XenonStack Recommends

Enterprise Digital Platform

Infrastructure as Code and Containers: Better Together

Gursimran Singh | 12 August 2022

Subscription

XenonStack White Arrow

Thanks for submitting the form.

Introduction

You will find many articles on Docker Container vs./and IaC (Infrastructure as Code). But Docker Containers and IaC share a particular bond. Let's look at that while migrating from a monolithic application to microservices; many trade-offs are made. Before, one single function was tested and scaled. But on the other hand, with different services, Infrastructure as Code was born as a solution to this challenge. Along with the practice of Infrastructure as Code, Docker containers represent one of the most disruptive and visionary changes to developing and releasing software today.

So in this blog, we will first cover the basics and then deep dive into the relationship between IaC and Containers. 

What is Infrastructure as Code?

"Infrastructure as Code(IaC)," as the name suggests, is all about managing the infrastructure through Code that can be versioned through any version control system like GitHub for backtracking and reliability for a better continuous delivery practice. We have seen various tools like terraform enabling the team to configure the infrastructure and allow container-related cloud stacks like AWS ECS or Azure AKS to be deployed and managed efficiently. 

IaC processes can be used with various infrastructure types -- it can be a bare metal setup, a VM setup, or even a Kubernetes cluster. It gives you more control over the infrastructure's implementation, design, and configuration that supports our applications with better efficiency.

A little bit of History

Previously, teams had to maintain the configurations of deployment environments manually. Each environment had to be set up with a unique configuration on a manual basis which led to inconsistency in the configuration setup and maintenance of the infrastructure, which, as a result, contributed to errors that were hard to track. As infrastructure, management & configuration were done manually, and Each environment had its unique configuration that was configured manually, ultimately, this led to several problems like: 

  1. Cost: You have to hire many professionals to manage and maintain infrastructure. 
  2. As the manual configuration of infrastructure tasks, scaling is time-consuming, often making you struggle to meet spikes on request.
  3. Inconsistency because the manual configuration of infrastructure is error-prone. When several people configure, errors are unavoidable.

IaC is the answer!

Infrastructure as Code was thus introduced and evolved to solve this problem in the release pipeline with reliability. Infrastructure as Code is provisioning & managing infrastructure like ECS, AKS, VPC, etc., with configuration files. It allows us to treat infrastructure configuration and provisioning just like we handle application code that, allows us to version Code in any popular SCM, and easily take advantage of CI/CD. IaC helps you achieve - 

  1. Speed & Simplicity: IaC deploys the entire infrastructure by running a script.
  2. Consistency: Everything is defined as a code that leads to less error than manual configuration.
  3. Risk minimization allows many people to work on a given infrastructure configuration and management with better sync.
  4. Cost Minimization: You will spend less time repetitive infrastructure deployment work and focus more on higher-value tasks.
  5. Reusability: It enhances reusability with very few changes.
  6. Process automation: It allows the automation of the complete process from setup to removal as a part of the continuous delivery process.

What is Container?

Docker.com defines a container as a "standard unit of software that packages up code and all its dependencies, so the application runs quickly and reliably from one computing environment to another." For some more clarity, Containers are a form of OS Virtualization. One Container can run microservices or software processes or applications. Containers have everything necessary, like libraries, configuration files, and binary Code.

But, containers do not contain OS images. The absence of OS images makes containers more lightweight and portable and less overhead. Many containers can be applied as clusters to deploy a more significant application. And these clusters are managed by container orchestrators such as Kubernetes.

What are the benefits of Container?

So what can containers offer to except lightweight and portability? Here are some benefits. 

  1. Smoother and consistent operations - It will run the same regardless of where an application is deployed. 
  2. Better efficiency- The application can be deployed more rapidly, patched, and scaled. 
  3. Better Application development environment - Containers support agility and thus accelerate development, test, and production cycles.

What is Docker?

With the rise of microservice architecture, Docker as a containerization tool has gained immense popularity. Docker is a tool that uses the idea of running an application packaged with dependencies that can be run wherever you want with the isolation of infrastructure resources, thereby enhancing resource utilization.

Now as our basics are on point. Let us drive right into our topic  - Infrastructure as Code and Containers!

Infrastructure as Code and Containers: Why are they Better Together?

Now that we have understood Infrastructure as Code, let us see how IaC and Containerization make a good pair for adoption.

Firstly, when we think of a container at a glance, we have thought of a self-contained application having its Code & dependencies like a library that can run on a different environment or platform on a PC or a cluster, any cloud platform. Expecting that the containers reciprocate the same results even when there is a change in the underlying platform on which they are running is somewhat true. But, when you run your container image, the Container and the configurations of the environment where the container is being set up come into the picture that can be related to auto-scaling or monitoring. This gets us to a point where we know that it is not only the container image that matters but also the configuration of the underlying platform or required environment. We must configure a container orchestration service like ECS or k8s on the go to make the pod/container work similarly as it is supposed to, whether it is running locally or on any cloud platform. The configuration plays a vital role in running your app and taking your application to the next level by using various services like load balancers or CDN(content delivery network) or DNS entries.

When it comes to the deployment of applications, it can only be best described when container image configuration and IaC code for configuring the environment are being used as needed. Some container application package managers like Helm gained popularity as they pack application container images with templates that can be used dynamically as per the requirement. It saves us from repeatedly creating the duplicate yaml files and deploying each application manually. 

helm chart deploys a given container with dependent resources on the cluster. It ensures efficiency & reliability because it contains various k8s resources required to form an application & also allows you to customize the configuration of your application & dependencies by modifying values. yaml for different environments or different configuration files for different environments can be set & deployed, which is crucial in application deployment because when we deploy a container in different environments, even a slight misconfiguration may lead to a more significant impact on the working of the Container.

Know more about Helm and its Benefits. 

Let's take an example of deploying an application, my app in multiple environments, and running the Container of application; you have manually configured the Dev & Prod environments. Unfortunately, you made a slight misconfiguration while setting up the health check config in prod. 

As a result, this misconfiguration leads to the crashing of containers in the Prod environment. Even this slight misconfiguration could significantly impact the performance of the Container. This is where IaC comes into the picture. It is recommended to use Infrastructure as Code to set the required configurations of the environment to reduce these kinds of misconfigurations and errors to enhance performance.

The best practice for incorporating modern application development is to use containerization with IaC for configuration setup and maintenance. It will lead to efficiency, but it is also essential for programmer's productivity and faster release cycles. Using the IaC with containers for the setup & maintenance will remove the complexity and error proneness and lead to a quicker release cycle through CI/CD tools. 

Conclusion

In this blog, we have walked through IaC, its benefits, and how IaC can benefit from containerized applications' setup and maintenance. Microservice architecture brings the IaC into the development concept as a core component. Organizations like AWS have embraced these as a best practice to work with the microservice architecture.

IaC with containers will make the release cycle faster & efficient and allow you to devote your time to more productive tasks by reducing indulgence in repetitive tasks & manual misconfiguration errors. It will also ensure the reliability and streamlining of development & support for a better experience for the user.

What's Next?

  1. Read how you can choose the best Infrastructure as Code Tool for your organization 
  2. Know how IaC Principles for Kubernetes Configuration Management