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Using Jenkins To Run Terraform For IaC Management

Terraform continues to gain popularity in the field of Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) configuration and management.

It has undoubtedly become a significant player now that several “Terraform alternatives” articles have been posted online. Even Gartner published its own piece on alternatives to Terraform. Articles like this are generally written only for leading products.  

However, Terraform is not the only popular tool useful in handling IaC. There are other tools that complement Terraform. One good option is Jenkins, an open-source automation server created for continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD). Extensible and scalable, it ensures reliable code building, testing, and deployment. 

Here’s a quick guide on the role Jenkins plays in enhancing IaC management, especially in terms of scalability, workflows, and security. 

Using Jenkins For IaC Management 

Before anything, it bears mentioning that Jenkins is not an IaC-specific tool. It eventually became a common tool for IaC management because it readily comes with the ability to automate and organize the deployment of workflows. It does not only enable continuous integration; it also structures deployment progress. Additionally, it narrows the gap between teams involved in development and operations. 

It is preferable to use Jenkins for IaC management if an organization is already employing it for CI/CD purposes. The organization already has proficiency in using the tool, so it makes perfect sense to continue using it for IaC management given that it has suitable functions to do the job. Moreover, Jenkins is a free tool, so organizations that seek to reduce their expenses can take advantage of it and avoid additional costs for IaC management tooling and the associated training (in using another tool). 

Using Jenkins to run Terraform (to manage IaC) is a bit tricky. Generally, it is unlikely that using Jenkins is better than employing IaC-specific tools. Solutions particularly intended for IaC management are packed with all the useful features and functions and are designed for efficient operation. However, it would be inexpedient to disregard the ingenuity organizations demonstrate by using Jenkins for IaC management. 

Advantages And Benefits 

One of the biggest advantages of using Jenkins for IaC management is its extensive plugin ecosystem. It may not have the native functions to manage infrastructure, but it has a multitude of plugins to make up for what it lacks. These plugins, together with scripting, enable basic governance for workflows. When it comes to security, Jenkins provides decent basic protection which can be expanded through plugins. Together with custom storage solutions, the plugins also make it possible to have state management with Jenkins. 

In terms of scalability, Jenkins is capable of scaling up with the changing needs of an organization. This scalability advantage is not automatic, but it can be achieved with the right setup and infrastructure. Plus, an organization’s familiarity with Jenkins makes it considerably easier to use it for infrastructure management regardless of the changing scale.  

On the other hand, Jenkins is notable for its cost advantage. Since it is an open-source solution, organizations do not have to worry about one-off or recurrent fees and additional costs when scaling up. Perhaps, the only significant cost organizations will have to address is the training of the tech teams and other users of the solution. Jenkins allows organizations to use an already familiar product for IaC management and avoid the need to spend for another tool and the corresponding training. 

Moreover, Jenkins has a large community of users. This ensures that users can easily get assistance whenever they encounter challenges or issues in the course of using the tool. Troubleshooting is not a hassle since it is likely that others have already encountered the problem a new Jenkins user is getting confronted with, and they are usually more than willing to share their knowledge and insights. 

using Jenkins for IaC management

Drawbacks And weaknesses 

Jenkins’ main advantage, its plugins, may not always be viewed as a benefit for some users. In particular, the use of numerous plugins leads to greater complexity for an organization. This drawback is particularly pronounced in large organizations as it entails additional maintenance overhead and the need to oversee and maintain more tools, settings, and access.  

Plugins also tend to lack advanced governance features like the ability to implement policy-as-code and role-based access control (RBAC). In the same vein, the lack of native state management usually comes with the absence of built-in IaC functions such as automatic planning and drift detection. Sometimes, plugins cannot properly compensate for the lack of these crucial functions. The available plugins can be buggy, dysfunctional, or unoptimized. Additionally, the use of many plugins comes with the need for a customized setup, which can add more complexity and risk to an organization. 

When it comes to security, the use of plugins has the weakness of being practically reliant on the security proficiency of the user. There are no readily-configured comprehensive security guardrails. The security settings are decided upon by the person or team that handles Jenkins, which is not too reassuring. 

On the other hand, scalability with Jenkins is not that remarkable, but the tool is indeed scalable. The problem though is that system management can become quite cumbersome as the complexity of the infrastructure grows. Also, managing the infrastructure can get resource-intensive. 

As far as the costs are concerned, not everyone gets to enjoy cost-efficiency by using Jenkins. There are no initial costs in using an open-source solution, but sometimes there are hidden costs associated with maintenance and scaling. The downtime that ensues if Jenkins fails can also be quite significant. 

 Weighing The Options 

Dedicated IaC tools are specifically created to address the many facets of IaC management. As such, they come with all the suitable out-of-the-box functions such as secrets management, robust state management, and policy as code. Also, IaC-specific tools are usually more efficient because they are built to work at scale, eliminating unnecessary overhead associated with setup and maintenance.  

It is therefore vital for the team that handles IaC management to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of sticking to Jenkins. While it does offer several advantages, there are also several trade-offs to take into account. Using Jenkins makes sense at a smaller scale, and the advantages tend to diminish as the infrastructure being managed grows bigger. 

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Shahnawaz Alam

Shahnawaz is a passionate and professional Content writer. He loves to read, write, draw and share his knowledge in different niches like Technology, Cryptocurrency, Travel,Social Media, Social Media Marketing, and Healthcare.

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