Terraform vs Kubernetes – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons)

Terraform vs Kubernetes – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons). DevOps tools help teams rapidly deploy reliable solutions and invite innovation for their customers. These tools have revolutionized how developers create and manage cloud resources. Among the most popular tools in today’s market are Terraform and Kubernetes. Both automation tools, that aid software development process and make the project lifecycle easier. 

Let’s start with Terraform vs Kubernetes – What’s the Difference? 

What is Terraform?

Terraform is an infrastructure as code (IAC) tool for provisioning and deploying cloud infrastructure. All in all, Terraform enables you to define on premise and cloud resources in human configurable files. You can then share and reuse these files depending on your needs. Terraform is owned by Hashicorp, and is written in the Hashicorp Configuration Language (HCL). HCL is a JSON-like high-level configuration language designed to be both human and machine readable for use in infrastructure automation. 

With Terraform, you manage high level infrastructure components i.e SaaS features and DNS entries, and also low level components such as networking, storage, and compute resources.

Features of Terraform

Infrastructure as Code

Bine an IAC tool it defines resources in configuration files. Change, build, and version infrastructure safely and efficiently. Deploy various resources (physical servers, load balancers, and networking interfaces) on Azure, GCP, and AWS. Besides, replicate the code in different environments.

Platform Agnostic

Platform agnostic, meaning it deploys resources across cloud and on premise environments consistently. 

Immutable Infrastructure

Immutable infrastructure means it accommodates  middleware upgrades or new storage servers. When a new configuration is deployed, it replaces the existing one. Basically, the servers don’t change after deployment, and previous configurations is retained as versions to enable rollback whenever needed. This provides more reliability and consistency. 

Resource Graphs

Moreover, Terraform builds dependency graphs from the configurations. These graphs provide a visual representation of the configuration or execution plan. Within the graph are various nodes i.e  Resource Node, Provider Configuration Node, and Resource Meta Node. These nodes are visible when visualizing a configuration with a terraform graph.

Reusable Architecture

Terraform reusable configurations- modules, are ideal for multiple infrastructure resources used together. These modules allow automation of complex resources.

Pros of Terraform

  • Use one language to define infrastructure for different platforms.
  • The Terraform central registry allows individuals and team to collaborate when provisioning infrastructure.
  • Agentless, therefore, you do not have to install it on the managed infrastructure.
  • Uses a modular structure, which provides a standard interface for creating resources.
  • Public modules enable simple coding.

Cons of Terraform

  • New users find it difficult to understand and debug the generated errors.
  • Limited access controls.

Follow the article Terraform vs Kubernetes – What’s the Difference? to learn more about Kubernetes next.

What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes is an open source container management platform for managing containerized applications and services. Well, containers are lightweight, portable units that resemble virtual machines. They have memory, CPU, and file system, and are used to package application code along with all its dependencies. Basically, Kubernetes containers allow applications to run consistently across different environments. Most DevOps teams use Kubernetes due to its portability and ability to ship code faster.

At its core, Kubernetes manages a cluster of virtual machines known as nodes. These nodes run containers with individual application components. Kubernetes utilizes a set of user defined declarative configurations to coordinate these nodes. These configurations define the system’s desired state. This includes the network settings, resource limits, and number of replicas. Kubernetes then continuously reconciles the actual state of the system with the desired state, making necessary adjustments to maintain the specified requirements.

Kubernetes leverages a master slave architecture. In this architecture, the master node maintains the entire cluster of nodes. The slave executes containers based on instructions from the master node. The master node has several components:

  • API server– displays the Kubernetes API.
  • ETCD– a distributed key-value store that holds the configuration data.
  • Control panelautomate tasks like scaling and updates.

Features of Kubernetes

Automatic Bin Packing

Simply put, Kubernetes allocates resources efficiently by automatically positioning containers on nodes according to their resource needs and limitations, such as CPU and memory. This procedure, called bin packing, guarantees that the underlying infrastructure is utilized effectively. This minimizes resource waste and enhances the overall performance of applications. Thanks to Bin packing, developers concentrate on building resilient and scalable applications without being concerned about resource management.

Adaptable Horizontal Scaling

Besides, Kubernetes offers the adaptability to scale applications up or down based on current needs. Users manually modify the number of replicas for a specific application or utilize the Horizontal Pod Autoscaler feature to automate the process.

The Kubernetes autoscaler dynamically modifies the number of replicas according to predefined metrics, such as CPU usage or custom metrics defined by the user. Then, applications manages increased traffic without overwhelming the system or compromising performance.

Rolling Updates and Rollbacks

Also, Kubernetes rolls out updates to a limited number of instances at a time, closely observing their health and performance. If an update is successful, this tool rolls out the updates until it updates all instances. However, if it encounters a problem, it reverts to the previous stable version. This ensures minimal impact on users and maintains service continuity.

Continuous Self Healing

In a complex, distributed environment, Kubernetes persistently monitors the health of containers, nodes, and applications. This guarantees a high level of availability and resilience. If a container encounters a failure or crash, Kubernetes automatically restarts it or reschedules it onto another available node. This self healing ensures that your applications remain accessible and operational despite unforeseen issues.

Secret and Configuration Management

What is more, it offers a critical feature called secret and configuration management that helps securely and efficiently manage sensitive information, such as passwords, tokens, and API keys. By using “Secrets” to store this confidential data within the cluster, it remains separate from the application code. This streamlines updates and management without needing to rebuild the entire application. 

Secrets are stored in a temporary, in-memory file system to reduce the risk of unauthorized access. These key-value pairs are accessed by authorized containers and resources within the cluster. Besides, role-based access control (RBAC) enforces granular permissions for various users and resources. Combined with ConfigMaps, which handles non-sensitive configuration data to provide a secure means of managing configuration data.

Pros of Kubernetes

  • Supports multi-cloud and hybrid cloud
  • Strong community support and continuous updates due to its open source nature.
  • Built in security features such as role-based access control (RBAC) and secrets management.
  • Enables better collaboration between developers and operations teams with DevOps practices.
  • Promotes application portability by abstracting underlying infrastructure details.

Cons of Kubernetes

  • Steep learning curve and complexity for initial setup and configuration.
  • Requires considerable resource overhead for managing the control plane.

We are now at the centre article question Terraform vs Kubernetes – What’s the Difference?. Let’s find out.

Main Differences Between Terraform and Kubernetes

Infrastructure Provisioning

On one hand, Terraform is an IaC tool whereby developers use declarative language to define, provision, and manage infrastructure. Works with public cloud platforms, enabling users to provision VMs, network, and storage, among other resources. In essence, Terraform focuses majorly on automating infrastructure management. Minimizes the time and complexity of manual provisioning.

On the other hand, Kubernetes focuses on deploying, scaling, and managing containerized applications. Unlike Terraform, it does not directly provision infrastructure. Organizes and manages virtual machines, which contain all the components of the application. The primary goal of Kubernetes is to ensure that users run applications consistently across diverse environments. It provides a robust underlying infrastructure that is managed separately from the Kubernetes cluster.

Configuration Language

Here, Terraform utilizes the HCL, a domain specific language designed for infrastructure resource definition and provisioning. HCL is human readable and JSON compatible, emphasizing clarity and readability. HCL’s structured syntax makes it easy to define resources, variables, and outputs, simplifying infrastructure code maintenance.

But, Kubernetes utilizes YAML or JSON for configuration files. These files establish the desired system state, including replica count, resource limits, and network settings. Then, Kubernetes processes these configurations to deploy and scale containerized applications. Both, YAML and JSON are human readable but serve as general purpose data serialization formats not specific to infrastructure or application management.

Tool Workflows

With, Terraform it’s users write configuration files, initialize the backend, plan infrastructure changes, and apply them. Users define the desired infrastructure in HCL files, and initialize the backend with ‘terraform init’. They also review proposed changes using ‘terraform plan‘, and apply changes with ‘terraform apply’ to create or update the infrastructure.

On the contrary, Kubernetes focuses on creating and managing objects using declarative configurations or imperative commands. Users write YAML or JSON configuration files for their application’s desired state and apply these configurations to the cluster using ‘kubectl’. Kubernetes continuously reconciles actual and desired states, making necessary adjustments. Users also interact with the Kubernetes API directly or use client libraries for programmatic actions.

Resource Creation

Terraform communicates with cloud providers‘ APIs to create and manage resources using a plugin based architecture. Each plugin, called a provider, manages resources for a specific platform. Hence, Terraform maintains a state file, tracking resource states and making changes based on differences between desired and actual states.

But, Kubernetes provisions resources within clusters by interpreting configuration files’ desired states. It doesn’t directly interact with cloud providers’ APIs for resources like virtual machines or storage. Instead, Kubernetes uses control plane components (API server, etcd, and controller manager) to manage cluster resources, ensuring actual states match user-defined desired states.

Command Execution

Terraform employs its CLI for configuration interaction and action execution, while Kubernetes relies on the ‘kubectl’ command-line tool to manage resources and interact with clusters. Both CLIs provide consistent user experiences, clear feedback, and error messages, making it easier to understand and troubleshoot any issues during provisioning or management processes.

Cloud Compatibility

Lastly, Terraform is cloud agnostic, supporting numerous cloud providers and services via providers, allowing users to manage multi cloud and hybrid cloud environments using a single tool, streamlining infrastructure provisioning and maintenance across multiple platforms.

Finally, Kubernetes runs on any cloud platform or on premises environment, primarily focusing on container orchestration and application management within clusters. Although it is integrated with cloud provider specific services, it doesn’t natively support provisioning such resources. Consequently, users often combine Kubernetes with other tools, such as Terraform or cloud provider specific services, for effective infrastructure management.

Thank you for reading Terraform vs Kubernetes – What’s the Difference? We shall conclude it now.

Terraform vs Kubernetes - What's the Difference? Conclusion

Summing up, Terraform and Kubernetes are useful tools highly capable of managing infrastructure resources. Terraform is an IAC tool that uses a declarative language to provision infrastructure, while Kubernetes is a tool used for containerizing infrastructure components to allow apps to run consistently. If you are much into creating resources, Terraform is your ideal tool. However, if you are into software development and testing, Kubernetes should be your go-to platform. All in all, use both tools interchangeably and maximize your productivity.

Avatar for Dennis Muvaa
Dennis Muvaa

Dennis is an expert content writer and SEO strategist in cloud technologies such as AWS, Azure, and GCP. He's also experienced in cybersecurity, big data, and AI.

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