What is infrastructure-as-code — and why you should use it

Digital infrastructure is growing rapidly, both in terms of scale and complexity, making it difficult for IT admins to configure and manage it manually. In fact, staying on top of all the hardware and software configurations across the entire cloud and on-premises networks has become an almost impossible task. This is why we have new developments and automation coming up in this space. One such trend that’s expected to change the face of the IT infrastructure industry is infrastructure-as-code (IaC).

infrastructure-as-code (IaC)

What is infrastructure-as-code (IaC)?

Infrastructure-as-code is the process of using configuration files to automate IT infrastructure management. It has a myriad of uses throughout the IT world and has become especially popular with Azure admins. Let’s break down this definition to better understand what it means.

IaC revolves around the use of configuration files for creating the right target environment. These configuration files are stored in well-documented formats such as JSON to make it easy for IT admins to access them readily. These JSON configuration files are used to configure the target environment. Any required changes are made to the source file and not the target environment, so IT admins have better control and a streamlined management plan and execution.

Why use IaC?

IaC is evolving as a convenient way to manage configurations and, through it, the infrastructure environment. Besides saving time and effort for IT admins, here are more reasons to use IaC.

Greater control

Environment drift, a common problem in deployments, is characterized by varying configurations for each environment that over time becomes unique and difficult to duplicate. It also makes these environments standalone, so it becomes difficult to track and monitor.

The infrastructure-as-code model overcomes this problem by storing the configuration in files and using the same code for each deployment. This way, each deployment is identical and gives you greater control over maintenance.

Reduced manual efforts through automation

Since IaC is based on automation, there is little manual effort involved in generating the configuration settings. As a result, the time and effort required for deployment go down, and employees are more productive. It brings down the number of human errors as well.

IaC can also be used to automate legacy environments that could otherwise require a ton of time and manual efforts.

DevOps testing

IaC helps the DevOps teams test applications early in the lifecycle of product development, so delays are greatly reduced.

Another advantage from a testing perspective is that the team can set up the testing environment on demand, so the application can be quickly deployed and tested. Similarly, IaC enables teams to quickly tear down environments, do cloud deployments, and more.

Overall, infrastructure-as-code gives a ton of flexibility for the DevOps to speed up the entire development lifecycle.

Stable environments

IaC is a preferred mode of deployment because it creates stable environments that can scale up rapidly. Since you can control the state of different environments through code, deployments can be repeated accurately, and runtime issues due to dependencies and missing code are greatly reduced.

All these help the DevOps teams to deliver quickly and at scale, with no compromises in code quality or practices.

Handling the dynamic infrastructure needs

Today’s infrastructure, especially cloud-based ones, is highly dynamic where users pay only for what they use. From a user’s standpoint, it becomes too much hassle when it’s time to expand because new environments may need the exact configuration of existing ones.

But with IaC, setting up new environments and bringing them down is quick and easy because the required configuration details are readily available. It also helps organizations to leverage the power of the dynamic nature of infrastructure environments and the scalability and flexibility that come with it.

Code reusability

infrastructure-as-code IaC

Reusable code and components are the building blocks of today’s applications, and IaC fits this requirement perfectly. The existing configuration can be reused across environments and modules, reducing the time and effort for implementation. Further, there’s no dependence on any individual or team to handle the configurations.

Faster time to market

IaC’s automation dramatically speeds up the time required for setting up the development, testing, and production environments, so the development life cycle is shorter, and product releases are quicker. Such streamlined and faster time-to-market advantages augur well for businesses as they thrive in a competitive environment.

Thus, these are some compelling reasons to move to IaC, as it offers enormous time and cost savings besides streamlining your environment’s configuration.

Implementing infrastructure-as-code

Moving on, let’s look at some aspects to consider while implementing IaC in your organization. Though the exact implementation would depend on your organization’s environment and your specific needs, you’ll most likely have to make a bunch of decisions before its implementation.

Mutable vs. immutable infrastructure

Before implementing IaC, decide whether you want to set up a mutable or immutable infrastructure. As the name suggests, mutable refers to an infrastructure that you can modify after provisioning and helps developers get an environment that closely fits their needs.

Though IaC can be used for mutable environments, its key benefit of consistency is lost, and tracking could become difficult as well.

This is why IaC is mostly used for immutable infrastructure as this environment is most conducive for its benefits. It also eliminates problems such as continental drift and dependence and paves the way for quick provisioning and easy rollbacks when needed.

That said, this is your decision, and IaC can be used for both environments, though it’s more preferable for immutable infrastructure.

Declarative vs. imperative approaches

Before deciding to implement IaC, decide on your provisioning approach. Broadly speaking, there are two types of approaches, and they are declarative and imperative.

In the declarative approach, you decide the final state of infrastructure and use IaC to provision it. On the other hand, in the imperative approach, you decide the state of infrastructure one step at a time, depending on your needs.

Though you can use IaC for both approaches, it works better for the declarative approach because you can leverage the power of automation to provision the resources.

IaC implementation tools

Many tools are available today for implementing IaC, and the two most popular tools are Ansible and Terraform.

Ansible is more suited for the declarative approach as its provisioning and management code, written in YAML configuration language, automatically creates your desired infrastructure state. It is often used for Kubernetes deployments and Docker containers.

Terraform, on the other hand, is an infrastructure orchestration tool that also works well for the declarative approach. It’s a more comprehensive solution that automates all provisioning aspects on both the cloud and on-prem environments. It’s also well-suited for a wide range of resources, including databases, virtual machines, physical servers, and more.

Chef, Puppet, Code, and SaltStack are other configuration management tools that work well on mutable environments.

Should you choose IaC?

From the above discussion, it’s clear that IaC is a part of the future and can be an invaluable tool as you create and manage complex IT environments. We’re currently in the nascent stages of infrastructure-as-code. Over the next few years, we can expect more advanced features in the existing tools and possibly even new tools that will make it a breeze to navigate all types of infrastructure.

For now, though, let’s leverage the current capabilities and benefits of IaC.

Have you implemented it within your organization, or are you planning to do it soon? What other aspects did you consider? Please share your experience with our readers.

Featured image: Pixabay

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