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3 Reasons Why DevOps Teams Love Terraform and 3 Reasons They Don’t

Infrastructure as Code, also known as IaC, is now the default approach at DevOps-driven organizations. IaC tools make a lot of sense for these companies, given the degree of infrastructure sprawl they deal with. Hashicorp’s Terraform Cloud is probably the most popular choice, with the Hashicorp suite of DevOps tools having emerged as the industry standard in recent years.

While it offers plenty of advantages, the platform comes with a few drawbacks too, pushing many developers to search for alternatives to Terraform Cloud. Here are three advantages of working with Terraform and three disadvantages that push developers away.

Advantage 1: Easy Collaboration

DevOps teams collaborate frequently and rely on many moving parts coming together before a release. Terraform offers robust version control that helps teams collaborate and align code bases.

These features also simplify integration tests, since syncing code base versions is easy.

In addition, Terraform hosts a sprawling plugin library that enables extended functionality. As long as a relevant platform has an API, Terraform can integrate with it.

While collaboration looks good on paper, it must be backed up by robust access control. Fail to do this, and a company’s infrastructure configuration could go haywire. Terraform offers role-based access controls and strong access policy management features that can help prevent this situation.

Disadvantage 1: Steep Learning Curve

While collaboration is great, Terraform runs only on HCL. It does not offer support for better-known programming languages, and this creates an additional hurdle for developers already grappling with complex IaC controls. Technically, HCL is similar to a few popular languages, but it adds complexity to an already complex environment.

What’s more, Terraform offers several modules, each with different settings. There’s even more complexity for developers to handle. Terraform has essentially pushed developers to get familiar with a CSP’s intricacies during setup, and this can be overwhelming. The result is a steep learning curve that turns a lot of developers away from Terraform.

There’s also an issue with Terraform’s plugin library. While the plugins are usually well maintained by partner companies, using them introduces third party dependencies. Updates to those plugins can compromise Terraform’s functionality. All of this makes using Terraform more complex than it looks on the surface.

Advantage 2: Automation That Streamlines Workflows

Terraform’s configuration files are declarative. This means they’re simple to understand and work with. The platform also automates writing configuration steps, reducing the burden on development teams.


Terraform’s modules are a distinct advantage in the IaC world. These modules serve as containers for related resources, which means developers can manage them as a single unit. The result is less duplication and faster deployment speeds.

Managing complex environments is also simple thanks to this modular design and automation. The Terraform Registry helps developers design their modules or use existing ones, leading to immense customization abilities.

Disadvantage 2: Opaque State Management

State management is one of Terraform’s weaknesses. The platform uses a state file to store information, leading to a dependency that can go haywire.

The file must sync with infrastructure states, forcing developers to push infrastructure changes through Terraform.

If a company makes changes externally, the file goes out of sync, leading to discrepancies. Worse, these discrepancies could lead to duplication and destruction of resources. All of this means developers spend an inordinate amount of time on state management, taking them away from more critical activities.

Advantage 3: Portability Across Cloud Providers

Cloud migrations are easy with Terraform, thanks to its ability to port across different cloud service providers. This makes it easier to ensure companies sustain minimal business disruption during migrations.

Terraform’s open-source architecture is a big reason for this. The platform maintains a GitHub repository that attracts more than 1,800 contributors. In true open-source fashion, Terraform’s community is highly active, with experienced members offering plenty of support.

As a result, migrations and solving cloud compatibility issues are simple, with practical advice always on hand.

Disadvantage 3: Lack of Cloud Abstraction

While Terraform is cloud portable, this doesn’t mean it’s all good news. Terraform does not abstract the cloud. Instead, it templates over it, creating more hurdles for developers. To overcome these hurdles, developers must dive deeply into the cloud service provider’s inner workings and understand how Terraform works with it.

This, in turn, makes for a roadblock that many developers can’t overcome. To access more powerful functionality and maximize the value of Terraform, developers must understand Terraform’s constructs, the CSP’s constructs, error handling nuances, loss of information between abstraction layers, and so on.

As time goes on, Terraform’s abstractions also delay deployment processes, since few understand them. As a result, developers abstract away standard configurations, which works well in the short term. However, in the long run, these custom abstractions pose another hurdle and the entire setup turns into a mess. While Terraform’s documentation is extensive, the docs themselves are not always transparently helpful.

Terraform Has Alternatives. Do You Need One?

Terraform is a great IaC tool to manage infrastructure sprawl. It suits most companies, since they can live with the disadvantages the tool poses. However, for some companies, the negatives outweigh the advantages associated with using it. In this case, adopting an alternative to Terraform might be a better idea.


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