Rancher vs Terraform: What are the differences?
What is Rancher? Open Source Platform for Running a Private Container Service. Rancher is an open source container management platform that includes full distributions of Kubernetes, Apache Mesos and Docker Swarm, and makes it simple to operate container clusters on any cloud or infrastructure platform.
What is Terraform? Describe your complete infrastructure as code and build resources across providers. 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.
Rancher and Terraform are primarily classified as "Container" and "Infrastructure Build" tools respectively.
Some of the features offered by Rancher are:
- Manage Hosts, Deploy Containers, Monitor Resources
- User Management & Collaboration
- Native Docker APIs & Tools
On the other hand, Terraform provides the following key features:
- Infrastructure as Code: Infrastructure is described using a high-level configuration syntax. This allows a blueprint of your datacenter to be versioned and treated as you would any other code. Additionally, infrastructure can be shared and re-used.
- Execution Plans: Terraform has a "planning" step where it generates an execution plan. The execution plan shows what Terraform will do when you call apply. This lets you avoid any surprises when Terraform manipulates infrastructure.
- Resource Graph: Terraform builds a graph of all your resources, and parallelizes the creation and modification of any non-dependent resources. Because of this, Terraform builds infrastructure as efficiently as possible, and operators get insight into dependencies in their infrastructure.
"Easy to use" is the top reason why over 89 developers like Rancher, while over 80 developers mention "Infrastructure as code" as the leading cause for choosing Terraform.
Rancher and Terraform are both open source tools. Terraform with 17.4K GitHub stars and 4.77K forks on GitHub appears to be more popular than Rancher with 11.8K GitHub stars and 1.31K GitHub forks.
According to the StackShare community, Terraform has a broader approval, being mentioned in 490 company stacks & 298 developers stacks; compared to Rancher, which is listed in 88 company stacks and 35 developer stacks.
Because Pulumi uses real programming languages, you can actually write abstractions for your infrastructure code, which is incredibly empowering. You still 'describe' your desired state, but by having a programming language at your fingers, you can factor out patterns, and package it up for easier consumption.
We use Terraform to manage AWS cloud environment for the project. It is pretty complex, largely static, security-focused, and constantly evolving.
Terraform provides descriptive (declarative) way of defining the target configuration, where it can work out the dependencies between configuration elements and apply differences without re-provisioning the entire cloud stack.Advantages
Terraform is vendor-neutral in a way that it is using a common configuration language (HCL) with plugins (providers) for multiple cloud and service providers.
Terraform keeps track of the previous state of the deployment and applies incremental changes, resulting in faster deployment times.
Terraform allows us to share reusable modules between projects. We have built an impressive library of modules internally, which makes it very easy to assemble a new project from pre-fabricated building blocks.Disadvantages
Software is imperfect, and Terraform is no exception. Occasionally we hit annoying bugs that we have to work around. The interaction with any underlying APIs is encapsulated inside 3rd party Terraform providers, and any bug fixes or new features require a provider release. Some providers have very poor coverage of the underlying APIs.
Terraform is not great for managing highly dynamic parts of cloud environments. That part is better delegated to other tools or scripts.
Terraform state may go out of sync with the target environment or with the source configuration, which often results in painful reconciliation.
I personally am not a huge fan of vendor lock in for multiple reasons:
- I've seen cost saving moves to the cloud end up costing a fortune and trapping companies due to over utilization of cloud specific features.
- I've seen S3 failures nearly take down half the internet.
- I've seen companies get stuck in the cloud because they aren't built cloud agnostic.
I choose to use terraform for my cloud provisioning for these reasons:
- It's cloud agnostic so I can use it no matter where I am.
- It isn't difficult to use and uses a relatively easy to read language.
- It tests infrastructure before running it, and enables me to see and keep changes up to date.
- It runs from the same CLI I do most of my CM work from.
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