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What is Infrastructure as Code?

Infrastructure as Code is a higher-level abstraction to write code/login in a high-level language that utilizes modules to perform tasks on the machine level. Infrastructure as Code involves code to provision, configure, and manage infrastructure. Use the right set of tools to describe the infrastructure on which the application deploys. It includes the specification of Virtual Machines, Storage, Software Stacks, Network Configurations, Security features, User Accounts, Access Control Limits, and so on. The description is done using the code in the declarative language depending on the tools using standard scripting languages to Domain-Specific Languages (DSL) provided by the tools.


A software-centric architecture tightly integrated to compute, networking and storing resources into a single system. Click to explore about, Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Benefits

IAC has the following characteristics -

  • Standard syntax.
  • Use built-in packages.
  • Better Config Management.
  • Version controlled.
  • Rollback to the previous state if things didn't work.
  • Idempotent, i.e., results in the same outcomes when run multiple times.

How Infrastructure as Code (IAC) Works?

The code should be written to describe the new machine's desired state. That code should run on the machine to converge it to the desired state. The code should execute to ensure the machine's desired state over time, always bringing it back to convergence. IAC helps IT operations teams to manage and provision IT infrastructure automatically through code without relying on manual processes. IAC is often described as “Programmable Infrastructure.”

DevOps writes down the application code plus configuration management related instructions to trigger actions from the virtualization and other environments like the database, appliances, testing tools, delivery tools, and more.

In new code delivery, the configuration management set of instructions automatically creates a new virtual test environment, application server, and database instance to exactly mirror the live operational environment structure, both regarding service packs and versioning as well as live data that transferred to such virtual test environment called Infrastructure as Code part of the process. Set of tools perform necessary compliance tests, error identification, and resolution. The new code ready for deployment to the live IT environment.

Immutable Infrastructure vs. Mutable Infrastructure

While automating the Infrastructure through IaC and choosing an IaC solution for the same, you first need to decide whether to establish an immutable or mutable infrastructure.

Mutable Infrastructure

Once you have provisioned Infrastructure and later be modified or updated according to your needs, this kind of Infrastructure is mutable. Mutable Infrastructure enables the software development teams to make impromptu server customizations and respond to any emergent security issue. But while talking in terms of IaC, mutable Infrastructure undermines one of its key benefits: maintaining configuration consistency within versions and between deployments and environments; as a result, it makes version tracking difficult.

Immutable Infrastructure

Overcome the above hassle by implementing IaC as immutable Infrastructure, i.e., the Infrastructure, cannot be modified or updated once provisioned. If the Infrastructure needs to be changed in such scenarios, you don't update the existing Infrastructure. Instead, you replace it with a new one, i.e., you roll out a new version of the Infrastructure. This eliminates the issue of configuration drift and ensures consistency between different environments. Immutable Infrastructure enables teams to easily maintain and track different infrastructure versions and roll out to a previous version, if necessary. Immutable Infrastructure is thus more feasible and practical and strengthens all the benefits of IaC implementation.


Infrastructure as Code enables DevOps teams to test applications in production-like environments early in the development cycle. Source: What is IaC?

What are the different approaches to Infrastructure as Code?

After taking the above important decision of choosing what kind of Infrastructure to establish, it is also essential to decide on implementing infrastructure automation while choosing an IaC solution.

Declarative Approach

The declarative approach is the functional approach that is considered the best fit in most organizations. Suppose you want to spin up a virtual machine, then install and configure the required software, resolve the interdependencies of the system and the installed software, and then manage the software versioning too. You just need to specify this desired state of the final Infrastructure you need to set up and provision and rest everything handled and managed by the IaC. This kind of approach is termed as the declarative approach. The only downside of this approach is that it requires a skilled, expert administrator specializing in setting up and managing such Infrastructure.

Imperative Approach

The imperative approach is the procedural approach, which requires you to define specific steps through automation scripts to set up and provision the necessary Infrastructure. This approach supports the existing configuration scripts you already have, making it easier for the current human resources to understand the process and adopt IaC. The only concern here is that this could become quite complex, and you might need to manage more work with this approach in scenarios where you need to scale.

Thus, after deciding on the required IaC solution suitable as per your needs, you need to:

  1. Define the configuration parameters for the Infrastructure you want to provision in the Domain-specific language (DSL) in files called manifests
  2. Send those manifests to a code repository or a master server
  3. Use the IaC platform to create and configure the desired Infrastructure as per the instructions defined in the manifests
  4. Many easy-to-use and popular IaC tools help you perform this and automate the setup, provisioning, and management of the desired Infrastructure.

What are the benefits of Implementing Infrastructure as Code?

IaC has the following benefits -

  • Standardization 
  • Change management/Version control is effortless 
  • Better use of time 
  • More efficiency in software development 
  • Improved reliability 
  • Improved CI/CD Process
  • Increased Speed 
  • Improved consistency 
  • Cost effectiveness 

Standardization

  • A consistent set of instructions and standardization. Manual configurations are prone to errors—common standard rules & flows which all have to follow.
  • Knowledge Sharing is enabled. When infrastructure is documented using the code, it is hopefully relatively straightforward to understand.

Change management/Version control is effortless 

  • Version controls the files which define infrastructure.
  • All benefits that Change Control offers application development made available for infrastructure management.
  • Rollback to the previous state if things go wrong.
  • Quick infra provision for dev/test or prod environment.
  • Improve customer satisfaction
  • Deliver quality service components within a short period, contributing to customer satisfaction.
  • Developer Mindset - While managing the infrastructure using the code and involving the application, developers can prompt a change in mindset.

Example -

  • How does the application deploy?
  • What are the ways to maintain application?
  • How are upgrades done?

Better Use of Time

While managing Infrastructure with code, offload all of the tedious, repetitive work to computers. And as a result, there is a reduction of inconsistencies, mistakes, incomplete work, and other human error forms.

More Efficiency in Software Development

The productivity of developers increases with IaC into the picture, and thus, the software delivery lifecycle gets accelerated and becomes more efficient. With IaC, developers can rapidly get provisioned with their sandbox or CI/CD environments; the QA team can provision production-like stable test environments for thorough testing; the security team can quickly get their staging environment provisioned for user acceptance testing; finally, the entire infrastructure and application source code can be deployed to the production environment at one go.  

Improved reliability

The software is responsible for initiating infrastructure changes, so there is less human error.

Improve the CI/CD process

  • Continuous Integration (CI) involves merging code changes into a mainline branch multiple times per day.
  • Automate Continuous Delivery (CD) comprises regularly releases every time code is pushed to the mainline branch.
  • With IaC, set up a deployment pipeline that automates moving different versions of the application from one environment to the next.

Increase in Speed

Infrastructure automation through IaC allows you to quickly provision the desired Infrastructure for development, staging, and production environments. With IaC, you can easily and rapidly spin up an entire IT infrastructure by just running an automation script. Traditional infrastructure setup and management was a time-consuming process. However, since IaC documents and codifies everything. Therefore, you can experience an immense increase in configuration and environment provisioning speed.

Improved Consistency

IaC standardizes the process of infrastructure setup. Earlier, ad hoc configuration modifications resulted in configuration drifts between different IT environments, which led to serious deployment issues and security risks while developing application software. IaC prevents those drifts by generating the same target environments with the same configuration every time. IaC enforces consistency, reduces errors and deviations, decreases the chances of infrastructure incompatibility, and ultimately helps the deployed applications run smoothly.

Cost-Effectiveness

With IaC into the picture, the organizations reduce time and effort and make infrastructure management cost-effective. The developers tend to be more productive, spend more time on valuable tasks like innovations, develop new features or solutions, and serve their customers better.


Why Infrastructure as Code Matters?

  • Manually set up infrastructure using the visual console provided by Cloud Provider. For example, using the AWS console to launch VMs.
  • Use the CLI tool provided by a Cloud Provider. Example: AWS CLI
  • Instead of using a Cloud provider, manage your own Physical Machines or Virtual Machines. Write your own collection of configuration tools, management tools, deployment scripts, and so on.

A console is an excellent option using a Cloud provider to learn the ropes. But this quickly grows tiresome and error-prone if the whole setup is managed like this. There is usually no built-in change visibility. Remember what actions are taken, and document them for the rest of the team.

With IAC, define infra regarding logical steps in a declarative language (e.g., yaml) v& provision infrastructure using that & revert if things go wrong.

How to adopt Infrastructure as Code?

In earlier years, when automation was not that popular in the market, an entire IT infrastructure setting used to be a sensitive and manual process. This process included people setting up the rack and stacks of servers physically. This hardware was then manually configured according to the operating system's settings in use and the application's requirements to be hosted. And finally, the application is deployed onto the hardware. This was the traditional scenario to get the application launched for use. 

This entire process was quite critical and time-consuming. Since it required several specialists for the tedious setup and configuration work, it resulted in human resources overhead. Several human resources manually doing different setups led to inconsistency and unwanted configuration variance. Not only this, but there was also a considerable amount of money and labour required for the setup and maintenance of large data centres needed to house all the hardware. Additionally, the high availability and scalability of the hosted applications was also a big problem that significantly impacted the organization's capability to serve and satisfy its customers.

All these problems were somewhat overcome and addressed through the advent of cloud computing. Cloud computing proved to be helpful to solve capital and human resource overhead and the application's high availability and scalability. The configuration inconsistency persisted, where the manual setup of Infrastructure over the cloud could lead to variance and discrepancies.

This is where the Infrastructure as Code came into the picture that basically provisions and manages your servers, networks, storage, and other Infrastructure in the form of source code, rather than using the traditional manual processes or standard operating procedures. And this Code then helps you set up and deploy the parts of the Infrastructure quickly and consistently. Here is how to get started with adoption of IaC

  • DevOps should pick a tool that fits best in their environment. E.g., Ansible. Multiple machines configured with Ansible. Cloud has a dynamic infrastructure where software commands are used to create servers (often Virtual Machines), provision them, and tear them down.
  • Definition Files used to define Infrastructure. All configuration defined in executable configuration definition files, such as Shell Scripts, Ansible playbooks.
  • Document the Definition Files code & version all the things. Make small changes rather than batches: the more significant the infrastructure update, the higher it contains an error, the harder it to detect that error if several errors interact. Small updates make it easier to find the mistakes and are easier to revert.

Infrastructure is the process of managing and prevising computer data centers through machine-readable definition. Click to explore about, Infrastructure as Code onAWS

What are the best practices of Infrastructure as Code?

Here is best practises of infrastructure as code 

Your code acts as a single source of truth.

Code is the core of IaC. You need to explicitly configure all your desired Infrastructure as code in configuration files. These configuration files then tend to act as the single source of truth for all your desired infrastructure specifications. With all your Code in place, your Infrastructure can be rapidly and seamlessly deployed without anyone logging into the server to make any manual adjustments. You also don't need to document anything regarding the state of the Infrastructure; your Code takes care of everything, even the required documentation too. 

Use of a Version Control system

All your configuration files should be stored under a version control system like Git, BitBucket, SVN, etc. With this practice in place, any modification done to the code can be easily tracked and managed. Not only does this provide you with the ability to version the code and audit the code changes, but you can also collaborate and test the code before making it live.

Continuous Integration and Continuous Testing is essential.

Like the application source code, your desired infrastructure code should also be managed through CI/CD. Automated tests should be set up to run every time a change is configured to the code. Continuous testing should be applied to the infrastructure configurations to ensure that post-deployment issues might not prevail afterwards. Continuous monitoring should be set up to continuously detect threats and monitor the Infrastructure's security throughout the development lifecycle. Additionally, with a proper continuous integration process in place, you can deploy the configuration templates multiple times to provide and work on multiple on-demand environments with consistent configurations, thus, mitigating the risk of any potential errors.

Use of Modular Architecture

You should apply the concept of microservices architecture to IaC that enables you to break down the Infrastructure into separate modules and then combine them through automation. This practice provides you with greater control over different parts of the Infrastructure and lets you define who can access which part or module of your desired Infrastructure. Each microservice has its configuration template, ensuring more consistency within the Infrastructure. You can also limit the configuration changes that can be made, thus speeding up the bug detection process and your team's agility.

Use of Immutable Infrastructure

Whenever possible, you should try to opt for an IaC solution that promotes the use of immutable Infrastructure. It requires you to use a defined infrastructure multiple times and then replace it when you need configuration changes or updates instead of changing the infrastructure configuration in-place. This avoids configuration drifts, provides consistency and improves security. Due to little or no configuration edits, developers can track changes and troubleshoot a more straightforward process.

Infrastructure as Code Implementation Tools and Major Native IaC providers 

Infrastructure as code Tools 

All tools can be divided into two categories:
  1. Configuration Management Tools: Configuration management tools are designed to install and manage software.
  2. Configuration Orchestration Tools: Configuration orchestration tools are used to provision servers themselves.
They are both combined to form IAC tools. Engineers use IAC tools either to deploy new servers or configuration management of software and systems in Infrastructure. Below are the famous 5 Infrastructure as Code tools with a short note

Ansible

  • Ansible is an open-source tool for DevOps used for provisioning and configures management. Uses SSH protocol to communicate with servers.
  • It uses the concept of playbooks. Playbooks are written in .yaml.
  • Ansible provides a variety of modules. Modules are the heart of Ansible, enabling it to perform Infrastructure operations.
  • Ansible is agentless, uses ssh to push changes to servers.

Terraform

  • Created by Hashicorps.
  • Terraform allows you to describe the end state of the Infrastructure.
  • You describe a DSL configuration called Hashicorp Configuration Language(HCL), JSON compatible.
  • Terraform is a popular tool used by the DevOps team to automate infrastructure tasks. This describes how our Infrastructure should look like. Single workflow can manage multiple clouds.
  • Allow you to write a terraform plugin that can add new functionality.
Kubernetes makes it easy to manage our infrastructure by simply managing it from manifests files. Click to explore about, IaC Principles for Kubernetes Configuration Management

AWS CloudFormation

  • There are configuration orchestration tools, allowing you to automate infrastructure deployment.
  • Since AWS Cloud Formation is the most popular cloud platform, it provides an automated way to manage an individual's Infrastructure with the CloudFormation tool's help. CloudFormation is a tool by AWS to manage AWS resources effortlessly. Just define resources in a single file, and aws will create Infrastructure as described in a configuration file with a single click of a button.
  • The configuration file is known as a template, and templates can be written in YAML or JSON format.
  • Provides you with a roll-back strategy if any error occurs in the new deployment.
  • You can deploy a single template file on multiple user accounts and different regions.

Chef

  • The Chef is a popular IAC tool among CI/CD developers.
  • The plus point is that it supports Ruby-based DSL language.
  • It uses cookbooks and recipes to create configuration files. Single cookbooks perform a single task, but they can deliver configuration to multiple servers.

Puppet

  • Puppet is another popular IaC tool to manage configuration.
  • It uses DSL to define the desired end state of Infrastructure, and puppet will automatically create Infrastructure as you described and make changes to the incorrect statements.
  • It uses a declarative approach to describe your Infrastructure's desired state and is the main difference between puppet and chef.
Access the list of Infrastructure as Code Tools to Boost Your Productivity in 2022 Click to explore

Major Native IaC Providers

The top native IaC providers include Amazon Web Services(AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform(GCP). They are considered native providers of IaC because their offerings work best within their own cloud platforms. 

IaC on AWS

Managing the entire AWS infrastructure using Infrastructure as Code through AWS CloudFormation brings automation to the manual provisioning process and enables the developers and administrators to instantiate the required Infrastructure through configuration files. 

IaC on Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure enables its customers to easily manage the Azure resources by implementing and taking advantage of Infrastructure as Code through Azure Resource Manager (ARM). With ARM Templates, you can define the desired state of your Infrastructure and achieve consistent results through the principle of idempotence. 

IaC on Google Cloud Platform

GCP provides Google Cloud Deployment Manager as its native infrastructure deployment service to automate the creation, configuration, and management of Google Cloud resources. The configurations for the desired Infrastructure can be treated as Code. The creation of resources defined through those configurations can easily be repeated repeatedly by maintaining consistency.

A Holistic Approach

Infrastructure as Code helps IT operations teams to maintain and provision IT infrastructure with automated code deployments. To Understand more about code management, we advise talking to our expert

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