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Over the last decade or so, infrastructure management has changed fundamentally.

In the past, it involved manual management and configuration of systems and full-time administration to ensure smooth workflows and stable functions.

Today, the rise of DevOps culture and modernization of cloud infrastructure have revolutionized – and improved – the way organizations design, develop, and maintain their IT infrastructure.

One of the critical components at the centre of these trends is infrastructure as code (IaC).

In this post, we discuss this topic at length, its role in accelerating DevOps and cloud transformation, and how you can implement it in your organization.

The Fundamentals of Infrastructure as Code

As the name suggests, infrastructure as code simply implies the codification of the underlying infrastructure as software. Rather than manually configuring discrete hardware devices, the operations infrastructure is managed using the same rules and strictures that govern code development.

With IaC, infrastructure resources & configuration parameters are treated as programmable objects, and controlled them via code

Which also means that all time-tested software development practices should be applied to infrastructure. With infrastructure’s configuration written as a code file, it can go through the same version control to track code changes, automated testing to check for errors and oversights, and various other steps of a continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline that are applied for application code.

IaC is More than Just Automation

IaC is different from simple infrastructure automation, which involves replicating a series of static steps several times and reproducing them on multiple servers. IaC is a concept extends beyond that.

IaC Approaches & Methods

IaC tools can vary in terms of the specifics of how they function, but we can generally divide them into two key categories, related to programming language paradigms:

Declarative approach: This approach focuses on the what by declaring the desired outcome – instead of explicitly outlining the sequence of steps the infrastructure needs to reach the final result.

SQL is a popular declarative programming language. AWS CloudFormation templates, among others, are based on the declarative style.

Imperative approach: The imperative method focuses on the how by defining a sequence of commands/instructions so the infrastructure can reach the desired outcome.

Object-oriented languages, such as C++ and Java, are commonly used for imperative programming. A tool like Chef can be used in the declarative manner, but also imperatively as necessary.

In both these approaches, infrastructure as code is configured on a template. Templates use a simple, human-readable format and are simple text files, where the user specifies the resources needed for each server in the infrastructure.

Role of IaC in DevOps & Cloud Computing

There are several benefits to conducting operations based on IaC. Here’s why IaC is essential to your DevOps and cloud practices.

1. Stronger interdepartmental relationships: With IaC, the knowledge of server provisioning, configuration management, and deployment is no longer limited to the sys admins.

IaC is typically written in a high-level language. JSON, for example, is a lightweight and text-based language that allows IT operations admins to write infrastructure code alongside the development team. This helps to strengthen relationships between different teams that DevOps demands.

2. End-to-end automation: IaC helps eliminate manual processes not just in production environments, but also backward across a CI/CD pipeline – right from development and QA testing to deployment and management.

Teams can carefully control code versions, test iterations, and limit deployment until the software is approved for production. This helps in easier error-tracking, meaning solutions can also be offered with more rapid turnaround.

3. Easier management of cloud infrastructure: The scale and scope of cloud computing demands a high level of automation and governance to manage the cloud’s wide range of services, applications, and functions.

IaC plays an important role in automating resource and application configuration and deployment on cloud environments – whether public or private clouds. Organizations that opt for hybrid cloud benefit even more, as templated configurations and resources lend themselves to be applied across multiple cloud environments and ensure robust governance.

Sys admins can use a predefined set of instructions to:

o Provision resources
o Configure the instance
o Configure and deploy a workload
o Link all associated services
o Ensure continuous monitoring and management of the deployment over time

CloudFormation is AWS’ central mechanism for automating cloud resources. It enables teams to specify templates representing software stacks and automatically deploy them to cloud environments. Similarly, Azure uses Azure Resource Manager (ARM) to manage and deploy cloud resources.

4. Access to immutable infrastructure: Immutable infrastructure refers to the practice of assembling and setting components and resources to create a full service or application. If any change is needed for an individual component, they are not reconfigured – instead they are all updated and redeployed in an instance.

It is especially useful for cloud and microservices environments, which involve several interdependent components and services. Any manual updates performed at various occasions over time in such environments can introduce the risk of configuration drift — a situation where different servers develop different configurations and software versions.

5. Robust security: The codification of infrastructure is especially useful to replicate a network configuration for different projects, such as cloning a production network for test and development. Cloud-agnostic tools like Terraform allows IT admins to easily replicate the same configurations across various cloud providers, thereby reducing complexity in hybrid or multi-cloud environments.

The use of IaC also helps to introduce to code-level security practices, which is essential for a multilevel security strategy.

Implementing IaC in Your Organization

When implementing IaC in your organization, it is important to keep the following points in mind.

IaC is a crucial part of modern DevOps and cloud transformation initiatives, helping the software development and infrastructure management teams efficiently work together in order to provide predictable, repeatable, and reliable software delivery services.

However, coming up with the right IaC solution for your unique IT architecture isn’t something that should be approached lightly, or without the right guidance. Once you’ve set up your IaC environment the right way, you can start expecting quick results.

By Atul Verma

Senior Software Engineer

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