Infrastructure as Code (IaC) Tools, Part 1: Overview of Tools

Get equipped for the challenging task of choosing the appropriate IaC tool, a critical aspect of simplifying and streamlining infrastructure management.

IaC revolutionizes the way infrastructure is managed by applying software engineering practices to infrastructure provisioning and configuration. IaC relies heavily on the utilization of tools, which play a vital role in the process. These tools streamline and simplify infrastructure management by offering automation, reproducibility, scalability, consistency, collaboration, and integration capabilities. Their presence is indispensable in successfully implementing and leveraging IaC principles and practices in practical situations.

Deciphering the Tool Selection Conundrum

When it comes to selecting Infrastructure as Code (IAC) tools, organizations may encounter
various difficulties. Here are a few typical challenges that they might come across:

Complexity of Infrastructure   

Infrastructure environments can be complex, involving various components, configurations, and dependencies. Choosing an IAC tool that can effectively handle the complexity and nuances of your specific infrastructure can be challenging. It requires a deep understanding of your infrastructure architecture and identifying a tool that can accommodate its unique requirements.

Vast Number of Options 

The IAC landscape is vast, with numerous tools available, each with its own features, strengths, and limitations. Evaluating and comparing multiple tools can be time-consuming and overwhelming. Organizations may need to invest significant effort in researching, testing, and evaluating different tools to identify the best fit.

Learning Curve and Skill Requirements

Adopting an IAC tool often requires learning new skills, such as configuration languages, scripting, or programming paradigms. Organizations may face challenges in assessing their team's existing skill sets and determining the learning curve associated with each tool. Upskilling team members or hiring new talent with the required skills may be necessary.

Compatibility and Integration

It's crucial to ensure that the chosen IAC tool integrates smoothly with your existing toolchain, including version control systems, CI/CD pipelines, monitoring tools, and configuration management systems. Organizations may face challenges in assessing compatibility and ensuring seamless integration. They may need to invest time and resources in configuring and customizing integrations between the IAC tool and other components of their infrastructure stack.

Vendor Lock-In

Some IAC tools are tightly coupled with specific cloud providers or have proprietary formats. Organizations may face challenges in avoiding vendor lock-in, especially if they plan to switch or expand their infrastructure environment in the future. Careful evaluation of portability, support for multi-cloud or hybrid environments, and adherence to open standards can help mitigate vendor lock-in risks.

Evaluating and Managing Trade-Offs

Each IAC tool has its own strengths and weaknesses. Organizations may struggle with evaluating and managing trade-offs between various factors such as ease of use, scalability, community support, security, and cost. Balancing these factors and making trade-offs aligned with their specific needs and priorities can be challenging.

Rapidly Evolving Landscape

The IAC landscape is continuously evolving, with new tools, frameworks, and approaches emerging regularly. Keeping up with the latest trends, updates, and developments can be demanding. Organizations may face challenges in staying informed and updated, requiring them to invest time and effort in continuous learning and evaluating new tools.

Budget Constraints

Cost is an important consideration for organizations. Some IAC tools have licensing fees or require subscription models, while others may have open-source or community editions. Organizations may face challenges in aligning the costs associated with the chosen tool with their budget constraints. They need to carefully assess the value provided by the tool and ensure it is a cost-effective choice.

Best Practices to Consider While Making a Selection

When choosing Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools, it's important to follow best practices to ensure you select the most suitable tools for your organization's needs. Here are some best practices to consider during the tool selection process:

Clearly Define Your Requirements 

Start by clearly defining your infrastructure requirements, goals, and use cases. Consider factors such as the target platforms, scalability needs, security requirements, compliance considerations, and existing toolchains.

Research and Evaluate Options

Conduct thorough research to identify the available IaC tools in the market. Explore their features, functionality, documentation, and community support.  Seek recommendations from industry peers, attend conferences or webinars, and read reviews and case studies to gain insights from real-world experiences.

Conduct Proof of Concepts (PoCs)

Perform proof of concepts or pilot projects with shortlisted tools to evaluate their suitability for your infrastructure environment. Create sample deployments, test various features, assess performance, and analyze ease of use. Involve key stakeholders, such as infrastructure teams, operations teams, and developers, in the PoC process to gather their feedback and perspectives.

Consider Tool Ecosystem and Integrations

Assess the ecosystem surrounding the tools, including integrations with other essential components of your infrastructure stack. Evaluate compatibility with version control systems, CI/CD pipelines, monitoring and logging tools, configuration management databases, and secrets management solutions. Ensure the tools align with your existing processes and allow for seamless integration into your workflow.

Check Community Support and Documentation

Consider the size and activity of the tool's community. A vibrant and engaged community can provide valuable resources, forums for troubleshooting, and updates on the tool's development. Evaluate the availability and quality of documentation, tutorials, and examples. Clear and comprehensive documentation helps your team adopt and leverage the tools effectively.

Consider Learning Curve and Skill Set

Assess the learning curve associated with each tool. Consider the skills and expertise of your team members. Determine if the tool's concepts and syntax align with your team's skill set or if additional training or hiring is required. Consider tools that offer strong community support, training resources, or consulting services to help your team gain proficiency.

Evaluate Security and Compliance Features 

Assess the security features and compliance capabilities of the tools. Ensure they meet your organization's security requirements and align with industry best practices. Look for features such as secure secrets management, encryption at rest and in transit, access controls, and compliance framework integration.

Consider Scalability and Performance 

Evaluate how well the tools handle scalability and performance requirements. Consider the ability to handle large-scale infrastructure deployments, rapid scaling, and high availability needs. Look for benchmarks, performance metrics, and case studies to gauge the tools' capabilities in real-world scenarios.

Assess Vendor Lock-In and Multi-Cloud Support

Evaluate the level of vendor lock-in associated with the tools. Consider whether they support multiple cloud providers or if they are tied to a specific vendor ecosystem. Assess the tools' compatibility with multi-cloud or hybrid cloud environments, allowing you to maintain flexibility and avoid dependency on a single cloud provider.

Consider Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) 

Evaluate the total cost of ownership, including licensing fees, training costs, support contracts, and any additional expenses related to tool adoption and maintenance. Compare the costs against the features, benefits, and long-term value the tools provide. 

By following these best practices, you can make a well-informed decision when selecting IaC tools that align with your organization's requirements, goals, and operational needs. 

Comprehensive Overview of Types and Features

Orchestration Tools

Orchestration tools are designed to automate the provisioning and management of infrastructure resources by defining and orchestrating the sequence of operations required to achieve the desired state.  These tools provide a way to manage complex deployments involving multiple resources and handle dependencies between them.

  • Terraform: Infrastructure provisioning tool that supports multiple cloud providers and on-premises infrastructure using a declarative language (HCL).
  • AWS CloudFormation: Orchestration tool specific to Amazon Web Services (AWS) for provisioning and managing AWS resources using YAML or JSON templates.
  • Azure Resource Manager: Orchestration tool for Microsoft Azure, allowing you to define and manage Azure resources using JSON-based templates.
  • Google Cloud Deployment Manager: Orchestration tool for Google Cloud Platform (GCP) that uses YAML or Python templates for provisioning GCP resources.
  • OpenStack Heat: Heat is an orchestration service within the OpenStack platform. It provides a domain-specific language (HOT) for defining templates that describe the infrastructure and resource relationships.

Configuration Management Tools

Configuration management tools focus on automating the configuration and management of software components and their associated configurations. These tools help ensure that systems are provisioned with the correct software packages, configurations, and settings.

  • Ansible: Ansible is a widely-used configuration management tool that uses a simple, agent-less architecture.  It operates over SSH or WinRM and uses YAML-based playbooks to define tasks and configurations.
  • Puppet: Puppet is a configuration management tool that focuses on enforcing desired system configurations.  It uses a declarative language (Puppet DSL) to define the desired state of systems.  Puppet operates using a client-server model and requires an agent (Puppet agent) on the managed nodes.
  • Chef: Chef is a configuration management tool that emphasizes defining configurations as "recipes" and "cookbooks."  It uses a declarative and procedural language (Chef DSL or Ruby) to define configurations and automation logic.  Chef operates using a client-server model and requires an agent (Chef client) on the managed nodes.

Application-Centric Tools

Application-centric tools combine infrastructure provisioning and configuration management with application deployment and management. They aim to provide a holistic approach to managing both the infrastructure and the applications running on top of it. These tools often integrate with CI/CD pipelines and offer features for deploying, scaling, and managing applications alongside the infrastructure.

  • Kubernetes (K8s): Leverage Kubernetes to benefit from its container orchestration capabilities, infrastructure abstraction, declarative configuration, scalability features, service discovery, rolling updates, and extensive ecosystem. It provides a powerful foundation for managing containerized infrastructure as code, enabling automation, scalability, and efficient resource utilization in your applications and services.
  • Docker Compose: Docker Compose, with its simplicity, reproducibility, portability, and collaboration features, enhances the IaC approach by providing an effective way to define, manage, and deploy multi-container applications. It allows for easier development, testing, and deployment of infrastructure configurations, enabling efficient management of containerized infrastructure as code.
  • OpenShift: By leveraging OpenShift in your IaC approach, you can benefit from its advanced container orchestration capabilities, infrastructure abstraction, developer self-service features, built-in image registry, S2I support, deployment strategies, CI/CD integration, service discovery, and RBAC. OpenShift streamlines the management and deployment of containerized applications, enabling efficient IaC practices and promoting DevOps principles within your organization.
  • IBM Cloud Schematics: By leveraging IBM Cloud Schematics in your IaC approach, you can benefit from its template management, automation and orchestration, multi-cloud support, workflow automation, compliance checks, CI/CD integration, and monitoring features. Schematics simplifies the management of infrastructure resources, enables automation and consistency, and provides visibility into infrastructure changes and compliance status within the IBM Cloud environment.
  • IBM Cloud Projects: By leveraging IBM Cloud Projects in your IaC approach, you can benefit from its collaborative environment, template management, multi-cloud support, continuous deployment integration, security, and compliance features, deployment history, and resource monitoring capabilities. Projects simplifies the management and deployment of cloud resources, enables collaboration among team members, and provides visibility and control over the infrastructure provisioning process within the IBM Cloud ecosystem.
  • AWS Elastic Beanstalk: While Elastic Beanstalk does not offer the same level of infrastructure management and configuration control as dedicated IaC tools, it simplifies application deployments and provides automation for managing the underlying infrastructure. It offers scalability, environment management, configuration management, integration with AWS services, and monitoring capabilities, which align with IaC principles and can enhance your deployment workflows within the AWS ecosystem.

It's important to note that these categories are not mutually exclusive, and there can be overlap between tools. Some tools may offer functionality from multiple categories or provide integrations with tools from other categories. The choice of the category and tool depends on the specific needs and requirements of an organization's infrastructure and application stack.

Ecosystem of Tools

The Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools ecosystem refers to the collection of various tools, frameworks, libraries, and services that support and enhance the practice of managing infrastructure through code. It encompasses a wide range of tools that facilitate different aspects of infrastructure provisioning, configuration management, deployment automation, and orchestration. The IaC tools ecosystem includes the following components:

Containerization Tools

Tools such as Docker and Kubernetes are an integral part of the IaC ecosystem. They enable the packaging, deployment, and management of applications and services within containers, allowing for consistent and portable deployments across different environments.

Version Control Systems

Version control systems like Git are essential for managing infrastructure code. They provide mechanisms for collaboration, change tracking, and versioning of infrastructure configurations, allowing teams to work together and track changes made to infrastructure code over time.

Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) Tools

CI/CD tools like Jenkins, GitLab CI/CD, and CircleCI integrate with IaC tools to automate the testing, building, and deployment of infrastructure configurations as part of a software delivery pipeline. They enable the continuous integration and deployment of infrastructure changes alongside application code changes.

Monitoring and Observability Tools

These tools provide insights into the health, performance, and availability of infrastructure resources. Examples include Prometheus, Grafana, and Datadog. They help monitor infrastructure metrics, logs, and events, enabling proactive identification and resolution of issues.

Infrastructure Platforms and Cloud Providers

Infrastructure platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and OpenStack form a crucial part of the IaC ecosystem. They provide the underlying infrastructure resources, APIs, and services that IaC tools interact with to provision and manage infrastructure.

Community and Open-Source Projects

The IaC ecosystem benefits from a vibrant community and numerous open-source projects. Communities, forums, and online resources offer support, best practices, and insights into the latest developments in IaC tooling.

The IaC tools ecosystem is continually evolving, with new tools and integrations being developed to address emerging challenges and requirements. This ecosystem provides a rich set of options and resources for organizations to adopt and leverage IaC practices effectively in their infrastructure management workflows.


To summarize, choosing the appropriate Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tool is a critical aspect of simplifying and streamlining infrastructure management. However, it can be a challenging task. By following best practices such as clearly defining requirements, evaluating trade-offs, and considering ecosystem and community support, scalability, and costs, organizations can navigate the selection process more effectively. IaC tools can be categorized into orchestration, configuration management, and application-centric tools. Additionally, leveraging complementary ecosystem tools like version control, CI/CD pipelines, and cloud platforms can enhance the capabilities of IaC for efficient infrastructure management. It is crucial to select the right IaC tool that enables automation and scalability without adding unnecessary complexity, necessitating thorough assessment and evaluation.

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