Software systems are becoming more and more sophisticated and complex, which requires an innovative approach to technologies. According to the State of IT Infrastructure Report from 2020, three-quarters of businesses need to upgrade their IT infrastructure to use new technologies. Many companies still employ manual labor when setting up, operating, and managing their infrastructures. This trend leads to delays, errors, inconsistencies and discrepancies. Moreover, organizations are wasting talent on mundane and repetitive tasks when they could be creating new tools and contributing to the company’s innovations. On top of that, manual labor equals elevated costs and management overheads. Infrastructure as Code can help you solve these issues and deliver automation and optimization. In this article, we will answer the question of what is Infrastructure as Code and explore its benefits, best practices, and prominent tools.
Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is a type of infrastructure management that utilizes automated processes and coding as opposed to manual inputs. Unlike basic solutions that automate some mundane IT processes, Infrastructure as Code can handle more complex and convoluted steps. It allows developers to create instructions for storage and network requirements as well as edit configurations while preserving the current state of the infrastructure. As a result, businesses can benefit from improved process automation and recovery plans by integrating their infrastructure into version control.
IaC tools operate using either declarative or imperative approaches. An imperative model allows developers to specify the steps that the system needs to take to make a certain change, and the machine will follow each step. A declarative approach takes an opposite route and enables users to define the end requirement without elaborating on the steps, and the system figures out which step to take to achieve the set goal. Most IaC tools opt for the declarative approach due to its higher flexibility and automation.
The traditional IT infrastructure management processes are manual, which inevitably leads to human errors and higher costs. Infrastructure managers manually configure the servers to meet the requirements of the operating system and applications before deploying the app. The first downside of the traditional approach is costs and resources, as a company needs to hire professionals who can perform these tedious yet complex tasks. These processes require quite a few experts as well as management to control the operations. This in turn creates overhead and complicates the communication within the company.
Additionally, manual configuration is much slower than automated processes, which leads to delays and later to unavailability of the application. Organizations lose much-needed scalability, especially during peaks, and risk keeping their apps unavailable for longer periods of time. On top of that, whenever you experience an issue pertaining to the infrastructure, it becomes extremely difficult to identify the cause. Without continuous monitoring and reporting that IaC tools deliver, professionals might spend a lot of time trying to find a root cause. This will eventually lead to churn and poor reputation among users.
Nowadays systems are becoming more and more complex, which, paired with cloud migration, creates an imminent need for an Infrastructure as Code approach. The widespread adoption of microservices requires separate provision of infrastructures for hundreds of small applications as opposed to several large ones. The automation that IaC delivers makes this possible and helps companies go to the next level.
IaC also facilitates DevOps integration by offering developers quick access to the IT infrastructure that DevOps requires to perform. Businesses can now adopt DevOps best practices, including continuous integration, continuous delivery (CI/CD) and version control that makes their activities safer, more efficient, and optimal.
Infrastructure as Code comes with a variety of advantages that can make your business more productive and technologically advanced. From reducing the costs and offering more scalability to enhancing security and providing a disaster recovery solution, the adoption of IaC can significantly benefit your company. Now that we have discussed the challenges of the traditional IT infrastructure management approach, let’s move on to the benefits of the IaC model.
The automation that Infrastructure as Code brings provides much higher process speed when it comes to setup and configuration. Developers simply run a script to set up their infrastructure for any environment, including development, deployment, testing, production, and more. Your workers no longer need to wait for lengthy setup and waste their precious time on complex configurations. Higher speed enables smoother application operation, better performance and responsiveness, and improved user experience.
A significant benefit of IaC adoption is cost reduction. First of all, you will lower your human resources costs by automating tasks. The costs of hiring and onboarding a new employee alone are quite high, but when you also consider pension, taxes, salary, office equipment, the expense gets noticeably high.
Secondly, you can avoid spending your resources on building and operating hardware to manage your infrastructure. IaC goes hand in hand with cloud services, and by opting for both you will be able to substantially decrease your expenses. Finally, your existing workers can focus on achieving goals and striving for innovation instead of performing repetitive tasks that an IaC tool can easily handle. By freeing up your personnel from executing mundane tasks, you will be able to provide them with more challenging and interesting endeavors.
The combination of cloud services and Infrastructure as Code tools allows companies to deliver the scalability they need to keep their apps alive. Scalability is the cornerstone of modern application development as the lack thereof can significantly hinder your growth and ruin the app’s reputation. During peak seasons or rapid growth, the app’s user base can quickly expand, which can result in unavailability and delays. Automated scalability solves this problem and allows you to seamlessly grow and shrink at your own pace.
Another advantage that makes IaC systems compelling is the reduction of human errors. Since manual work is no longer needed, teams can use a standardized infrastructure setup to avoid any mistakes. Deploying infrastructure using IaC tools is repeatable and helps you eliminate harmful configuration drifts or missing dependencies. By using configuration files as the single source of truth, you will prevent discrepancies and deviations and ensure a stable system.
The standardization and automation that IaC brings to the table ensure consistency and security. Infrastructure as Code can also serve as a form of documentation of the correct way of setting up and managing the infrastructure. Another security benefit is the version control that allows for safe and reversible changes in the code. On top of that, since the changes are no longer made manually but performed in code, the risk of unauthorized change also decreases. As a result, every change can be tracked and documented as well as reversed by using version control. Finally, auditing also becomes more available since everything is documented in code and can be easily accessible to external and internal auditors.
Elevated accountability is an Infrastructure as Code advantage that comes from the transparency that IaC systems enable. Since everything is documented and defined in code, you can easily track who made the change, when, and for what reason. This eliminates hours of communication in the pursuit of figuring out who did what and why. Having a reliable log system that captures every slight change helps companies increase transparency and thus solve conflicts a lot easier. It will primarily save you a lot of time but also encourage developers to think autonomously and make the changes when required.
Regardless of your tools and level of expertise, something still can go wrong for one or another reason. Having version control at your hand greatly benefits your company and provides a disaster recovery option. Well-preserved version control gives you an opportunity to instantaneously kill any recent changes by simply going back to the previous version. Especially in the case when you cannot quickly figure out the root cause of the issue, disaster recovery is a lifesaver for your organization.
IaC systems can also play into the software development life cycle by allowing deployment in various stages. For example, you can set up a sandbox environment for developers to let them write code in isolation to try out new ideas. QA specialists can also take advantage of this system to run tests using a copy of the production environment without interfering with the actual code. Finally, you can instantly deploy the app in one go by pushing both infrastructure and code to production. As a result, departments can work in parallel without causing any interference or conflicts of interest.
Another one on the list of advantages is the adoption of DevOps practices and the CI/CD pipeline. Infrastructure as Code aligns development and operations by offering a unified infrastructure configuration system. Additionally, IaC facilitates CI/CD adoption by providing automation and monitoring throughout the entire development lifecycle. As a result, you can meet the industry standards and work in a more efficient environment a lot quicker than without IaC implementation.
Developers do not have to wait for the infrastructure setup to do their tasks or make requests to perform a small change. IaC systems encourage more independence and personal accountability which simultaneously simplifies the processes and force developers to make only important changes. The ability to create separate environments also adds to self-sufficiency and helps all specialists work on their tasks interdependently. All in all, the self-service option benefits the entire organization and enhances productivity and communication.
There are quite a few IaC tools that are currently available on the market that can help you learn and adopt the concept of Infrastructure as Code. Some programs focus mainly on infrastructure provisioning and management, whereas others pay more attention to configuration management. In this section, we will go over a few prominent examples of IaC tools to help you make the right decision for your company.
Terraform is one of the leading platforms for Infrastructure as Code and supports systems like AWS, Azure, Alibaba Cloud, Kubernetes and others. The tool offers infrastructure provision and management across platforms and guarantees the desired configuration setup.
Ansible is an open-source configuration management tool with IaC capabilities that offers wide infrastructure provisioning features but lacks infrastructure management functions.
Chef is a robust configuration management system that offers excellent automation functions as well as infrastructure management features. The program is known for its simple integration into DevOps practices and great collaboration tools.
CFEngine is a platform that helps you to manage configurations and does not focus on infrastructure management. However, the tool allows you to meet even the most complex configuration requirements and can be very useful in the case of a complicated product. AWS CloudFormation
CloudFormation is an AWS platform that is created to manage AWS infrastructure. If you are already using AWS for their cloud services, you may benefit from this collaboration.
Adopting IaC can be quite challenging at first but there are some tips that can simplify the experience for you. In this part, we will explore the best practices that will help you make the most of IaC adoption.
Code all infrastructure specifications in configuration files and use them as the single source of truth for all the infrastructure management activities. Avoid maintaining additional documentation that is stored outside of the source of truth to prevent misinformation and discrepancies.
Unify all your configuration files in one location and create version control to prevent disastrous events when your application goes down.
Since IaC is actual code, it can and should be continuously tested to avoid errors and inconsistencies. IaC tools can also equip you with systems that offer testing and monitoring options and allow you to validate the servers before the production stage.
Infrastructure as Code is able to accelerate all the infrastructure-related tasks and deliver security, standardization, consistency, and cost savings. If you would like to benefit from this technology, get in touch with NIX United to help you learn more about it. We are a team of software development experts with a diverse portfolio of successful cases. Our in-depth knowledge and broad experience will help you utilize the best IaC tools and advantages and build applications that you need to achieve your goals.
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