrastructure stack.
For this reason, Developers find it resourceful, especially in making informed decisions about the consequences of their infrastructure changes in terms of cost to avoid budget overruns.
An in-depth introduction to how to leverage Infracost for your Cloud cost optimization efforts is available in our detailed Infracost installation guide.
Env0 is an automation platform for Cloud environments based on infrastructure-as-code templates. It combines an easy-to-use interface with powerful governance tools and cost control to ease the management of your Cloud environments.
env0 provides a management layer above the infrastructure-as-code software. This allows the administrator to supply environment templates (based on the infrastructure-as-code configuration), manage variables and cloud credentials, and define policies for access control, environment time-to-live, and budget limits for users.
Consequently, integrating env0 into your processes means you have better visibility, predictability, and governance of your organization's Cloud resource usage.
How to Implement Infrastructure as Code
The approaches employed in executing Infrastructure as Code include:
- Declarative (Functional) Approach: In a declarative strategy, focus is on defining the desired end-state of the target, detailing “what” the actual configuration of the target should be. Instead of outlining the steps to establish a server, it delineates the list of prerequisites or third-party software needed to configure the infrastructure or server.
- Imperative (Procedural) Approach: The imperative strategy specifies the commands that must be executed to realize the desired outcome. The critical approach transforms the infrastructure to comply with the specified result. Subsequently, IaC can be implemented through two primary methods, namely ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’:
- ‘Push’ Method: This approach involves the controlling server pushing the configuration towards the specified system.
- ‘Pull’ Method: In contrast, the ‘Pull’ method necessitates the server, which requires configuration, to pull its respective configuration from the controlling server.
Benefits of IaC
The chief reasons why there is a growing trend towards IaC adoption include:
- The increase in the number of deployments
- The rising complexity of cloud services and architecture
- The need for cloud systems to scale up and down according to the load
With this in mind, some of the main benefits of IaC adoption are:
- Process Automation: The technical skills and financial resources required to manage complex cloud environments can put pressure on your company’s budget. This is where IaC can be a prudent choice because it makes it easy to manage your entire Cloud infrastructure with just a few engineers.
- Repeatability of Deployments: Current trends show that most businesses have gone from a few deployments every month to hundreds of deployments daily. At this rate, it goes without question that there is a need to have a reliable and automated infrastructure management system. Infastracture as Code offer a stable, tested, and collaborative framework for deploying and managing infrastructure at scale and at pace.
- Scaling Requirement: When you define your infrastructure requirements as code, it is simpler to scale up and down with minimal time and cost investments.
- Declarative Paradigm: IaC simplifies provisioning infrastructure significantly because once you adopt it for your workloads, you do not have to go through thousands of documentation pages and constantly fiddle with the state of your infrastrcuture. Thanks to Infrastructure as Code's declarative paradigm, all you do is define the desired state and the controller provisions and maintain the system configuration at that state.
- Enhanced Collaboration: Since IaC is handled like code, it offers more collaboration opportunities that can be through either version control systems or through Cloud Engineering platforms like Pulumi.
- Compliance with best practices: IaC offers you the capacity to satisfy high availability requirements, security standards, in addition to minimizing the risks associated with operating the system. As such, with Infrastructure as Code, modifying and maintaining the configurations to meet your client's needs becomes as simple as updating a single value in the config file.
Infrastructure as Code is the future when it comes to managing cloud resources due to its effectiveness and reliability. The IaC tools we have outlined will significantly improve the efficiency of any project by automating the most laborious tasks while promoting a safer environment and maintaining consistency. Over the past few years, many companies have switched to IaC, which leads to less time spent dealing with the WebUI provided by their cloud platform and inconsistent resources.
Many companies are still getting used to using Infrastructure as Code tools in their workflow, which often translates to teams not having a CI implemented for it. Generally, leaving a single developer working with Terraform scales poorly and generates a bottleneck in development.
Automating IaC might not be as trendy as automating applications deployment but remains important to keeping your IaC repository as the unique source of truth.
This is where our experts at Bluelight Consulting can help you build an IaC workflow. CI/CD pipelines to solve many challenges such as reducing security risk, ensuring vulnerability scans occur at any change of code, and much more.
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