Where do Terraform and OpenTofu go from here?

Opinion Oracle is dropping Terraform for OpenTofu, and IBM's CEO is talking up open source. What does all this mean for both programs? Here's what I see happening.

The Terraform tale has been... interesting. And, with Oracle quietly dumping Terraform for OpenTofu and IBM CEO Arvind Krishna saying real open source matters for enterprises, it's only going to get more interesting.

First, though, in case you haven't been following this drama, here's a quick summarization of what's going on with the Infrastructure as Code (IaC) programs.

Terraform, the brainchild of Mitchell Hashimoto, the founder of HashiCorp, was first introduced in July 2014. It was a revolutionary concept. The program provided an open source, cloud-agnostic way to describe and manage cloud infrastructure using a declarative configuration language: HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL). Initially, it supported only AWS and DigitalOcean, but its impressive growth took to essentially all the cloud providers.

With its open source model, Terraform quickly became both a business and a technical success. Alas, for open source fans, that wasn't good enough for HashiCorp owners. HashiCorp dumped the Mozilla Public License (MPL) for the semi-proprietary Business Source License (BSL) 1.1.

The open source developers and users were not amused. They immediately forked the code from the last MPL-licensed version of Terraform (1.5.6) to create OpenTF. This quickly became OpenTofu to avoid trademark fights.

OpenTofu, somewhat silly name and all, retained all of Terraform's features and functionalities. It also introduced improvements and enhancements, such as end-to-end encryption, in its first release, OpenTofu 1.7.

OpenTofu quickly gained traction and support from The Linux Foundation, former HashiCorp customers, and programmers. This rapid growth and endorsement underscored OpenTofu's potential and competitive edge. However, Terraform was not amused and accused OpenTofu of code misappropriation, setting the stage for a legal battle.

Then came a twist to the story. Hashicorp's new management had been hoping for a buyout - indeed, that's why it changed the license - and it got one, a huge one. IBM bought the company out for big bucks - $6.4 billion, to be exact.

That's the end of the fight. The notion that IBM would pursue OpenTofu in the courts is laughable.

But, what will IBM do next? Will they return Terraform to open source? While Krishna was talking primarily about IBM's Granite Large Language Models (LLM), he told  VentureBeat that the Apache license is a real open source license, unlike the host of faux-pen source licenses, such as BSL, that HashiCorp and other vendors use in place of open source.

Krishna said, "They're using the term open just for marketing purposes. ... If you want people to contribute, it has to be clearly open source; it cannot actually just be open-source marketing."

Exactly so! Indeed, HashiCorp abandoned the Apache license for a faux-source license, and their open source developers abandoned the project. So, once IBM has the Terraform reins in its hands, will it return the program to Apache? If we can believe Krishna, it appears they will.

Besides, there's another reason for IBM to make this move. OpenTofu is grabbing former Terraform customers. The big fish that leaped into OpenTofu's boat, which caught my eye, was Oracle.

In an otherwise dull point release, Oracle announced that its Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) Cloud Manager had "switched from using the Terraform infrastructure as code tool to OpenTofu. Note that this does not impact Cloud Manager functionality."

For those of you who aren't in the high-end IT space, EBS is a major money-maker for Oracle. It's an integrated set of business applications for automating Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and Supply Chain Management (SCM). According to 6Sense, a business-to-business marketing and analyst company, EBS has 43.95 percent of the ERP market, coming in second to SAP Ariba Sourcing.

In other words, Oracle is betting serious coin that OpenTofu is already a drop-in-place replacement for Terraform. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison wouldn't be doing this if he wasn't sure OpenTofu was prime-time ready.

So, as I see it,  if IBM wants to make sure it gets its money's worth out of HashiCorp, it must re-open source Terraform and make peace with OpenTofu.

And it just so happens that this would be fine with the OpenTofu crew. As OpenTofu co-maintainer Sebastian Stadil recently told TheNewStack, "OpenTofu is absolutely open to 'remerging' (unforking?) with a sufficiently open sourced Terraform, and always has been. Nobody likes split communities. Nobody likes fragmentation of efforts. So we would welcome Terraform."

With any luck, after the IBM-Hashicorp deal is completed at year's end, I hope to see the two projects rejoin together. Everyone will be better for it. ®

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