In the years gone by, managing the IT infrastructure was a challenging, or even a hard, job. For example, all the hardware and software essential for the applications to run had to be manually configured and managed by system administrators. Servers would be put in place physically before being configured. And only when the machines had been configured correctly, would the application be deployed. Unsurprisingly, a slew of problems ensued the manual process.
That scenario has, however, transformed lately.
Trends such as cloud computing have helped revolutionize and enhance the way enterprises design, manage, and maintain their IT infrastructure. It has freed companies from building and maintaining their data centers, not to mention reduce the high costs typically associated with them. Cloud computing has also helped improve the speed of setting up infrastructure needs and thus resolve issues such as availability and scalability.
Infrastructure as a Code is also one of the trends that has been critical in sprucing up organizations’ IT infrastructure, helping meet organizational goals and gain a competitive edge in the market.
A well-implemented IT infrastructure helps organizations in several ways, including:
- Build and launch applications to the market with speed
- Collect data in real-time to make timely decisions
- Improve employee productivity
- Offer positive customer experience by ensuring uninterrupted access to website, online store and other resources
What is Infrastructure as a Code (IaC)?
It is an IT practice which codifies and manages any IT infrastructure as software. The purpose of IaC is to help operations or developer teams to automatically monitor, provision and manage resources instead of manually organizing discrete operating systems and hardware devices.
The concept of IaC is similar to programming scripts which help automate IT processes. It, however, has one key difference: it uses descriptive or high-level language to code versatile, adaptive provisioning and deployment processes.
How does Infrastructure as a Code work?
The IaC tools can differ in terms of the details of how they work, but they can be fundamentally divided into two types: those following the imperative approach and those that follow the declarative approach.
As the name suggests, the imperative approach provides orders and defines a set of commands and instructions to ensure the infrastructure achieves the end result.
On the flip side, the declarative approach declares the ideal outcome. Rather than provide a clear sequence of steps required for the infrastructure to reach the end result, the declarative approach demonstrates how the final result may look like.
To gain maximum value from IaC strategy, here is a short list of best practices:
- Code – the single source of truth: All infrastructure specifications in configuration files must be clearly coded. The config files must be the single source of truth for all concerns pertaining to infrastructure management.
- Version control all configuration files: All configuration files must be put under source control.
- Little to no documentation for infrastructure specifications: Because all configuration files must be the single source of truth, no more documentation is necessary. Also, external documentation may be out of sync with real configurations, which will not be the case with the configuration files.
- Test and monitor configurations: Like all code, IaC can and must be tested. With the help of testing and monitoring tools, errors and inconsistencies in the servers can be checked before they are deployed to production.
Key benefits of IaC
Adopting the Infrastructure as a Code offers several key benefits to enterprises.
IaC enables to set up the entire infrastructure within a short turnaround time by running a script. This can be accomplished for every environment from development up to the stage of production. It goes through staging, quality assurance (QA) and more. It also helps improve the efficiency of the complete software development lifecycle.
Because one can version their IaC configuration files like a source code file, they get complete traceability of the changes suffered by each configuration. This eliminates any chance of guessing who did what and when they did it.
Manual infrastructure management has the potential to result in discrepancies. Infrastructure as a Code helps resolve the issue by having configuration files be the single source of truth. By doing so, the same configurations are going to be deployed time and again, thus eliminating any chance for discrepancy.
In addition, infrastructure deployments with IaC are repeatable and also help avoid runtime issues caused by missing dependencies or configuration drift.
Efficiency during software development cycle
By employing IaC, the infrastructure architecture can be deployed in multiple stages. This improves the efficiency of the entire software development cycle, thus improving the team’s productivity as well.
Programmers could leverage IaC to build and release sandbox environments, enabling them to build in isolation securely. Likewise, QA professionals would have accurate copies of production environments to run their tests.
And, when it’s time for deployment, infrastructure and code can be pushed to production in one step.
Reducing the costs associated with infrastructure management is one of the key benefits of Infrastructure as a Code. Costs are also greatly reduced by employing cloud computing with IaC because organizations don’t have to spend on hardware, hire people to manage it, or rent out a physical space to store it.
Organizations can also save costs by employing effective automation strategies that free up engineers from performing manual, error-prone tasks.
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Infrastructure as a Code is a critical part of the DevOps movement, too. DevOps teams can work with an integrated set of practices and tools to launch applications and offer their supporting infrastructure quickly, securely and scale. If cloud computing is deemed to be the first step in solving the issues pertaining to manual IT management, IaC is perhaps the next step. IaC also helps realize the full potential of cloud computing, freeing developers and others from performing manual, laborious tasks. In addition, it reduces costs and improves the efficiency of the overall software development cycle.