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OpenStack vs Terraform: What are the differences?

Key Differences between OpenStack and Terraform


OpenStack and Terraform are two widely used tools in the field of cloud computing and infrastructure management. While OpenStack is an open-source cloud computing platform, Terraform is a tool for building, changing, and versioning infrastructure. Here are the key differences between OpenStack and Terraform:

  1. Architecture and Purpose: OpenStack is a complete cloud infrastructure platform that provides a wide range of services like compute, networking, and storage. It is designed to create and manage private and public clouds. On the other hand, Terraform is an infrastructure provisioning tool focused on managing and automating cloud infrastructure using a declarative configuration language.

  2. Language and Syntax: OpenStack primarily uses Python and XML for configuration and management. It utilizes a set of command-line tools (CLIs) and APIs to interact with its components. In contrast, Terraform uses its own declarative configuration language called HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL). HCL allows users to define infrastructure resources and their relationships in a human-readable and consistent syntax across all supported cloud providers.

  3. Supported Cloud Providers: OpenStack is designed to be cloud provider agnostic and can work with a variety of hypervisors and storage backends. It supports multiple cloud providers like VMware, KVM, and Hyper-V. On the other hand, Terraform is compatible with a wide range of cloud providers, including major public cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. It provides a consistent provisioning experience across different providers.

  4. Scope and Extensibility: OpenStack encompasses a broad range of cloud services, including compute resources, networking, storage, and more. It allows users to build and manage an entire cloud infrastructure stack from scratch. Terraform, on the other hand, focuses on infrastructure provisioning and orchestration. It is not a full-stack cloud computing platform and does not provide services like identity management or dashboard interfaces. Instead, it focuses on integrating with existing cloud platforms to provision and manage resources.

  5. Community and Ecosystem: OpenStack has a large and active community of developers and contributors. It is backed by major technology companies and has a well-established ecosystem with a wide range of plugins and extensions. Terraform, being developed by HashiCorp, also has a strong community following and active development. It benefits from the larger HashiCorp ecosystem, which includes tools like Vault and Consul.

  6. Deployment Model: OpenStack is typically deployed on dedicated hardware infrastructure and requires significant upfront resources and expertise to set up and maintain. It is commonly used in private cloud deployments. In contrast, Terraform is a lightweight tool that can be deployed on any infrastructure and managed through version control systems like Git. It supports various deployment models, including public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud environments.

In summary, OpenStack is a full-stack cloud infrastructure platform designed for creating and managing private and public clouds, while Terraform is a tool focused on infrastructure provisioning and management using a declarative configuration language. OpenStack supports multiple cloud providers and provides a wide range of services, while Terraform offers cloud agnostic provisioning and has a strong community following.

Decisions about OpenStack and Terraform
Kirill Shirinkin
Cloud and DevOps Consultant at mkdev · | 3 upvotes · 144K 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

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 OpenStack
Pros of Terraform
  • 56
    Private cloud
  • 38
    Avoid vendor lock-in
  • 22
    Flexible in use
  • 6
    Industry leader
  • 4
    Supported by many companies in top500
  • 4
    Robust architecture
  • 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 OpenStack
Cons of Terraform
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    • 1
      Doesn't have full support to GKE

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    - No public GitHub repository available -

    What is OpenStack?

    OpenStack is a cloud operating system that controls large pools of compute, storage, and networking resources throughout a datacenter, all managed through a dashboard that gives administrators control while empowering their users to provision resources through a web interface.

    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 OpenStack?
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    What tools integrate with OpenStack?
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    What are some alternatives to OpenStack and Terraform?
    Red Hat OpenShift
    OpenShift is Red Hat's Cloud Computing Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering. OpenShift is an application platform in the cloud where application developers and teams can build, test, deploy, and run their applications.
    Cloud Foundry
    Cloud Foundry is an open platform as a service (PaaS) that provides a choice of clouds, developer frameworks, and application services. Cloud Foundry makes it faster and easier to build, test, deploy, and scale applications.
    Kubernetes is an open source orchestration system for Docker containers. It handles scheduling onto nodes in a compute cluster and actively manages workloads to ensure that their state matches the users declared intentions.
    The Docker Platform is the industry-leading container platform for continuous, high-velocity innovation, enabling organizations to seamlessly build and share any application — from legacy to what comes next — and securely run them anywhere
    KVM (for Kernel-based Virtual Machine) is a full virtualization solution for Linux on x86 hardware containing virtualization extensions (Intel VT or AMD-V).
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