How To Manage Multiple Environments With Terraform

Managing multiple environments with Terraform can be a complex and time-consuming task. An environment refers to a specific configuration or set of resources within a system, such as development, staging, or production environment. These environments often have different requirements and configurations, and managing them separately can be challenging.

Romaric Philogène

Romaric Philogène

January 6, 2023 · 7 min read
How To Manage Multiple Environments With Terraform - Qovery
Written byRomaric Philogène

Romaric Philogène

CEO and co-founder of Qovery. Romaric has 10+ years of experience in R&D. From the Ad-Tech to the financial industry, he has deep expertise in highly-reliable and performant systems.

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DevOpsPlatform EngineeringTerraform

Terraform Workspaces

One solution to this problem is to use Terraform Workspaces. Workspaces allow you to manage multiple environments within a single Terraform configuration. You can create a workspace for each environment and switch between them using the terraform workspace command. This allows you to maintain separate states for each environment and makes it easier to manage multiple environments within a single configuration.

While Terraform Workspaces can be a useful tool for managing multiple environments within a single configuration, there are some limitations to consider. For example, it can be challenging to navigate between environments, and it may be difficult to properly segregate backends and manage versioning between workspaces. In addition, Hashicorp themselves do not recommend using Workspaces as the sole solution for managing environments. According to Hashicorp,

"Workspaces alone are not a suitable tool for system decomposition because each subsystem should have its own separate configuration and backend, and will thus have its own distinct set of workspaces."

Terragrunt

Another solution is to use Terragrunt, which is a tool that can help simplify the process of managing multiple Terraform environments. It provides features such as environment segregation, variable file management, and remote backend segregation, which can make it easier to manage different environments within a single configuration. Terragrunt also makes it easier to manage versioning between environments compared to using Terraform Workspaces.

However, it is important to note that Terragrunt is a separate tool that operates differently from Terraform. This means that you will need to learn and understand how it works in addition to learning Terraform. While there is some code duplication involved in using Terragrunt, it is generally considered to be less complex than using branches (E.g, using different tfvars on different git branches) for managing environments.

For more information on using Terragrunt to manage multiple environments with Terraform, you may want to check out an article by Gruntwork that goes into greater detail on the topic.

Easier and scalable with Qovery

However, even with solutions like Terraform Workspaces and Terragrunt, managing multiple environments with Terraform can still be a complex and time-consuming task - especially with larger teams. This is where Qovery comes in.

Before we dive into the details of how Qovery can help here, let's take a look at the key challenges that Qovery aims to address:

  1. Ensuring proper segregation of environments
  2. Reusing code without duplication
  3. Providing self-service usage and control of environments

Environment and Services

In Qovery, we have a four-tiered structure for organizing applications: organization, project, environment, and service. Typically, our customers create one organization for their company and then create projects based on business cases. Within each project, they can create multiple environments, such as development, pre-production, and production. This allows for clear segregation of environments, making it easy to manage and deploy resources in the appropriate environment.

This structure is useful for organizing and segregating environments, but how does it help with managing code? That's a good question.

Environment Cloning

Environments are central to the functionality of Qovery. They are highly versatile units that can be cloned as often as needed, making them useful for creating templates. This provides several key benefits both from a coding and reusability perspective.

As an example, consider the process of creating an RDS instance. When writing code for an RDS instance, there are often a number of variables that need to be changed depending on the environment or scenario. For instance, a developer might want to test new application code with an RDS instance. In this case, they might choose to copy existing RDS instance code or use a module to spin up the desired instance. With Qovery, there is a simpler option: create an RDS service (inside your Environment) that references your code in your version control system (VCS) and import the necessary variables at the click of a button. This allows you to easily modify the template as needed and streamlines the process of spinning up an RDS instance.

This allows non-Terraform experts to spin up an RDS instance using Terraform code while changing the desired name and instance size through a UI.

The use of templates in Qovery allows you to reuse the same code across different environments, such as development, pre-production, and production, while simply changing a few key variables through a user interface or via code. You can also use the same code to spin up multiple instances in a single environment, such as development. One of the key benefits of this approach is that any changes made to the template code can be automatically applied to all environments using the template.

Furthermore, the power of Environments is not limited to small objects like RDS instances. Environments can be used to spin up entire VPCs or even full infrastructure stacks, providing a powerful and flexible way to manage your infrastructure.

Environment Variables and Secrets

Qovery's Environments offer many powerful features beyond the ability to import and edit environment variables and secrets. With Qovery, you can define environment variables and secrets at any level of the application structure, from the organization level down to the service level. This allows you to specify environment variables and secrets, such as the region in which resources should be deployed within the environment. You can also override the value of certain environment variables and secrets for specific environments, for instance, to prevent the use of production environment variables in testing environments. Additionally, you can mark sensitive environment variables and secrets to ensure they are protected. For example, you might mark a project token as a sensitive environment variable or secret to ensure that it is not exposed to unauthorized users.

When using an Environment, you can easily see which environment variables and secrets have been inherited from the Environment and which have been inherited from the project. This helps you understand the values that are being used during the Environment run and can be useful for debugging and troubleshooting purposes.

Here we override the value (false) of the "debug" environment variable with another value (true)
Here we override the value (false) of the "debug" environment variable with another value (true)

Versioning

You might wonder how Qovery handles different versions or branches of the same code. Don't worry; we have you covered. With Qovery, you can specify which branch or tag of your code a service should use. This allows you to easily deploy different versions or branches of your code as needed without managing multiple copies of your code or configuration. Choose the branch you want to use, and Qovery will take care of the rest.

You can change your branch in one click
You can change your branch in one click

But you can also select the commit that you want to deploy.

You can select the commit you want to deploy
You can select the commit you want to deploy

Impressed? Keep reading; it's getting even better.

Preview Environments

If you're a DevOps engineer working with Terraform, you know how important it is to preview and test changes before they go live. That's where Preview Environments come in! With Qovery, a new Preview Environment is automatically created whenever you open a Pull Request. This allows you to test and validate all the changes on a complete infrastructure before they go live. This can help you catch any issues before they become a problem and ensure that your code works as intended.

When the Pull Request is closed or merged, the Preview Environment is automatically destroyed, and all resources are torn down. This helps ensure that your work is secure and that you are only using resources when needed.

In short, Preview Environments are a super helpful tool for testing and validating changes before they go live.

Collaborative

As a DevOps engineer, it's crucial to collaborate with other teams, especially engineering teams, while still maintaining control over your work. With Qovery, you can quickly provide access to your environments and infrastructure to other teams while still retaining control over what they can see and do. This allows you to work more efficiently and effectively with other teams while still ensuring that your work is protected and secure. Whether you need to share access to a specific environment or grant access to an entire infrastructure stack, Qovery makes it easy to provide the necessary access while maintaining control.

Intuitive interface to set Roles and Permissions to users
Intuitive interface to set Roles and Permissions to users

Conclusion

Managing multiple environments with Terraform can be tricky, but Query makes it easy! With our Preview Environments, you can test and validate changes before they go live, ensuring that your code works as intended. Our four-tiered application structure helps you reuse code and manage dependencies while maintaining control. In short, Qovery is one of the best solutions for managing multiple environments with Terraform.

What's next?

We would love to hear your thoughts on the approaches mentioned here or how you manage your Terraform environments. Feel free to share your experiences and insights with us.

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