Infrastructure as Code
What Is Infrastructure as Code?
Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is a practice in which companies manage IT infrastructure through code and automation instead of manual configuration. In IaC, the IT infrastructure is in the form of software rather than physical hardware components.
IaC also goes by the names software-defined infrastructure or programmable infrastructure.
How Does Infrastructure as Code Work?
Infrastructure as code is different from traditional scripting wherein developers automate IT tasks. Unlike scripting with a programming language, IaC relies on machine-readable definition files to code provisioning and deployment processes.
For example, consider a popular IaC IT management tool, Ansible. This tool uses automation to:
- Install MySQL server
- Ensure MySQL runs correctly
- Create and destroy databases
- Create and manage user accounts
Ansible uses a popular declarative markup language, YAML, to specify the state of provisioning and processes.
Why Use Infrastructure as Code?
In the early 2000s, managing an IT infrastructure was a highly manual and complex process for big companies. Experts had to physically install and configure servers and other types of hardware, which was a slow, inconsistent and costly way to manage IT.
With IaC, there’s no need for this kind of manual configuration. Instead, DevOps teams can automatically manage, monitor and provision resources. By using IaC, the provisioning code becomes easy to edit, copy and distribute.
Notice that, like any other software development project, developers must maintain version control, test iterations and limit deployments. So, even though IaC is a great approach for automating complex manual processes, it also includes new tools and overhead for the developers.
Advantages of Infrastructure as Code
IaC is faster than manual processes for database management, networking, user account management and other similar services.
While using IaC, developers can easily provision and deploy servers and apps while also following business practices and policies. This is better than relying on system admins in a DevOps setting because the developers get to directly provision systems with which they’re already familiar and on which they’re already working.
IaC automation minimizes the risks of human error we often see in manual configuration. Reducing these risks can increase the software’s uptime and reliability.
Developers can place any IaC configuration files under version control similar to any other source code. This means developers can track the history of changes made to the configuration files in the same place where the software projects live.
IaC acts as complete documentation of how to instantiate the infrastructure. This is great if employees with institutional knowledge leave the company.
Disadvantages of Infrastructure as Code
IaC requires additional tools, such as configuration management and orchestration systems. Some tools might pose a slight learning curve, which increases the workload and room for errors as developers get up to speed.
To prevent errors caused by extensive automation and new tools, proper version control, pre-release testing and monitoring need to take place.
IaC comes with a risk of configuration drift. This happens if the developers make ad-hoc changes to the server configurations outside the IaC template without using change management tools. To prevent this, it’s important to integrate the IaC into system administration, IT operations and DevOps with clearly documented policies.
Increased Responsibility for Developers
Last but not least, IaC increases the responsibility of software developers. The developers must learn how to write code that smoothly transforms into production environments. Besides, they need to learn IaC languages, such as YAML, JSON, Ruby or SQL.
Infrastructure as Code Tools
Here are some notable IaC tools that companies use to create and sustain a strong Infrastructure as Code.
- Terraform is an open-source IaC tool for creating, changing and improving infrastructure in a safe and predictable manner.
- Ansible is a robust provisioning system. With Ansible, developers can provision environment infrastructure, virtualized hosts, network devices and bare metal servers.
- Pulumi is an open-source IaC SDK. With Pulumi, you can use your favorite language to create, deploy and manage infrastructure on any cloud.
- Chef is a node-management system that handles different types of nodes, such as servers, cloud virtual machines and network devices.
- Puppet is an open source tool for systems management and deployments. Puppet allows for centralizing and automating configuration management to handle the information that describes the enterprise’s hardware and software.
- Vagrant makes building and managing virtual machine environments happen within a single workflow. This lowers the environment setup time and increases production parity.