Infrastructure as Code (IaC) And Its Impact on Configuration
Infrastructure as a Code for DevOps has been gaining a lot of traction among tech companies around the world. According to Sheila Gulati, managing director of Tola Capital, it’s the need of the hour. Its flexibility of use for any type of cloud workload or architecture has made it indispensable for modern cloud businesses.
However, the skill required for implementation is itself uncommon. Trained engineers to design the software infrastructure needed are scarce. At the same time, this favors opportunities for Infrastructure as Code (IaC) startups to offer solutions to customers.
So, what is IaC and how does it impact how configuration of your infrastructure is handled?
Let’s find out.
What is Infrastructure as Code (IaC)?
Infrastructure as Code on an IDE
Infrastructure as Code refers to a DevOps methodology to deploy infrastructure like virtual machines, networks, and load balances. . As defined by RedHat, "IaC is the managing and provisioning of infrastructure through code instead of through manual processes”. IaC uses code to generate an environment each time it is deployed and works as a component of continuous delivery to facilitate and accelerate rapid development. By coding the configuration details into delivery, IaC aids configuration management and helps avoid unauthorized configuration changes.
Why is IaC so Important for Cloud DevOps?
Sheila Gulati’s pitch for IaC describes why it’s now a necessity for all modern cloud businesses. This is a multicloud world; more than that, it’s a many cloud world. Modern cloud architectures can’t help but mix and match for custom solutions. Serverless applications, AI/ML applications, Kubernetes, etc. are all involved in today’s modern cloud.
IaC allows DevOps teams to work together with a unified set of tools and best practices to create applications. This allows teams to meet tight deadlines and create infrastructure that can be generated reliably at scale.
These are, briefly, the benefits of Infrastructure as Code for configuration. It replaces the need for manual configuration and enforces consistency. Manual configuration produces unique configurations which can’t be reproduced automatically without exhaustive efforts. Due to the inconsistencies between environments, compatibility issues arise which delay project delivery. IaC helps to solve all these problems efficiently.
Of course, there are myriad benefits besides these.
Benefits of Infrastructure as Code for Configuration
Myriad code displayed in an IDE
Designing the right infrastructure for a functioning system is an incredibly time-consuming process. It used to depend on the physical hardware in data centers, but it’s now more dependent on virtualization, containers, and cloud computing.
These virtual processes have resulted in a more complex infrastructure design. Each application now requires custom infrastructure to be constructed, scaled, and taken down frequently. Broadly speaking, IaC standards that process to manage scale more effectively.
In effect, it accomplishes several things.
IaC results in a significant amount of automation. Hence, engineers and IT experts can complete several tasks in very little time. This leaves ample time to focus on mission critical tasks. This effectively minimizes costs for utilities and pushes work to the finish line before deadlines. Teams can budget better for important decisions like expansion or other product development tasks as a result.
With greater automation comes greater efficiency. IaC automates machine virtualization, account management, network management, and other minor operations like adding resources and environments. With faster and simpler procedures, there is a general bump in efficiency across the board. This also improves code simplicity and interpretability for non-coders. Thus, different departments can work with greater clarity.
Lower Risk of Human Error
IaC solves human error issues to a high degree. It largely removes the errors which occur during repetitive deployment of environments. It also reduces the errors made by new employees when they’re becoming familiar with the new environment.
IaC standardizes all logs and processes during the development stage. Each person working on a project can access detailed reports and documentation about the existing infrastructure and its management. New employees can thus manage their work better with fewer setbacks.
With fewer errors comes greater consistency in work. Since most processes are automated in IaC, incompatibility issues in configuration and deployment are also greatly reduced. Not only that, but this conserves valuable resources and prevents excessive downtime.
No Configuration Drift
IaC can deploy the same code several times, but once the first deployment is done, subsequent ones have no effect. This is why IaC is deemed ‘idempotent’. This is one of the biggest benefits of infrastructure as code for configuration. This feature prevents configuration drift. This means the specifications of your environment are within the code itself.
Hence, if an error occurs which changes a resource or removes an element, your code will remain the same. Any such errors will automatically be corrected without human assistance.
Better Security Strategies
IaC ensures that computing power, storage and networking services are all provisioned with code. They are always deployed the same way using a cloud. This sets a standard for security. Since the same deployment will occur every time, there is no need for security gatekeeper review or approval. Hence, a single review can assure solid security which can be carried forward.
IaC includes self-documentation and source control. Hence, there is complete transparency into each aspect of the environment configuration. New users can thus understand why specific changes were made and what was their result. This ensures accountability and visibility of the automated configuration process.
Self-Documentation allow for transparency and accountability within the configuration process. However, it also allows for knowledge to be passed forward to new users and employees. IaC doesn’t just track every process and change, but also tests each configuration like a code.
This process can be a yardstick for each new employee or manager.
Better Stability and Scalability
IaC’s incredible efficiency at reproducing environments tailored to specific configurations allows for early application testing. DevOps teams can thus test their applications in production-like environments to root out errors and bugs. IaC provides multiple environments to test the applications in. The infrastructure code itself can be tested to prevent any common deployment issues.
The best thing is, this can be done at scale, very rapidly. Hence, testing on a large number of devices, testing for bugs, testing for endurance, etc. is all possible.
Another great benefit of infrastructure as code for configuration is disaster recovery. Since IaC tracks infrastructure through self-documentation, it can redeploy the last healthy state after a disaster. This quick and efficient disaster recovery after infrastructure collapse is invaluable in the tech industry.
Infrastructure as Code for Configuration Best Practices
Person writing code for configuration
These are some best practices to setup IaC for maximum potential.
Store Your Infrastructure as Code in a VCS
VCS (Version Control System) enables to work more efficiently. VCS allows for a detailed evaluation of the history of configuration improvements. This enables better governance, versioning, and collaboration.
IaC already provides self-documentation; VCS goes hand in hand with this approach. Not only does this help new recruits in the onboarding process, but it creates a powerful audit trail, and better risk management.
Also, multiple, and out of date configuration files are reduced or altogether eliminated in a VCS.
Use Declarative Definition Files
An IaC approach can use either declarative or imperative definition files. However, declarative definition files are the best choice. A definition file does provide all the components and configuration needed for an environment, but not how to achieve it.
For example, the file may outline a required server version and configuration, but not the installation and configuration process. This abstraction allows for a degree of flexibility to optimize the infrastructure provider supplies.
An imperative approach focuses on the specific commands needed to achieve the right configuration. Those commands would then need to be executive in the right order. However, declarative IaC focuses on the current state of system objects. This makes dismantling and reassembling the infrastructure much easier.
Using declarative definitions here can reduce the ‘technical debt’, or problems that occur when once cuts corners when writing code, of an imperative code. The latter often uses multiple deployment scripts which accumulate overtime which can cause maintenance issues.
There is no standard syntax for declarative IaC. However, it’s common for platforms to support JSON, XML, or YAML.
Choose the Right Tools for the Job
The tools you choose for IaC will depend completely on your engineering capability, use of cloud platforms, and other factors.
However, it’s a best practice to employ a continuous integration or continuous delivery platform. This way, you will end up with a flexible platform that supports multiple platforms. Certain tools which support IaC, include Chef, Ansible, Puppet, and CloudFormation.
IaC has effectively changed the game when it comes to Cloud DevOps. The bogglingly complex infrastructure needed to create applications and contend with multiple elements has been simplified. Using the same philosophy that consolidated disparate hardware elements to create a printed circuit board, IaC has provided an infrastructure template.
Its efficacy when deploying and maintaining a specific configuration environment is unmatched. In cloud infrastructure, there is no better option for SMEs and large businesses alike.
How Evolven Helps
Although IaC is a wonderful template to follow, there is still a human element involved. Mistakes still occur and automation does not yet make every configuration change. Evolven’s configuration risk intelligence platform integrates with these tools to provide a complete configuration state of your enterprise. It delivers complete change awareness in every environment – hybrid, multi-cloud - as well as operational awareness linking planned deployments with actual configuration changes and their impact on performance and availability. To find out more about Evolven’s SmartCABTM , how we help you prevent risky changes, and how we do causal and risk analysis for continual improvement, contact us.