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How to Choose an Infrastructure-as-Code Tool for Your Project

A recent GitHub report [1] found that Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) tools have risen by 56%, with Terraform HCL being the most popular choice among respondents. Furthermore, a different report [2] also stated that 75% of respondents believe that IaC has improved its efficiency in delivering applications faster.
This highlights the growing importance of IaC in modern software development, but more importantly, it raises the question: How do I choose an Infrastructure-as-Code tool for my project?

There are several factors to consider when choosing an IaC tool, including ease of use, flexibility, and community support. In this blog, we'll describe the key features of each tool and guide you in selecting the best fit for your project.

Terraform

Terraform is a widely used IaC tool that uses declarative language to define infrastructure resources. It supports a wide range of cloud providers and can be used to manage both cloud and on-premises infrastructure. Terraform's strength lies in its simplicity, making it an excellent choice for teams with limited infrastructure automation experience.

One of the benefits of Terraform is its broad community support. With over 1,000 providers [3], Terraform provides a consistent syntax for defining infrastructure resources across different providers. Terraform is also well documented, with many tutorials and support forums available.
Furthermore, Terraform has a growing number of external wrappers and tools that can be easily integrated and extend its core functionality.

Pulumi

Pulumi is a newer IaC tool (compared to Terraform) that uses a programming language such as TypeScript or Python to define infrastructure resources. It supports a wide range of cloud providers and can be used to manage both cloud and on-premises infrastructure, with a growing number of providers. Pulumi's strength lies in its flexibility [4], which makes it an excellent choice for teams with more programming experience.

One of the benefits of Pulumi is its high-level abstraction, which simplifies the process of defining infrastructure resources. Pulumi also provides a rich library of pre-built resources, making it easy to get started with the tool. Pulumi has a growing community, with a range of resources available, including documentation and support forums.

AWS Cloud Development Kit (AWS CDK)

AWS CDK is an AWS-owned IaC tool that uses programming languages such as TypeScript, Python, or Java to define infrastructure resources. It is designed specifically to work with AWS and provides a high-level object-oriented API that simplifies the process of defining infrastructure resources. AWS CDK's strength [5] lies in its high-level abstraction and tight integration with AWS services which can be considered an “evolution” of CloudFormation.

One of the benefits of AWS CDK is its ability to produce AWS CloudFormation, which provides a robust set of resources for managing AWS infrastructure. AWS CDK also provides a range of pre-built constructs, making it easy to get started with the tool. AWS CDK has a growing community, with a range of resources available, including documentation and support forums.

Choosing the Right Tool for Your Project

Feature Terraform Pulumi AWS CDK
Language HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL) TypeScript, Python, Go, .NET, JavaScript, and more TypeScript, Python, and Java
Provider support 1,000+ providers 50+ providers AWS only
Resource management Declarative Imperative Imperative
Abstraction level Low High High
Community support Large and active Growing, but smaller Growing, but smaller
Integration with others Can almost integrate with any workflow Limited, but growing steadily  Limited integration tooling available as of today
Cloud agnostic Yes Yes No - designed specifically for AWS

 

When it comes to choosing the right IaC tool for your project, there are several factors to consider. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Consider Your Team's Experience Level: Terraform is a good fit for teams with limited experience in infrastructure automation, while Pulumi and AWS CDK are better suited for teams with more programming experience
  • Consider Your Cloud Provider: Terraform has the widest range of support for cloud providers and on-premises technologies (vSphere), followed by Pulumi and AWS CDK (designed specifically for AWS)
  • Consider the Level of Abstraction: Pulumi and AWS CDK provide a higher level of abstraction than Terraform, which can simplify the process of defining infrastructure resources
  • Consider Community Support: Terraform has the largest and most active community [6] with a wide range of resources, including documentation, tutorials, and support forums. Pulumi and AWS CDK are both newer tools and may have a smaller community, but they are rapidly growing in popularity and have a range of resources available
  • Consider the Learning Curve: Terraform has a simpler syntax than Pulumi and AWS CDK, which can make it easier to get started with the tool
  • Consider Integration with Other Tools: Terraform and AWS CDK can be integrated with other tools such as Jenkins and GitLab, which can streamline the deployment process

Key Takeaways

  • No matter any other project specifics, you should always consider your team’s expertise before choosing any IaC tool
  • If you only use AWS, the natural fit would be to choose the AWS CDK
  • When considering maturity and a “battle-tested” solution, Terraform is your best bet.
  • IaC tools that use popular programming languages (Pulumi and CDK) are gaining terrain in the industry, previously dominated by Terraform.

We should also mention that Terraform has recently released a new tool – CDKTF [7], which also can support programming languages for building infrastructure as code, but that will be a topic for our next post.

Conclusion

Choosing the right IaC tool for your project is an important decision that can impact on your team's productivity and the quality of your infrastructure. Terraform, Pulumi, and AWS CDK are all excellent tools with their unique strengths and weaknesses. By considering factors such as your team's experience level, cloud provider, level of abstraction, and community support, you can select the best fit for your project and achieve success with infrastructure automation.

References

[1] https://octoverse.github.com/2022/top-programming-languages
[2] https://www.gofirefly.io/documentation 
[3] https://registry.terraform.io/browse/providers 
[4] https://www.pulumi.com/product/ 
[5] https://aws.amazon.com/cdk/features/ 
[6] https://www.hashicorp.com/blog/aws-and-hashicorp-s-journey-to-1-billion-terraform-aws-provider-downloads
[7] https://developer.hashicorp.com/terraform/cdktf 

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