Ansible vs Terraform

Ansible vs Terraform: Can I Not Have Both?

In today’s edition of Tech Thoughts, EMEA Chief Technology Officer Gary Harrison answers whether the modern organisation can, or should, operationally support both Ansible and Terraform.

I’ll say from the start that this might not be the article that you expect.  Rather than a feature comparison of two very effective infrastructure automation platforms, I wanted to address a genuine organisational challenge: can you, or should you, operationally support both? I selected these two technologies as examples, but my thinking could equally apply to support for many other commercial and open source technologies (which I won’t name or this really would be a long article).

There is merit to integrating these technologies, Ansible and Terraform, together – one driving the other, using the features and functional differences of each to complement the other, and thus creating a more complete automation framework. Is this operationally a cost effective automation model?  Another interesting question, though still not specifically what I want to address here.  

We value an organisation’s structure, which is intentionally designed to allow a complex system of people and processes to scale & work together – a deliberate organisational architecture.  When it comes to a complex system of automation platforms, we need to do the same and create an architecture that can integrate different technologies to scale and work together. But crucially our automation architecture needs to work within our organisational architecture, that trinity of people, processes and technologies.  

Silos of automation technologies are not always bad, especially if you can build a technical automation architecture that aligns to your organisational structure and culture. This means that much of your existing investment in people and skills can be maintained, allowing different parts of your business to adopt the best automation platform for their needs and evolve their automation capabilities at their own pace.  Remove automation silos where they don’t benefit the business and harness the strengths of automation where it provides a strategic business advantage.  This ultimately creates business agility, fosters innovation, and allows a complex business to scale its technology stack. 

You have to ‘glue’ everything together somewhere. We are seeing the emergence of technical enterprise architectures (that cover automation technologies), centred around modern GitOps practices and service-oriented principles, which are providing the framework to achieve this.  We can now deliver an organisation-wide architecture in which different business units, or engineering teams, can use the automation tools they know and love yet seamlessly integrate to deliver end-to-end service orchestration.  

So ultimately the answer to the title question is, “Yes, you CAN have both”.

Tech Thoughts is a bi-monthly (if all the stars are aligned, no promises) blog series in which seasoned CTO Gary Harrison pulls from over 25 years of tech industry experience to share his thoughts, insights and speculations on various topics in information technology.

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