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AWS CloudFormation
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AWS CloudFormation vs Vagrant: What are the differences?

Developers describe AWS CloudFormation as "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. On the other hand, Vagrant is detailed as "A tool for building and distributing development environments". Vagrant provides the framework and configuration format to create and manage complete portable development environments. These development environments can live on your computer or in the cloud, and are portable between Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

AWS CloudFormation belongs to "Infrastructure Build Tools" category of the tech stack, while Vagrant can be primarily classified under "Virtual Machine Management".

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, Vagrant provides the following key features:

  • Boxes
  • Up And SSH
  • Synced Folders

"Automates infrastructure deployments" is the top reason why over 36 developers like AWS CloudFormation, while over 354 developers mention "Development environments" as the leading cause for choosing Vagrant.

Vagrant is an open source tool with 18.6K GitHub stars and 3.74K GitHub forks. Here's a link to Vagrant's open source repository on GitHub.

Airbnb, Shopify, and Coursera are some of the popular companies that use Vagrant, whereas AWS CloudFormation is used by Nubank, Expedia.com, and Accenture. Vagrant has a broader approval, being mentioned in 802 company stacks & 478 developers stacks; compared to AWS CloudFormation, which is listed in 197 company stacks and 77 developer stacks.

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What is AWS CloudFormation?

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.

What is Vagrant?

Vagrant provides the framework and configuration format to create and manage complete portable development environments. These development environments can live on your computer or in the cloud, and are portable between Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
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What are some alternatives to AWS CloudFormation and Vagrant?
AWS CodeDeploy
AWS CodeDeploy is a service that automates code deployments to Amazon EC2 instances. AWS CodeDeploy makes it easier for you to rapidly release new features, helps you avoid downtime during deployment, and handles the complexity of updating your applications.
Chef
Chef enables you to manage and scale cloud infrastructure with no downtime or interruptions. Freely move applications and configurations from one cloud to another. Chef is integrated with all major cloud providers including Amazon EC2, VMWare, IBM Smartcloud, Rackspace, OpenStack, Windows Azure, HP Cloud, Google Compute Engine, Joyent Cloud and others.
Terraform
With Terraform, you describe your complete infrastructure as code, even as it spans multiple service providers. Your servers may come from AWS, your DNS may come from CloudFlare, and your database may come from Heroku. Terraform will build all these resources across all these providers in parallel.
AWS Elastic Beanstalk
Once you upload your application, Elastic Beanstalk automatically handles the deployment details of capacity provisioning, load balancing, auto-scaling, and application health monitoring.
AWS Config
AWS Config is a fully managed service that provides you with an AWS resource inventory, configuration history, and configuration change notifications to enable security and governance. With AWS Config you can discover existing AWS resources, export a complete inventory of your AWS resources with all configuration details, and determine how a resource was configured at any point in time. These capabilities enable compliance auditing, security analysis, resource change tracking, and troubleshooting.
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Decisions about AWS CloudFormation and Vagrant
Joseph Kunzler
Joseph Kunzler
DevOps Engineer at Tillable · | 9 upvotes · 24.1K views
atTillableTillable
AWS CloudFormation
AWS CloudFormation
AWS Elastic Load Balancing (ELB)
AWS Elastic Load Balancing (ELB)
Amazon EC2
Amazon EC2
Amazon S3
Amazon S3
Terraform
Terraform

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.

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AWS CloudFormation
AWS CloudFormation
Google Cloud Deployment Manager
Google Cloud Deployment Manager
Terraform
Terraform

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

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Reviews of AWS CloudFormation and Vagrant
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How developers use AWS CloudFormation and Vagrant
Avatar of Airbnb
Airbnb uses VagrantVagrant

"The best way to ensure that local testing was possible was to normalize people’s dev environments. For this we chose Vagrant. This, combined with Chef, allows us to do our local dev in sandboxed Linux instances running locally via VirtualBox in a configuration as similar to production as possible. In addition to making dev environment setup much easier than it used to be, this ensures that each engineer has a consistent environment that is ready to run tests out of the box. The user SSHs into the local linux server and runs spec commands like they would on their host OS, and generally everything Just Works. Most people on our team combine this with Zeus, which allows the Rails environment to be preloaded for lightning fast (relatively speaking) test runs. Both Vagrant and Zeus have their share of issues, but in practice we’ve found them to be a huge time saver."

Avatar of CloudRepo
CloudRepo uses AWS CloudFormationAWS CloudFormation

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.

Avatar of Opstax Ltd
Opstax Ltd uses AWS CloudFormationAWS CloudFormation

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.

Avatar of GHA Technologies
GHA Technologies uses VagrantVagrant

Not blazing fast but we pick Vagrant for all our projects because the console mode without gui leads to a low consumption of ram memory making it the best way for DevOps ready environment requiring less configuration.

Avatar of Cyrus Stoller
Cyrus Stoller uses VagrantVagrant

Vagrant allows me to ensure that anyone I'm collaborating with will be able to test my web application in the same environment. I also use Vagrant to setup VMs that I can use to refine my Capistrano recipes.

Avatar of Dynamictivity
Dynamictivity uses VagrantVagrant

We use Virtualbox in combination with Vagrant during development to ensure a consistent test/development environment. This helps to reduce the number of defects when our software goes to production.

Avatar of Flux Work
Flux Work uses AWS CloudFormationAWS CloudFormation

Manage infrastructure as codes. Native AWS solution so it has better support to AWS resources than Terraform, also can leverage AWS Business Support.

Avatar of Software Antelope
Software Antelope uses VagrantVagrant

Building development environments that closely match real world web environments, enabling more rapid and accurate testing and development.

Avatar of Endource
Endource uses AWS CloudFormationAWS CloudFormation

Manages the infrastructure for core website

Avatar of Patty R
Patty R uses AWS CloudFormationAWS CloudFormation

Deploys and maintains the infrastructure.

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