The growth of cloud computing and infrastructure as code (IaC) practices has turned Terraform into the de facto standard for provisioning and managing infrastructure. The tool is powerful when deployed manually, but automating Terraform is transforming infrastructure management for organizations pursuing agility, scalability, and cost-effectiveness.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the reasons behind automating Terraform and provide insights into the mechanisms for doing so.
Why automate Terraform?
Terraform, developed by HashiCorp, enables users to define and provision infrastructure using a declarative configuration language called Hashicorp Configuration Language (HCL). The core idea is to codify infrastructure requirements, allowing for version-controlled, repeatable, and collaborative provisioning of resources across various cloud providers and on-premises environments.
Deploying Terraform manually works quite well for smaller operations, but as systems become more layered and complex, Terraform automation offers numerous benefits. Here are the primary ones:
Boosts efficiency and consistency
For many organizations, the most important reason for automating Terraform is the significant increase in efficiency and consistency it promises. With automation, you don’t need human intervention for deployments, thereby reducing the possibility of human errors. This enables consistent infrastructure deployments across environments, making outcomes more reliable and more predictable.
A growing organization needs to scale its infrastructure — and that means more complex configurations. If you use Terraform, automation makes it easier to scale your infrastructure by deploying and managing resources in a repeatable manner. Automating your organization’s Terraform means you can adapt quickly to changing demands and manage larger workloads.
Saves time and resources
Another benefit of automating Terraform workflows is the extra time it frees up for your DevOps and infrastructure teams. The hours they would have spent on repetitive, error-prone manual tasks can be devoted to more strategic aspects of infrastructure management that add business value. Automation accelerates the deployment process, enabling faster time-to-market for applications and services.
Facilitates version control and collaboration
Version control is as fundamental to IaC as it is to software development. Tracking changes so that you can revert to previous versions if necessary is vital. Version-control systems like Git provide a centralized repository for all code, configurations, templates, etc., and automating Terraform configurations allows you to integrate them with Git, so that you are not just tracking changes over time but also enabling collaboration among your team members. Multiple contributors can work on the same Terraform codebase simultaneously, knowing that changes are versioned and can be rolled back if necessary.
Ensures auditability and compliance
Audits are a regular fact of life in many industries, particularly those with onerous regulatory and compliance requirements. Automation makes audits less painful because it allows you to keep a clear, traceable history of infrastructure changes. Automated Terraform workflows generate logs and reports, which you can use to show your adherence to compliance standards if required, thus simplifying the audit process.
How to automate your Terraform Workflow
Given the benefits of automating Terraform, it is tempting to dive directly into the process. However, it is important to assess your current IaC procedures to ensure you are suitably equipped to do it properly. Here are some of the considerations you should bear in mind for Terraform automation:
IaC best practices
Preparation for optimal Terraform automation should include ensuring that your Terraform configurations follow IaC best practices. This means modularizing your code, using variables for flexibility, and structuring your codebase in a way that encourages reusability. If your Terraform code is well organized, you’ll be in a good position to automate your Terraform effectively.
Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD)
Integrate Terraform automation into your CI/CD pipelines to streamline the development workflow. CI/CD practices, when combined with Terraform automation, enable developers to push changes to version control systems, triggering automated builds and deployments. Tools like Jenkins, GitLab CI, and GitHub Actions can be configured to orchestrate Terraform workflows seamlessly.
Infrastructure pipeline orchestration
Consider using infrastructure pipeline orchestration tools to manage Terraform deployments at scale. Tools like Google Cloud Functions, AWS CodePipeline, and Azure DevOps provide centralized control over infrastructure changes. They enable you to define and manage complex deployment pipelines, ensuring that changes progress through predefined stages before reaching production.
Integrating Terraform with configuration management streamlines the end-to-end process, allowing you to define and manage infrastructure and application configurations in a cohesive manner. Even if your infrastructure is private or on-premises, you can use mechanisms such as Terraform Cloud Agents or Spacelift Workers to manage it safely and efficiently. Having the ability to directly configure your instances as soon as they are provisioned reduces errors, especially in large environments and enhances scalability and overall flexibility.
Implement automated testing for your Terraform code to catch errors early in the development process. Tools like tflint and terraform validate can be incorporated into your CI/CD pipeline to perform static analysis and validate configurations against best practices. Automated testing ensures that only validated and compliant Terraform code makes its way into production.
Centralize the management of Terraform state files to ensure consistency and collaboration. Consider using remote backends, such as AWS S3, to store and lock state files. This prevents conflicts and facilitates collaboration among team members working on the same infrastructure.
Create a Terraform automation workflow
The following steps outline a typical Terraform automation process:
Configuration File Creation
Start by creating a Terraform configuration file (often named main.tf) that defines the infrastructure components, providers, and any necessary variables. This file serves as the blueprint for the desired infrastructure.
Run the terraform init command to initialize the working directory. This step downloads the necessary provider plugins and sets up the backend, establishing the groundwork for subsequent actions.
Execute terraform plan to preview the changes Terraform will apply to the infrastructure. This step helps identify any potential issues or unintended consequences before making modifications.
Once you are satisfied with the plan, run terraform apply to enact the proposed changes. Terraform will prompt for confirmation before proceeding, providing an additional layer of safety.
Verification and Monitoring
After applying changes, it’s crucial to verify the infrastructure’s state. Terraform supports post-deployment verification and monitoring through integrations with tools like Prometheus and Grafana.
Automating your Terraform workflow is a pivotal step in modernizing infrastructure management. It offers an efficient, scalable, flexible way to provision and maintain resources. By incorporating Terraform into your CI/CD pipelines, orchestrating infrastructure changes, and implementing best practices, you can enhance collaboration, reduce operational risks, and accelerate your organization’s progress toward a more agile and resilient infrastructure.
By Mariusz Michalowski