What Is Terraform Cloud?

Terraform Cloud removes many of the complexities in trying to maintain your own Terraform state files in a multi-team, collaborative Terraform environment.


  • Mitchell Hashimoto
    Mitchell HashimotoCo-founder & CTO, HashiCorp

Take a look at Terraform Cloud's pricing tiers.


Today, I want to talk about what Terraform Cloud is, how it's helpful and how you can use it in a collaborative Terraform environment.

The way Terraform works today is that you download Terraform, you get Terraform on your computer and then, when you run Terraform, it talks directly to the cloud providers. You might have AWS here. It might be Azure. Or it might be any number of the hundreds of providers that Terraform supports.

This works great because you can run it on your own machine, you have full control over your data and there's a lot of security associated with it. The downside is that some internal details make this a little bit messy. You have to manage something called a state file.

The state file is the way that Terraform reconciles what you've created and what you want. Otherwise, Terraform wouldn't know whether to create something or update something that already exists. State is always here.

In a SaaS environment this is hidden from the user. If you're using an infrastructure management tool that's hosted, this could be stored in the database, and you never see it. This is one of the first things we're addressing with Terraform Cloud.

What is Terraform Cloud?

Terraform Cloud is a SaaS that we support—that instead, when you run Terraform you still could run it on your local machine, but now it saves and retrieves the state file from Terraform Cloud—which is running over here.

This simplifies a lot of things. First of all, this is pretty much invisible. It still exists, but we manage it for you. Second of all, we could perform a lot more security on this access. You can see who is accessing your state file, control who accesses the state file, and more.

In addition to that, Terraform Cloud will also version and back up your state file so that you could go back in time and see what your infrastructure looked like in the past—or if something went wrong, you could restore a past version. This is something that's really tricky with a local file because this is a normal file on your computer—you would have to be responsible for this yourself. In Terraform Cloud's case, you could still talk directly to the various cloud providers. That's how Terraform Cloud works today. That's the major benefit that remote state brings for you.

Terraform Cloud collaboration and governance features

On top of remote state, there are a number of other features in Terraform Cloud in other tiers that enable things like centralized runs, plan approvals, and more. This changes this behavior, so that instead of talking directly to the cloud providers it talks instead to Terraform Cloud.

Here, instead of talking directly to the cloud providers, what would happen is all your requests to plan and apply would go through Terraform Cloud. Then from here—would then go to the cloud providers. As I said, this is optional. You could use the state storage and talk directly to the cloud providers or you could add this on and use this in the middle.

The benefit is you have a full history here of all the runs that have ever happened. Terraform ensures that only one run happens at a time—and you can get approvals. So, if Alice submits a plan to change infrastructure, Bob has to approve it before it goes through.

You can see how having a SaaS around Terraform can simplify and hide a lot of internal details that are difficult to do with Terraform alone. Broadly, the theme around this is collaboration.

Terraform on your computer—by itself—is a great, powerful tool. But it makes it really hard as soon as you're working with a team or with many people. You can do it. There are ways to coordinate this, but we're introducing Terraform Cloud to make this easy and automatic, and idiomatic in terms of how it should work across all Terraform users.

This makes it clean to have access control here, access control here, history—and you still keep the same Terraform workflow. It's still terraform plan, terraform apply, just like you would here. It will automatically use Terraform Cloud in the backend.

That's Terraform Cloud. If you're collaborating with Terraform, check it out and sign up today.

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