Infrastructure at your Service

Introduction

When you learn a cloud technology, like OCI, the one from Oracle, you start building your demo infrastructure with the web interface and numerous clicks. It’s convenient and easy to handle, even more if you’re quite used to infrastructure basics: network, routing, firewalling, servers, etc. But when it comes to build complex infrastructures with multiple servers, subnets, rules, databases, it’s more than a few clicks to do. And rebuilding a clone infrastructure (for example for testing purpose) can be a nightmare.

Is it possible to script an infrastructure?

Yes for sure, most of the cloud providers have a command line interface, and actually, all the clouds are based on a command line interface and a web console on top of it. But scripting all the commands is something not very digestible.

Infrastructure as Code

Why we couldn’t manage an infrastructure as if it were a piece of software? It’s the purpose of “Infrastructure as Code”. The benefits seem obvisous: faster to deploy, reusable code, automation of infrastructure deployment, scalability, reduced cost with an embedded “drop infrastructure” feature, …

There are multiple tools to do IaC, but Oracle recommands Terraform. And it looks like the best solution for now.

What is Terraform?

The goal of Terraform is to help infrastructure administrators to model and provision large and complex infrastructures. It’s not dedicated to OCI as it supports multiple providers, so if you think about an infrastructure based on OCI and Microsoft Azure (as they are becoming friends), it makes even more sense.

Terraform is using a specific langage called HCL, HashiCorp Configuration Langage. Obviously, it’s compatible with code repositories, like GIT. Templates are available to ease your job when you’re a beginner.

The main steps for terraforming an infrastructure are:
1) write your HCL code (describe)
2) preview the execution by reading the configuration (plan)
3) build the infrastructure (apply)
4) eventually delete the infrastructure (destroy)

3 ways of using Terraform with OCI

You can use Terraform by copying the binary on your computer (Windows/Mac/Linux), it’s quite easy to set up and use (no installation, only one binary). Terraform can run from a VM already in the cloud.

Terraform is also available in SaaS mode, just sign up on terraform.io website and you will be able to work with Terraform without installing anything.

You can also use Terraform through Oracle Resource Manager (ORM) inside the OCI. ORM is a free service provided by Oracle and based on Terraform language. ORM will manage stacks, each stack being a set of Terraform files you bring to OCI as a zip file. From this stacks, ORM let you perform the actions you would have done in Terraform: plan, apply and destroy.

Typical use cases

Terraform is quite nice to make cross-platform deployments, build demos, give the ability for people to build an infrastructure as a self-service, make a Proof Of Concept, …

Terraform can also be targeted to Devops engineer, giving them the ability to deploy a staging environment, fix the issues and then deploy production environments reusing the terraform configuration.

How does it work?

A terraform configuration is actually a directory with one or multiple .tf files (depending on your preferences). As HCL is not a scripting language, blocks in the file(s) are not describing any order in the execution.

During the various steps previously described, special subfolders should appear during execution: *tfstate* for current status and .terraform, a kind of cache.

If you need to script your infrastructure deployment, you can use Python, Bash, Powershell or other tools to call the binary.

To be able to authorize your Terraform binary to create resources in the cloud, you’ll have to provide the API key of an OCI user with enough authorizations.

As cloud providers are pushing update quite often, Terraform will keep the plugin of your cloud provider updated regularly.

Terraform can also manage dependencies (for example a VM depending on another one) because tasks will be done in parallel to speed up the infrastructure deployment.

Some variables can be provided as an input (most often through environment variables) for example for naming the compartment. Imagine you want to deploy several test infrastructures isolated from each others.

Conclusion

Terraform is a great tool to leverage cloud benefits, even for a simple infrastructure. Don’t miss that point!

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Jérôme Dubar
Jérôme Dubar

Consultant