AWS CloudFormation vs Salt: What are the differences?
AWS CloudFormation: Create and manage a collection of related AWS resources. You can use AWS CloudFormation’s sample templates or create your own templates to describe the AWS resources, and any associated dependencies or runtime parameters, required to run your application. You don’t need to figure out the order in which AWS services need to be provisioned or the subtleties of how to make those dependencies work; Salt: Fast, scalable and flexible software for data center automation. Salt is a new approach to infrastructure management. Easy enough to get running in minutes, scalable enough to manage tens of thousands of servers, and fast enough to communicate with them in seconds Salt delivers a dynamic communication bus for infrastructures that can be used for orchestration, remote execution, configuration management and much more..
AWS CloudFormation belongs to "Infrastructure Build Tools" category of the tech stack, while Salt can be primarily classified under "Server Configuration and Automation".
Some of the features offered by AWS CloudFormation are:
- AWS CloudFormation comes with the following ready-to-run sample templates: WordPress (blog),Tracks (project tracking), Gollum (wiki used by GitHub), Drupal (content management), Joomla (content management), Insoshi (social apps), Redmine (project mgmt)
- No Need to Reinvent the Wheel – A template can be used repeatedly to create identical copies of the same stack (or to use as a foundation to start a new stack)
- Transparent and Open – Templates are simple JSON formatted text files that can be placed under your normal source control mechanisms, stored in private or public locations such as Amazon S3 and exchanged via email.
On the other hand, Salt provides the following key features:
- Remote execution is the core function of Salt. Running pre-defined or arbitrary commands on remote hosts.
- Salt modules are the core of remote execution. They provide functionality such as installing packages, restarting a service, running a remote command, transferring files, and infinitely more
- Building on the remote execution core is a robust and flexible configuration management framework. Execution happens on the minions allowing effortless, simultaneous configuration of tens of thousands of hosts.
"Automates infrastructure deployments" is the primary reason why developers consider AWS CloudFormation over the competitors, whereas "Flexible" was stated as the key factor in picking Salt.
Salt is an open source tool with 10K GitHub stars and 4.58K GitHub forks. Here's a link to Salt's open source repository on GitHub.
TimeHop, Custora, and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory are some of the popular companies that use AWS CloudFormation, whereas Salt is used by Lyft, Hulu, and Webedia. AWS CloudFormation has a broader approval, being mentioned in 195 company stacks & 75 developers stacks; compared to Salt, which is listed in 108 company stacks and 19 developer stacks.
What is AWS CloudFormation?
What is Salt?
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By 2014, the DevOps team at Lyft decided to port their infrastructure code from Puppet to Salt. At that point, the Puppet code based included around "10,000 lines of spaghetti-code,” which was unfamiliar and challenging to the relatively new members of the DevOps team.
“The DevOps team felt that the Puppet infrastructure was too difficult to pick up quickly and would be impossible to introduce to [their] developers as the tool they’d use to manage their own services.”
To determine a path forward, the team assessed both Ansible and Salt, exploring four key areas: simplicity/ease of use, maturity, performance, and community.
They found that “Salt’s execution and state module support is more mature than Ansible’s, overall,” and that “Salt was faster than Ansible for state/playbook runs.” And while both have high levels of community support, Salt exceeded expectations in terms of friendless and responsiveness to opened issues.
We use Terraform because we needed a way to automate the process of building and deploying feature branches. We wanted to hide the complexity such that when a dev creates a PR, it triggers a build and deployment without the dev having to worry about any of the 'plumbing' going on behind the scenes. Terraform allows us to automate the process of provisioning DNS records, Amazon S3 buckets, Amazon EC2 instances and AWS Elastic Load Balancing (ELB)'s. It also makes it easy to tear it all down when finished. We also like that it supports multiple clouds, which is why we chose to use it over AWS CloudFormation.
I use Terraform because it hits the level of abstraction pocket of being high-level and flexible, and is agnostic to cloud platforms. Creating complex infrastructure components for a solution with a UI console is tedious to repeat. Using low-level APIs are usually specific to cloud platforms, and you still have to build your own tooling for deploying, state management, and destroying infrastructure.
However, Terraform is usually slower to implement new services compared to cloud-specific APIs. It's worth the trade-off though, especially if you're multi-cloud. I heard someone say, "We want to preference a cloud, not lock in to one." Terraform builds on that claim.
Terraform Google Cloud Deployment Manager AWS CloudFormation
For automating deployment or system admin tasks, Shell/Perl are more than enough. Specially Perl one liners, that I use heavily, even to make changes in xml files. But quite often the need is to just check the state of system and run scripts without fear. Thats where I actually needed some scripting language with "state mechanism" associated with it. Salt provided me above similar kind of experience. I tested salt first on a small scenario. Installation of 60 RPMS on a machine. I was pleased that I could achieve that in around 25 lines of code using salt. And eventually I was also able to keep data and code separate. This was another plus point. henceforth I was able to use salt to deploy a large potion Datacenter (apps deployment). I am still working towards orchestration and finding it quite promising. The use of pure python whenever needed to deal with more complex scenario is awesome.
Manually clicking around the AWS UI or scripting AWS CLI calls can be both a slow and brittle process.
We needed to be able to reconstruct CloudRepo's infrastructure in case of disaster or moving to another AWS Region.
Setting up our infrastructure with CloudFormation allows us to update it easily as well as duplicate or recreate things when the need arises.
Opstax uses CloudFormation for anything infrastructure related! CloudFormation allows us to use infrastructure-as-code as a constant blueprint/map of our environment. It means we can accurately and efficiently deploy replicated or new infrastructure with no time wasted clicking around and no human error.
When it comes to provisioning tens to hundreds of servers, you need a tool that can handle the load, as well as being extremely customisable. Fortunately, Salt has held that gauntlet for us consistently through any kind of issue you can throw at it.
We've built something using SaltStack and Debian Linux to help us deploy and administer at scale the servers we provide for our part- and fully-managed hosting customers.
Manage infrastructure as codes. Native AWS solution so it has better support to AWS resources than Terraform, also can leverage AWS Business Support.