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IaC Terraform Best Practices for DevOps Workflows

Explore best practices for Infrastructure as Code (IaC) with Terraform, including automation, security, testing, CI/CD pipelines, and scalable infrastructure management. Learn how to integrate Terraform into DevOps workflows.

Zan Faruqui
May 16, 2023

With infrastructure growing in complexity, most DevOps teams would agree that manual configuration is inefficient and error-prone.

By adopting Infrastructure as Code (IaC) with Hashicorp's Terraform, you can automate provisioning and management while enabling collaboration, compliance, and disaster recovery.

In this comprehensive guide, you'll dive into Terraform best practices - from initial setup to advanced integrations - specifically tailored for streamlined DevOps workflows. Discover proven techniques for security, testing, CI/CD pipelines, and scalable infrastructure management with Terraform's declarative approach.

Introduction to IaC Terraform and DevOps

Terraform is an open-source infrastructure as code (IaC) tool that allows you to define, provision, and manage infrastructure in a declarative configuration language. With Terraform, you can describe your desired infrastructure state in configuration files and then execute changes to reach that state, making it a powerful tool for automating infrastructure provisioning.

Some key benefits of using IaC with Terraform include:

Within DevOps practices, Terraform is commonly used to enable continuous delivery by letting teams provision and update infrastructure alongside application code changes. It integrates well with popular DevOps tools like Jenkins, Ansible, Docker and more.

Next, we'll explore some best practices for effectively leveraging Terraform's capabilities within your workflows.

What is Terraform?

Terraform is an "infrastructure as code" tool created by HashiCorp. It allows you to define cloud and on-prem infrastructure in configuration files that can be shared, versioned, and collaboratively worked on.

With Terraform, you describe the desired end-state of infrastructure rather than specifically executing provisioning commands. Terraform generates an execution plan to reach that state and then makes the necessary API calls to provision real infrastructure.

Key capabilities include:

This "infrastructure as code" approach helps codify and automate provisioning while enabling collaboration across teams.

Exploring the Benefits of IaC

Infrastructure as code brings powerful advantages over manual infrastructure management:

By adopting IaC practices with Terraform, teams streamline development workflows and deploy infrastructure more effectively.

Terraform in DevOps Ecosystems

Terraform is ubiquitous within modern DevOps toolchains due to its flexibility and developer-friendly design. It enables continuous delivery pipelines by allowing infrastructure changes to move through environments alongside application code.

Terraform integrates well with popular DevOps tools like:

Adopting Terraform improves cross-team agility, empowers developers, and helps enable continuous delivery - all critical DevOps practices.

Next we'll explore recommendations and best practices for securely implementing Terraform across these workflows.

What is IaC in Terraform?

Terraform is an Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tool that allows engineers to define their software infrastructure in configuration files that act as code. This means engineers can version control and change infrastructure in the same way they version control and change application code.

Some key benefits of using IaC with Terraform include:

Overall, Terraform brings software engineering best practices like version control, peer review, and automation to infrastructure management. This empowers engineers to easily build, change, and scale infrastructure safely and efficiently.

What is IaC in DevOps?

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is an approach to managing infrastructure through machine-readable definition files rather than physical hardware configuration. With IaC, infrastructure components like servers, databases, networks, etc. are provisioned and managed via code.

This provides several key benefits:

In a DevOps context, IaC is invaluable for enabling continuous delivery pipelines and infrastructure automation. Teams can instantly spin up dev/test environments for developers, conduct integration testing, then tear down resources as needed without any manual intervention.

Popular IaC tools like Terraform and AWS CloudFormation allow engineers to define infrastructure resources via declarative configs. For example, a Terraform file can specify AWS components like VPCs, subnets, security groups, load balancers, etc. Simply running terraform apply provisions all those resources automatically based on the Terraform module.

By incorporating IaC practices, DevOps teams gain greater agility, reliability, and consistency in their infrastructure management workflows. When paired with CI/CD pipelines, infrastructure changes can be rapidly rolled out and validated across environments. This accelerates release cycles while reducing risks and manual toil.

Is Terraform the best IaC tool?

Terraform is considered one of the best infrastructure as code (IaC) tools available today for several key reasons:

However, some downsides exist too:

Overall Terraform remains a top choice for IaC, though alternatives like AWS CloudFormation or Pulumi may better suit some needs. Organizations should evaluate options against their specific requirements.

Is Ansible an IaC tool?

Ansible is considered an infrastructure as code (Iac) tool along with Terraform. Both help manage infrastructure through machine-readable definition files rather than manual processes. However, they have some key differences:

How Ansible Works

Ansible uses YAML files called playbooks to define infrastructure components and the steps needed to get those components into the desired state. Playbooks contain modules, which are pre-built scripts that Ansible executes sequentially. It is an agentless tool that runs over SSH and uses Python on target machines.

Some benefits of Ansible include:

However, Ansible focuses more on initial configuration rather than continuous maintenance and scaling of infrastructure.

How Terraform Works

Terraform also uses definition files (.tf files) to describe desired infrastructure components. But instead of playbooks, it builds a graph of resources and dependencies that it uses to create, update, and destroy components in parallel.

Terraform is ideal for:

So while Ansible excels at initial config management, Terraform specializes in continuously reconciling infrastructure to match definition files as infrastructure scales up.

When to Use Ansible vs Terraform

The two can also work together, using Terraform for infrastructure and Ansible for configuration. This allows leveraging the strengths of both tools.

So in summary, both Ansible and Terraform are infrastructure as code solutions, but with different focus areas. Ansible handles config management while Terraform manages provisioning and continuous maintenance of infrastructure.

Setting Up Terraform: A Step-by-Step Guide

Terraform is a powerful infrastructure as code (IaC) tool that allows you to define, provision, and manage infrastructure in a safe, repeatable way. As part of integrating IaC Terraform into your DevOps workflows, proper configuration and setup is key.

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you get started with Terraform, from initial installation to writing your first Terraform script.

Initial Configuration and Setup

To begin using Terraform, first install it on your local machine:

$ brew install terraform

Next, within your project's root directory, initialize Terraform:

$ terraform init

This will install any necessary plugins and prepare your environment.

Finally, configure remote state storage in a bucket on AWS S3, Azure Blob Storage, etc. to enable collaboration and state locking.

With Terraform installed and initialized, you're ready to start managing infrastructure!

Terraform Providers: AWS and Beyond

Terraform utilizes providers to interact with cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and GCP.

Begin by configuring the AWS provider in a file:

provider "aws" {
 region = "us-east-1"

You can also configure multiple providers in the same Terraform project to manage infrastructure across different platforms.

Common Terraform providers:

Writing Your First Terraform Script

With Terraform set up, let's look at a simple IaC Terraform example:

# Create AWS EC2 Instance
resource "aws_instance" "web" {
 ami           = "ami-0c55b159cbfafe1f0"
 instance_type = "t2.micro"

This configures AWS infrastructure resources declaratively.

To provision the resources:

$ terraform apply

Just like that, Terraform spins up the defined AWS infrastructure!

With these basics down, you can start integrating automated IaC Terraform workflows into your DevOps environments.


Optimizing Terraform Code for Collaboration

Terraform enables infrastructure as code by managing infrastructure deployments and changes through declarative configuration files. To scale Terraform usage across teams and projects efficiently, it's important to organize Terraform codebases thoughtfully. This promotes collaboration, reusability, and maintainability.

Adopting Modular Architecture in Terraform

Adopting a modular architecture for Terraform code involves splitting components into reusable, encapsulated modules. For example:

Benefits include:

Example structure:

├── modules
│   ├── vpc
│   ├── subnets
│   ├── instances
├── dev
│   ├── (imports modules)
├── prod
│   ├── (imports same modules)  

Version Control with Terraform GitHub Integration

Manage Terraform configuration using GitHub version control for:

Additional benefits with Terraform Cloud/Enterprise GitHub integration:

Example workflow:

Developer --commits--> GitHub --webhooks--> Terraform --applies--> AWS
                              Sentinel policies
                                                       State file locking

Code Formatting and Standards

Consistent coding style and documentation improves collaboration:

Following standards and automation around testing/validation lets developers focus on infrastructure logic rather than style concerns.

Securing Your Infrastructure with Terraform

Adopting infrastructure as code (IaC) with Terraform provides teams with programmatic control over provisioning cloud environments. However, as with any automation, security should be a top priority. This section outlines best practices for securing Terraform configurations.

Managing Secrets and Sensitive Data

When working with Terraform, it is inevitable that secrets and sensitive data like API keys will need to be referenced. Hardcoding these values directly into .tf files creates security risks. Here are some techniques to securely handle credentials:

By keeping secrets external from the main Terraform code, risks are reduced.

Principles of Least Privilege with Terraform IAM

Terraform's AWS and GCP providers allow infrastructure to be defined in code along with associated identity and access management (IAM) policies. To enhance security, IAM should follow the principle of least privilege - only granting permissions required for specific purposes. Strategies include:

Taking a granular approach ensures minimal risks even if credentials are compromised.

Terraform State Encryption

Terraform maintains state data to map real world resources with configuration. Enabling state encryption provides an additional layer of security:

With encryption enabled, the state file remains secured throughout its lifecycle.

By implementing practices like secret management, least privilege IAM, and encryption - Terraform can enable automation while still ensuring corporate security and compliance needs are fulfilled.

Efficiently Testing and Maintaining Terraform Code

Ensuring the reliability and performance of Terraform-managed infrastructure with testing and maintenance practices.

Writing and Running Terraform Tests

Adopting test-driven development principles for IaC Terraform code is key to preventing issues before infrastructure deployment. Some best practices include:

Automated testing is essential for infrastructure teams to scale IaC usage while controlling risk. Failing fast during test cycles mitigates production failures.

Policy as Code with Terraform Cloud

Terraform Cloud's policy as code features allow enforcing security, compliance and governance policies for IaC-managed infrastructure. Benefits include:

Policy as code reduces audit preparation effort and lowers risk from human error or oversight. Governance is codified, versioned and tested just like app code.

Continuous Feedback with Terraform Cost Estimation

Terraform Cloud's cost estimation features allow developers to predict and control cloud costs from IaC-managed infrastructure. Practices include:

Cost estimation tools give infrastructure teams continuous feedback to make fiscally-responsible decisions around provisioning and right-sizing cloud resources.

Integrating Terraform with CI/CD Pipelines

Terraform is a powerful infrastructure as code (IaC) tool that allows you to define, provision, and manage infrastructure in a declarative configuration file. Integrating Terraform into your CI/CD pipelines enables infrastructure changes to be tested, validated, and deployed automatically as part of your software delivery lifecycle.

Version Control Systems and Terraform Workflow

Using a version control system (VCS) like GitHub to store your Terraform configuration is a best practice for collaboration and change management. Key benefits include:

Common Terraform workflow with VCS:

Automating Terraform Operations in CI/CD

CI/CD pipelines should automate key Terraform operations:

Other operations like state storage and secret management can also be automated.

Benefits of automating Terraform in CI/CD:

Monitoring and Alerting for Terraform-Managed Resources

Infrastructure monitoring provides visibility into the health and performance of provisioned resources. Solutions like Datadog can:

This closes the feedback loop and allows teams to iterate and improve on infrastructure delivery.

Scaling Infrastructure with Terraform

As infrastructure environments grow in size and complexity, effectively managing them with Terraform requires some advanced strategies. Here are a few best practices for scaling Terraform deployments.

Strategies for Large-Scale Terraform Deployments

When working with large, distributed infrastructure, it's important to design your Terraform configuration in a modular fashion. Break up your code into small, reusable components that can be composed together. Some tips:

Structure your workspaces and state storage to match your environments. Store state remotely in a backend like Terraform Cloud to enable collaboration.

Perform cost estimates before running terraform apply to avoid unexpected resource usage. Use sentinel policies to govern changes.

Terraform Remote Backend for Team Environments

Using a remote backend like Terraform Cloud enables you to store state securely outside your config repo. This facilitates sharing state across a team:

With remote state storage you get durability, consistency and easy collaboration for your infrastructure environments.

Governance and Scalability with Terraform Modules

As the infrastructure managed by Terraform grows, maintaining code quality and consistency becomes critical. Well-designed modules help address this:

Modules make configurations more readable, promote reusability and enforce standards - all essential properties for sustainable growth at scale.

Best Practices for Terraform State Management

Terraform state management is critical for ensuring consistency, security, and recoverability in infrastructure deployments. Here are some best practices when working with Terraform state:

Remote State with AWS S3 and Terraform

Storing Terraform state remotely in AWS S3 enables teams to collaborate efficiently. Some tips:

terraform {
 backend "s3" {
   bucket         = "my-terraform-state"
   key            = "global/s3/terraform.tfstate"
   region         = "us-east-1"  
   encrypt        = true
   dynamodb_table = "terraform-locks"

Implementing State Locking and Access Controls

Terraform state locking prevents corruption from simultaneous edits. Consider:

This ensures only authorized changes are applied.

Disaster Recovery Planning for Terraform State

To mitigate potential data loss risks:

Proactive planning enables restoring infrastructure even if primary state is lost.

Conclusion: Embracing Terraform Best Practices

Consolidating IaC Terraform Best Practices

Adopting Infrastructure as Code (IaC) with Terraform can streamline cloud infrastructure management within DevOps workflows. By codifying and automating provisioning, organizations can increase efficiency, consistency and compliance. To fully realize these benefits, it's important to follow best practices around version control, testing, security and documentation.

Some key recommendations include:

By consolidating these practices, teams can scale Terraform usage more reliably within CI/CD pipelines.

Committing to Continuous Improvement

As infrastructure needs evolve, so too should IaC skills. Teams should commit to leveling up Terraform proficiency through training and knowledge sharing.

Stay updated on new Terraform releases and capabilities. Seek opportunities to further automate manual processes with event-driven infrastructure changes.

As comfort with IaC increases, aim to enable developers to self-serve infrastructure needs to increase velocity.

View infrastructure management as an ongoing journey rather than a one-time project. Continuous improvement mindsets help realize the full benefits of IaC over time.

As IaC matures, expect to see more embedded policy enforcement, drift detection and auto-remediation capabilities. Cloud vendors themselves are likely to release higher-level IaC abstractions tailored to their platforms.

Open source Terraform will continue to shape how teams manage multi-cloud and hybrid infrastructure. Its flexibility and customizability will ensure it remains at the forefront.

Expect to see more playbooks, training programs and certifications focused on IaC skills development. These will help teams scale skills faster.

By staying nimble and open to innovation, infra and DevOps teams will be poised to maximize productivity gains from IaC advances.


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