Terraform vs CloudFormation – which is the better tool for IAC?

Infrastructure-as-Code allows teams to manage and monitor infrastructure through source code which can easily be accessed, edited, and improved. IaC is a key DevOps practice as it automates routine tasks and saves time for developers and operations teams, which leads to quicker deployments and continuous delivery.

Two popular configuration-orchestration tools for IaC are Terraform and CloudFormation. Terraform is an open-source infrastructure as code software and CloudFormation is a service of Amazon Web Services. The role of these tools is to automate the deployment of servers and other infrastructure.

Companies often require experience with IaC when hiring DevOps Engineers, especially with Terraform and CloudFormation, so I have researched these tools and some of their comparisons.

Availability – As Terraform is open-source it can be used to apply changes to several cloud providers and third-party providers, however CloudFormation only manages AWS resources so if a company is not using AWS infrastructure, they will not be able to use CloudFormation.

Usability – Handling modules with Terraform is simpler than CloudFormation as they are self-contained and come with native support, whereas CloudFormation lacks a place where templates are shared and leaves it to the user to modularize templates.

CloudFormation has a graphical user interface where resources can simply be dragged and dropped to deploy which makes it easy to use for beginners, in contrast Terraform does not offer a user-interface.

Cost – The open-source version of Terraform is free of charge and problems are generally resolved quickly by the support team. The Terraform business version which is paid for offers different support options including SaaS or private install. CloudFormation a free AWS service where the level of support included depends on the plan chosen.

The administrative overhead cost is less with CloudFormation as it is a managed service which guides the users with some decisions and has a lot of possibilities, whereas the user is responsible for managing the process with Terraform.

Speed – CloudFormation can take some time to support new features for existing services whereas Terraform is often faster in supporting new services.

There are many other comparisons that can be made, but I have found they are both considered to be extremely powerful tools and remain to be the most popular choices for infrastructure-as-code. Although, with the ever-changing world of technology you never know if there is a newer, better tool just around the corner…