What is Infrastructure as a Code (IaC)

IT infrastructure management has been a manual process for a long time. Provisioning of infrastructure during the traditional IT era is quite an expensive and cumbersome affair. Where expertise is required to set up servers, installation and configuration of operating systems software, establishing the networking, middleware, databases and storage. Post all this gets over then comes the tedious task of managing it for decades. The physical management of hardware is overcome by technologies like virtualization and cloud native environments and revolutionized the way it was never before. 

In this article we will learn more about Infrastructure as a code and how it works, its key features and benefits, functions and limitations in this article.   

Understanding Infrastructure as a Code

With increase in usage of cloud native and public cloud platforms and services, demands for quick provisioning, high scalability we all come across some new terminologies i.e., infrastructure as a code (IaC). Infrastructure as a code (IaC) resolves all traditional IT infrastructure configuration and management issues by enabling developers to efficiently and effectively setup and provision versioned and fully documented infrastructure using a script, executing it, preventing problem tracking by tracking changes in environment and configurations inconsistencies.

Adoption of (IaC) approach helps organizations to leverage and reap benefits at infrastructure level. It is an automation of infrastructure provisioning and management using software development principles and practices. In line with software development, it uses a high-level descriptive model which creates the same environment just like a source code will produce the same result every time.

Once it is deployed and configured, we can make changes to the code and apply it to systems after testing whenever we want to modify or update the infrastructure. Every time built, test or deployment of a software application does not require manual provisioning or management of required servers, operating systems, databases, networks , storage or any other infrastructure components. 

The idempotence principle is followed in Infrastructure as Code to ensure that regardless of the initial state of an environment, a single deployment command will set the target environment into the same configuration every time, to ensure consistency and prevention in configuration drifts.

IaC is an essential DevOps practice which is used along with Continuous Delivery. With IaC, DevOps teams gather the capabilities to provision multiple on-demand and stable production-like test and staging environments at scale. Creation and versioning for infrastructure can be obtained in a very easy and rapid way, the same as it applies to an application source code.  In addition, they can also avoid serious deployment issues by tracking those infrastructure versions to avoid configuration inconsistency among the provisioned IT environments.

Key Benefits of (IaC)

  • Increase in speed of provisions 
  • Improved consistency 
  • More efficiency in software developments
  • Better way of handling change management
  • More cost effective as it reduces time and effort required to provision, configuration and manage infrastructure manually 

How to setup Infrastructure as a Code

Before deciding on implementation, we first need to decide whether we want to set up a mutable or an immutable infrastructure. 

  • Mutable infrastructure – post provisioning of infrastructure it can be modified or updated according to needs this kind of infrastructure is mutable infrastructure. It enables teams to make unplanned server customizations so as to respond to any emergency security issues but it undermines the actual benefit of (IaC) that is, maintaining configuration consistency within versions and between deployments and environments; resulting in difficult to track versions.
  • Immutable infrastructure – Infrastructure once provisioned can’t be modified or updated. If infrastructure requires a change, then you need to replace it with a new one by rolling out a new version of infrastructure. This eliminates the issue of configuration malpractices and ensures consistency across different environments. 

Post deciding on the kind of infrastructure you need to decide implementation infrastructure automation while choosing (IaC) solution suitable for your IT environment. 

  • Declarative approach – is functional in nature and considered best fit. You need to specify the desired state of infrastructure you need to set up and provision rest is taken care by (IaC). 
  • Imperative approach – it is procedural in nature. Requires to define specific steps using automations scripts to setup and provision required infrastructure. This approach is useful if you have existing configuration scripts which are used by (IaC) platform to create and configure the desired infrastructure as per instructions. There are several tools available in the market to support (IaC) deployments such as Terraform, Ansible, AWS CloudFormation, Azure Resource manager, Google cloud Deployment manager, Chef, Puppet , SaltStack and so on. 

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