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Rancher vs Terraform: What are the differences?

Rancher vs Terraform: Key Differences

Rancher and Terraform are both popular tools used in the field of DevOps and infrastructure management. While they serve similar purposes, there are some key differences between them. Let's explore these differences in detail:

  1. Resource Provisioning Approach: One of the primary differences between Rancher and Terraform lies in their resource provisioning approaches. Rancher is a container management platform that focuses on managing and orchestrating containers using a user-friendly interface. On the other hand, Terraform is an infrastructure-as-code tool that allows you to define and provision infrastructure resources across multiple cloud providers and technologies through declarative configuration files.

  2. Scope of Management: Rancher operates at a higher level of abstraction, managing containers and containerized applications within a cluster environment. It simplifies the deployment, scaling, and management of containers across different cloud platforms. In contrast, Terraform provides a broader scope, allowing you to manage various cloud resources like virtual machines, networks, storage, and more, not limited to just containers.

  3. Multi-Cloud Support: Rancher is designed to work with multiple Kubernetes clusters and supports various cloud providers, making it suitable for multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments. It abstracts away the underlying infrastructure details, making it easy to switch between cloud providers. Conversely, Terraform excels in its ability to provision and manage resources across different cloud platforms, allowing you to build infrastructure that spans across various cloud providers.

  4. Dependency Tracking and Resource Relationships: Terraform provides built-in support for dependency tracking, which allows you to define and manage the relationships between different resources. This ensures that resources are created or destroyed in the correct order based on their dependencies. Rancher, on the other hand, focuses more on managing containers and orchestrating their deployment rather than tracking dependencies between resources.

  5. Workflow Automation: Terraform provides powerful automation capabilities, allowing you to define and execute complex workflows for resource provisioning and management. It supports features like plan and apply, allowing you to preview changes before they are applied and manage infrastructure updates gracefully. Rancher, while providing some automation features, primarily focuses on container orchestration and clustering rather than extensive workflow automation.

  6. Community and Ecosystem: Terraform has a large and active community, with a wide range of community-built modules and integrations available. It benefits from its popularity and has a well-established ecosystem with extensive documentation and support. Rancher also has an active community, but its focus on container management means it has a more niche ecosystem compared to Terraform.

In summary, Rancher is a container management platform that simplifies the deployment and management of containers, primarily within a cluster environment, while Terraform is a versatile infrastructure-as-code tool that enables the provisioning and management of various cloud resources across multiple cloud providers.

Decisions about Rancher 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
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 Rancher
Pros of Terraform
  • 103
    Easy to use
  • 79
    Open source and totally free
  • 63
    Multi-host docker-compose support
  • 58
    Load balancing and health check included
  • 58
    Simple
  • 44
    Rolling upgrades, green/blue upgrades feature
  • 42
    Dns and service discovery out-of-the-box
  • 37
    Only requires docker
  • 34
    Multitenant and permission management
  • 29
    Easy to use and feature rich
  • 11
    Cross cloud compatible
  • 11
    Does everything needed for a docker infrastructure
  • 8
    Simple and powerful
  • 8
    Next-gen platform
  • 7
    Very Docker-friendly
  • 6
    Support Kubernetes and Swarm
  • 6
    Application catalogs with stack templates (wizards)
  • 6
    Supports Apache Mesos, Docker Swarm, and Kubernetes
  • 6
    Rolling and blue/green upgrades deployments
  • 6
    High Availability service: keeps your app up 24/7
  • 5
    Easy to use service catalog
  • 4
    Very intuitive UI
  • 4
    IaaS-vendor independent, supports hybrid/multi-cloud
  • 4
    Awesome support
  • 3
    Scalable
  • 2
    Requires less infrastructure requirements
  • 122
    Infrastructure as code
  • 73
    Declarative syntax
  • 45
    Planning
  • 28
    Simple
  • 24
    Parallelism
  • 8
    Well-documented
  • 8
    Cloud agnostic
  • 6
    It's like coding your infrastructure in simple English
  • 6
    Immutable infrastructure
  • 5
    Platform agnostic
  • 4
    Extendable
  • 4
    Automation
  • 4
    Automates infrastructure deployments
  • 4
    Portability
  • 2
    Lightweight
  • 2
    Scales to hundreds of hosts

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Cons of Rancher
Cons of Terraform
  • 10
    Hosting Rancher can be complicated
  • 1
    Doesn't have full support to GKE

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- No public GitHub repository available -

What is Rancher?

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?

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 Rancher?
What companies use Terraform?
See which teams inside your own company are using Rancher or Terraform.
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What tools integrate with Terraform?

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What are some alternatives to Rancher and Terraform?
Kubernetes
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.
DC/OS
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Portainer
It is a universal container management tool. It works with Kubernetes, Docker, Docker Swarm and Azure ACI. It allows you to manage containers without needing to know platform-specific code.
Docker
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
Helm
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