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Salt vs Terraform: What are the differences?

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.; 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.

Salt belongs to "Server Configuration and Automation" category of the tech stack, while Terraform can be primarily classified under "Infrastructure Build Tools".

Some of the features offered by Salt are:

  • 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.

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.

"Flexible" is the primary reason why developers consider Salt over the competitors, whereas "Infrastructure as code" was stated as the key factor in picking Terraform.

Salt and Terraform are both open source tools. It seems that Terraform with 17.4K GitHub stars and 4.77K forks on GitHub has more adoption than Salt with 10K GitHub stars and 4.58K GitHub forks.

Instacart, Slack, and Twitch are some of the popular companies that use Terraform, whereas Salt is used by Lyft, Hulu, and Webedia. Terraform has a broader approval, being mentioned in 490 company stacks & 298 developers stacks; compared to Salt, which is listed in 108 company stacks and 19 developer stacks.

Decisions about Salt and Terraform
Kirill Shirinkin
Cloud and DevOps Consultant at mkdev | 3 upvotes 路 68.2K views

Ok, so first - AWS Copilot is CloudFormation under the hood, but the way it works results in you not thinking about CFN anymore. AWS found the right balance with Copilot - it's insanely simple to setup production-ready multi-account environment with many services inside, with CI/CD out of the box etc etc. It's pretty new, but even now it was enough to launch Transcripto, which uses may be a dozen of different AWS services, all bound together by Copilot.

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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.

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Sergey Ivanov
Overview

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.

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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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Context: I wanted to create an end to end IoT data pipeline simulation in Google Cloud IoT Core and other GCP services. I never touched Terraform meaningfully until working on this project, and it's one of the best explorations in my development career. The documentation and syntax is incredibly human-readable and friendly. I'm used to building infrastructure through the google apis via Python , but I'm so glad past Sung did not make that decision. I was tempted to use Google Cloud Deployment Manager, but the templates were a bit convoluted by first impression. I'm glad past Sung did not make this decision either.

Solution: Leveraging Google Cloud Build Google Cloud Run Google Cloud Bigtable Google BigQuery Google Cloud Storage Google Compute Engine along with some other fun tools, I can deploy over 40 GCP resources using Terraform!

Check Out My Architecture: CLICK ME

Check out the GitHub repo attached

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Pros of Salt
Pros of Terraform
  • 47
    Flexible
  • 30
    Easy
  • 27
    Remote execution
  • 24
    Enormously flexible
  • 12
    Great plugin API
  • 9
    Python
  • 5
    Extensible
  • 3
    Scalable
  • 2
    nginx
  • 1
    Vagrant provisioner
  • 1
    HipChat
  • 1
    Best IaaC
  • 1
    Automatisation
  • 1
    Parallel Execution
  • 109
    Infrastructure as code
  • 72
    Declarative syntax
  • 44
    Planning
  • 27
    Simple
  • 24
    Parallelism
  • 7
    Cloud agnostic
  • 6
    It's like coding your infrastructure in simple English
  • 5
    Well-documented
  • 4
    Platform agnostic
  • 4
    Automates infrastructure deployments
  • 4
    Immutable infrastructure
  • 3
    Automation
  • 3
    Extendable
  • 3
    Portability
  • 2
    Lightweight
  • 2
    Scales to hundreds of hosts

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Cons of Salt
Cons of Terraform
  • 1
    Bloated
  • 1
    Dangerous
  • 1
    No immutable infrastructure
  • 1
    Doesn't have full support to GKE

Sign up to add or upvote consMake informed product decisions

What is Salt?

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.

What is 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.

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What companies use Salt?
What companies use Terraform?
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What tools integrate with Terraform?

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