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Spinnaker vs Terraform: What are the differences?

Key Differences between Spinnaker and Terraform

Spinnaker and Terraform are two popular tools used in the DevOps world. While they both serve different purposes, there are several key differences that set them apart.

  1. Architecture: Spinnaker is a continuous delivery platform that focuses on managing application deployments across multiple cloud providers and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platforms. It provides a powerful and flexible pipeline orchestration system to automate the deployment process. On the other hand, Terraform is an infrastructure-as-code tool that helps in creating, managing, and versioning infrastructure resources in a declarative manner.

  2. Scope: Spinnaker has a broader scope and is primarily focused on application deployment, pipeline orchestration, and managing release processes. It provides a user-friendly interface and supports multiple stages of a deployment pipeline, including testing, approval, and deployment to various cloud environments. In contrast, Terraform focuses on infrastructure provisioning and configuration management, allowing users to define and manage infrastructure resources such as virtual machines, networks, and load balancers.

  3. Cloud Provider Support: Spinnaker offers native support for a wide range of cloud providers, including AWS, GCP, Azure, and Kubernetes. It provides a unified interface to deploy and manage applications across multiple cloud platforms. Terraform, on the other hand, supports not only cloud providers but also other infrastructure components like DNS providers, monitoring tools, and databases. It allows users to define infrastructure resources using its domain-specific language (DSL) and supports nearly all major cloud providers.

  4. Workflow: Spinnaker supports a more complex and configurable deployment workflow. It provides features like canary deployments, rolling red/black deployments, and deployment strategies like highlander, which allow users to manage and control the release process at a sophisticated level. Terraform focuses primarily on infrastructure provisioning and follows a linear, sequential deployment model. It creates resources in the order specified in the configuration files and does not provide advanced deployment strategies out of the box.

  5. Version Control Integration: Spinnaker integrates well with version control systems like GitHub, Bitbucket, and GitLab. It allows users to trigger deployments automatically based on code changes and supports versioning of deployment pipelines. Terraform also supports version control systems and provides features to manage infrastructure code. It allows users to store the state of the infrastructure in version control and collaborate effectively with team members.

  6. Community and Ecosystem: Both Spinnaker and Terraform have active communities and extensive ecosystems. Spinnaker has a focused community and is widely adopted by companies in the software delivery space. It has a rich ecosystem of plugins and integrations that provide additional functionalities. Terraform has a larger community and is used by companies of all sizes. It has a wide range of provider plugins for various cloud platforms, making it easy to manage infrastructure resources.

In summary, Spinnaker is a continuous delivery platform focused on application deployment and pipeline orchestration, while Terraform is an infrastructure-as-code tool primarily used for infrastructure provisioning and management. Spinnaker offers broader scope, advanced deployment workflows, and native support for multiple cloud providers, while Terraform provides a declarative approach to manage infrastructure resources and supports a wide range of cloud providers. Both tools have active communities and extensive ecosystems.

Decisions about Spinnaker and Terraform

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

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.


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.


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 Spinnaker
Pros of Terraform
  • 14
  • 122
    Infrastructure as code
  • 73
    Declarative syntax
  • 45
  • 28
  • 24
  • 8
  • 8
    Cloud agnostic
  • 6
    It's like coding your infrastructure in simple English
  • 6
    Immutable infrastructure
  • 5
    Platform agnostic
  • 4
  • 4
  • 4
    Automates infrastructure deployments
  • 4
  • 2
  • 2
    Scales to hundreds of hosts

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Cons of Spinnaker
Cons of Terraform
  • 3
    No GitOps
  • 1
    Configuration time
  • 1
    Management overhead
  • 1
    Ease of use
  • 1
    Doesn't have full support to GKE

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What is Spinnaker?

Created at Netflix, it has been battle-tested in production by hundreds of teams over millions of deployments. It combines a powerful and flexible pipeline management system with integrations to the major cloud providers.

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 are some alternatives to Spinnaker and Terraform?
In a nutshell Jenkins CI is the leading open-source continuous integration server. Built with Java, it provides over 300 plugins to support building and testing virtually any project.
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.
GitLab offers git repository management, code reviews, issue tracking, activity feeds and wikis. Enterprises install GitLab on-premise and connect it with LDAP and Active Directory servers for secure authentication and authorization. A single GitLab server can handle more than 25,000 users but it is also possible to create a high availability setup with multiple active servers.
Argo is an open source container-native workflow engine for getting work done on Kubernetes. Argo is implemented as a Kubernetes CRD (Custom Resource Definition).
Armory makes deployments boring (like ‘waiting for your code to compile’ boring), non-events that happen continuously, and always in the background. We do that by simplifying the installation and configuration of Spinnaker - an open source continuous delivery platform from Netflix.
See all alternatives