kubernetes vs Terraform

The technological world around us keeps on achieving new heights with every passing day. To keep up with the fast pacing advancements, industries must always bring their A-game. Talking about A game it is a necessity that they have their Software Development process automated. Once all the processes are in place and automated it not only saves time but also reduces human error and provides transparency. Now, when it comes to implementing this automation, several DevOps tools enable you to do so. And, when it comes to these tools Terraform and Kubernetes stand tall. Both tools are extremely relevant and have their own set of features. This article will help you understand the difference between the two tools beginning from their basics.

What is Terraform?

HashiCorp Terraform is an infrastructure as code and an open-source software development tool which uses HashiCorp Configuration Language (a declarative configuration language) or JSON to define cloud and on-prem infrastructure in a readable and understandable language.

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The tool enables the automation and management of infrastructure and services that are present on the company platform using declarative configuration programming. A consistent workflow can be used to manage the entire infrastructure throughout the software lifecycle.

What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes or K8s is a container orchestration tool used to build and manage containerised applications’ clusters. The open-source tool enables the automation of all the operational tasks that are a part of container management like rolling out changes, scaling up and down the application, tracking the applications, and continuously refining the application management process.

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Not just the operational automation, K8s also helps in the infrastructure abstraction part, which means that once the application is installed it will handle all the computing, networking, and storing parts and the developers will no longer have to worry about the surrounding environment and they can just focus on the development segment.

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Now, before jumping onto the comparison or dissimilarities between the two tools, let’s first have a look at the similarities between the two. 

Kubernetes and Terraform Similarities :

By now you already know the basics of both Terraform and Kubernetes and you would certainly have an idea that there is a lot in common between the tools. So, let’s have a look at the similarities between the two tools:

1. DevOps Tools

Though Kubernetes and Terraform are developed to serve different purposes, the basic building blocks of the two tools are similar, that is both the tools operate and are configured in a DevOps space.

2. Open Source & Cloud Agnostic

Both the tools are Open Source and Cloud Agnostic. The online community continuously contributes to making the tools open source and similarly, they share their workload on all the cloud platforms across different environments making Terraform and Kubernetes cloud agnostic.

3. Declarative Configuration

Terraform and Kubernetes may work on different languages, but at the end of the day, they both have a declarative configuration so that a desired state of the system can be declared by the operators.

4. State Management

Though both tools have their way of implementing the state notion, they manage it. The data and the state of the infrastructure are stored by Terraform and Kubernetes according to the configurations defined by the user.

5. Extensibility

Terraform and Kubernetes use external plugins and define necessary custom resources which makes them highly extensible.

6. Well-Suited for Scale

Terraform and Kubernetes are designed and configured in a way that they can scale whenever needed in a traditional cloud-native system which makes them suitable for an enormous scale.

7. CI/CD Compatibility

The two DevOps tools have extremely automated workflows and are well configured to be integrated into a CI/CD pipeline to automate the entire CI/CD lifecycle.

Now that you know the similarities between the two tools, it is time to have a look at the differences between Terraform and Kubernetes.

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Differences Between Terraform and Kubernetes

No matter how similar the two DevOps tools may look, there are a lot of changes between the two. Let’s have a look at the differences between Terraform and Kubernetes:

1. Area of Focus

It has already been established that though the two tools might have some similarities, they both serve different purposes. While Terraform focuses on the automation of different infrastructure tasks, Kubernetes is focused on running container workloads.

2. Configuration Language and CLI

Another point that has been established in the similarities above is that Terraform and Kubernetes may have a Declarative Configuration but they have different Configuration Language and CLI. While Terraform works on HCL language, Kubernetes works on YAML or JSON.

3. Tool Workflow

Considering the Tool Workflow, Terraform is considered a simple tool as it is easy to understand to the extent that any new user can easily comprehend it and start working without any training. Whereas Kubernetes is one of those tools which requires prior knowledge of cluster internal parts and their mechanics. Also, if you want to suit yourself with Kubernetes, it will take a while to gain that familiarity and experience.

4. Configuration Drift and Planning Phase

If you consider the Configuration Drift and Planning Phase, Terraform provides you with a native way of detecting this information and informing you of the same. Whereas, when you use Kubernetes you have no such inbuilt functionality.

Now that you have understood the contrast between Terraform and Kubernetes, it is time to move forth and check the pros and cons of the two tools, one after the another.

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Terraform: Pros and Cons

Pros of Terraform

  • Here, you can get the best results as Terraform uses Direct Acyclic Graphs internally.
  • You can switch providers with utmost ease as Terraform supports several cloud options.
  • Terraform is built and managed as a code so incremental changes in the resources can be handled easily.
  • Terraform enables the building of an on-premises data center in hours using Effective Networking Assistance, which otherwise might take days.
  • If any other process removes objects created by Terraform, then the tool will reconstruct it as a part of the State upkeep feature.
  • Another plus point of using Terraform is that you get readable and elaborate documentation.

Cons of Terraform

  • Here, you cannot use the try-catch option like in other programming languages, which means Terraform doesn’t have error handling. 
  • In Terraform there is no way of rolling back, so whenever needed everything must be deleted and re-run.
  • There are several configurations inaccessible from var files like terraform backend. This means during the initialization of Terraform, the user will either have to develop a backend-config block or provide information in place.
  • The new releases keep on coming and all these new releases have bugs of their own.
  • Terraform does not completely support Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE).

Now that you have seen the pros and cons of Terraform, let’s have a look at the second tool, Kubernetes.

Kubernetes: Pros and Cons

Pros of Kubernetes

  • The biggest advantage of using Kubernetes is its self-healing feature, which not only automates the process of healing but also makes sure that the system is in a healthy state no matter what.
  • Several running containers can be single-handedly managed and monitored by the administrator. 
  • Another huge plus of using Kubernetes is its compatibility with almost all the major cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). The cloud providers provide quick and easy integration with the DevOps tools and instances can be easily hosted on-premise data centers.
     
  • The tool enables workload portability which means that any container can run and there is no limitation on the types of applications. 
  • Kubernetes is an extremely cost-effective and portable tool which does not require a lot of resources to run.

Cons of Kubernetes

  • One of the most common disadvantages or complexity of Kubernetes is the difficulty that a user has to face when he or she first begins to use the tool. Even if someone is experienced then also they may come across times when the tool may look complex.
  • Now, if a developer wants to excel in Kubernetes, he must not just know the tool but he must also know about other cloud-native technologies. They must be familiar with concepts like cloud computing, distributed applications, and distributed logging.
  • The initial setup and configuration itself take a toll on the user as Kubernetes has a lot of parts that require intense configuration and installation. 
  • The overall training that a company employee may require to excel in Kubernetes is expensive considering the rigorous training it requires. So, not all organizations can bear the cost of training so instead, they hire talents from other companies. 
  • The transition from a non-containerized application to a containerized one in itself is a huge challenge. The speed and everything else depends on how well the software was written and if there are a lot of complexities then the software application may require redesigning.

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Conclusion :

By now, you would know why Terraform and Kubernetes are such popular tools. They may have a lot in common but then they have a lot of differences too as they have their own set of specific functionalities. Keeping in mind all the points discussed above now you would know which tool would be a better fit for your work.


In the article, you began with learning the basics of the two tools and then on to check the similarities between them. Then once you had understood the similarities between the two DevOps tools you went on to distinguish between them. Post that, you had a look at the pros and cons of Terraform and  Kubernetes one after the another.

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Srivalli
Srivalli
Research Analyst
As a senior technical content writer for HRK tainings, srivalli patchava has a greater understanding of today's data-driven environment, which includes key aspects of data management and IT organizations. She manages the task of creating great content in the areas of software testing, DevOps, Robotic process automation. Connects with her on Linkedin and Twitter.

Kubernetes vs Terraform FAQ's

Both Terraform and Kubernetes are DevOps tools. The basic difference between the two is that Terraform is an infrastructure tool which means it is used to define the infrastructure as a code. Whereas Kubernetes is an orchestration tool or a container tool which is used to manage containers.

Both tools may have a lot in common and there would be times when they complement each other, but they cannot replace each other as they have their own set of diverse functionalities and are used in their specific segments.

There are times when Kubernetes can use Terraform as the latter helps K8s in managing its infrastructure by helping in the application orchestration process. When Terraform is included in the K8s process, then it becomes easy to detect configuration drifts and take up on sudden changes.

The answer to this question depends on the user. If the user wants to learn about the infrastructure as code, then they may begin with AWS and gradually go on to learning Terraform. But, if he or she is more interested in the deployment of applications, then it would be better, to begin with, Docker and go on to excel at Kubernetes.

Terraform supports Docker and Kubernetes. Docker is something that can be installed with other dependencies when you first install Terraform Enterprise. Similarly, Terraform can be integrated with Kubernetes with the help of Kubernetes’ official Terraform Cloud Operator.

Terraform Cloud is a managed service offering, which means it is a service that enables teams to work together on Terraform. With Terraform Cloud, teams no longer need a lot of tools and huge documentation as it provides reliable access to all the secret data and shared state.

Kubernetes Cluster Architecture is a set which consists of workers or worker machines, that are often referred to as nodes that are responsible for running the applications. Each of these containers has one or more nodes and each of these nodes hosts the pods.

There are two types of planes in Kubernetes - the Control plane and the Data plane. The Control plane is used to manage the Kubernetes clusters by managing the nodes and pods in the cluster. It consists of three parts - Kubernetes API server, etcd storage, and several other controllers.