With the widespread adoption of IaC in organizations worldwide, people’s curiosity about technology is growing daily. This article is the ultimate handbook for you about DevOps infrastructure as code, its business benefits, use cases, challenges, best practices, and top tools that can make your team’s implementation more streamlined.
- What is DevOps Infrastructure as Code (IaC)?
- Why does your business need DevOps Infrastructure as Code?
- What are the potential IaC challenges you may face?
- Application scenarios for Infrastructure as Code.
- What are the best practices for effective IaC implementation?
- Implementing Infrastructure as Code effectively with top tools.
DevOps infrastructure as code: IaC implementation guide
“If you can deploy infrastructure as codes, you can greatly reduce the risk of manual error and security risks.”
——Marc Fischer, Dogtown Media, LLC.
A few years ago, servers were an irreplaceable threat that posed a nightmare for developers. If one server were down, the entire system would crash, taking every mistake and miscalculation together to figure out what was wrong. And let alone the business missed during this time.
Today: IaC is the savior the developing world has been waiting for. An infrastructure that is flexible enough to provide a fast and secure response can absorb changing user requirements without compromising performance.
This article explains what IaC is, how it can benefit organizations, how we can take advantage of it, and what tools we should use to implement it effectively.
1. What is DevOps Infrastructure as Code?
The main principle of IaC is to automate the configuration and management of your infrastructure through codes instead of manual processes. It requires you to generate configuration files that store your infrastructure specifications. This makes it easier for you to edit and distribute configurations and ensures that your development team delivers the same environment every time. IaC helps you to implement configuration management and prevents any undocumented or ad hoc changes in the configuration.
Another key benefit of an IaC implementation is the division of your infrastructure into modular components and linking them together through automation. It removes the need to manually configure/manage servers, all operating systems, and storage whenever you need to develop or deploy an application.
Once you have implemented IaC in your ecosystem, you can choose between declarative IaC and imperative IaC.
2. The difference between declarative IaC and imperative IaC
By taking this approach, you can define the desired state of your system with the resources and features it should have. IaC tools are responsible for its implementation and achieving the desired results. IaC tools such as Terraform, AWS CloudFormation, Ansible, and Puppet are the first choice among the developer community.
This approach asks you to list the steps the IaC tools should follow when providing resources. This series of commands requests that the tool be instructed to build the environment. A popular example of a command-based IaC tool is Chef, and although IaC tools are generally compatible with both approaches, they prefer a specific one.
Now, we know what IaC is and how to implement it. But the real deal is to learn how it can benefit your business and improve your ROI.
Why does your business require DevOps Infrastructure as Code?
1. Minimize the risk of manual error
Data center management has always relied heavily on manual management and is vulnerable to manual error. IaC is a game changer that minimizes manual intervention with the assistance of automation. Just as DevOps promotes a collaborative development approach that eliminates large monoliths, IaC automates modern application builds' complex, time-consuming configuration process. It standardizes processes and uses logs to create detailed documentation to enable new team members to handle the infrastructure and its management without any challenges.
2. Cost optimization
Since the IaC model represents all the resources in your codes, it allows you to know which tasks are working and which are not and alter your schedule accordingly. In addition, automation allows developers to focus on priority tasks rather than heavy manual work, which can help keep payroll costs in control while adjusting employees' salaries to match their workloads.
3. Consistent configuration and settings
Infrastructure deployment is the final stage of the cloud migration process, which involves configuration and settings. Both processes need to be standardized to eliminate manual errors, accelerate development, and reduce wasted resources. If done manually, you may encounter at least one instance of error that is responsible for building inconsistencies and discrepancies in the configuration. In addition, it is important to implement these processes quickly to avoid sudden setbacks and unnecessary downtime. IaC is key to standardizing the setting process, reducing the potential for manual errors and incompatibility issues, and improving overall application performance.
4. Improve development speed
IaC supports the deployment of cloud architectures in multiple phases to improve the efficiency of the software development lifecycle. While developers can create their sandbox environments for development, QA can access production copies for testing. In addition, user acceptance and security testing can be performed in the same environment and the infrastructure deployed in one step.
IaC also allows you to employ continuous integration and deployment to accelerate your development process. It allows you to close resources when they are not used, enabling your team to maintain an organized cloud environment.
5. Enhanced security
A key feature of IaC is the one-way deployment. IaC supports the delivery of computing, network services, and storage by deploying them similarly to a private or public cloud. Security standards can also be created and deployed similarly, without approvers needing to authorize each security change, especially for infrastructures that require high-security standards.
Now that it is a fact that IaC offers many advantages to enterprises, however, it is not without any challenges. Though the challenges' nature may vary from industry to industry, here are a few common challenges you can expect.
What are the potential IaC challenges you may face?
1. A steep learning curve
Implementing IaC requires changes to the process. Your team members must learn to code in IaC's preferred language, gain expertise in developing code implementation pipelines, as well as adopt new conventions or standards. In addition, if your team does not have sufficient knowledge of IaC tools, updates, and enhancements, you may end up with an incompatible toolset that slows down your implementation progress.
It would help if you prepared your team by hiring new members who are experienced in IaC implementation or by holding training sessions for your existing team. They will need in-depth knowledge of IaC scripting in HCL, Python, or Ruby and understand how declarative approaches can streamline the process. Or, you can outsource IaC services during the initial stages of adoption to give your team the time they need to acquire these skills.
2. Configuration drift
A common challenge in IaC (configuration drift) arises when there is a discrepancy between the IaC configuration and the infrastructure, especially at the beginning of the IaC. This is usually because engineers are unaware of the critical changes necessary for infrastructure configuration and prefer manually making these changes in the console. As a result, it creates bias because what is defined in the codes does not match what is deployed and causes disruptions when the codes revert to manual changes.
Tell your team the results of making manual changes in the console and instruct them to avoid doing so under any circumstances. In addition, you can ensure that there are no interruptions after setting up the IaC workflow. If there are changes to the infrastructure, the predefined maintenance workflow must be followed. In a Synk survey, 48% of respondents said they rarely tune their infrastructure directly but prefer to fix the codes first as a best practice. However, if you have to make new changes to your system that differ from other systems, they may have to be reflected in the code configuration.
Scenario for the application of Infrastructure as Code
So, when you adopt IaC in your ecosystem, how do you make the most of it? Here are three use cases to help you start your implementation journey：
1. Cloud Deployment
The primary use of IaC is for resource automation, application provisioning, and cloud deployment. It is compatible with public clouds such as AWS, Azure, or private environments, including Windows Server or vSphere. To manage and deploy cloud resources and configurations efficiently, you can use template files typically written in JSON. It is particularly useful if your organization works with hybrid cloud environments and you can manage different cloud environments using a single configuration.
IaC monitoring covers a different aspect of data than application monitoring. Though application monitoring focuses on business-centric objectives, IaC is more concerned with infrastructure-related reports, alerts, and logs. Organizations that manage multiple platforms to meet their business demands can access error reports and activity logs generated by IaC tools and cloud services to get detailed information about the infrastructure.
3. Infrastructure Testing
IaC enables organizations to create a test environment that is fully functional and identical to their production environment. As a result, your team is free to test and experiment with multiple updates, changes or features. In addition, writing IaC can be tricky for an organization new to IaC and requires a lot of iterations. However, a test environment provides the advantage of improving the infrastructure and expanding the scope of IaC capabilities without disrupting the service.
Jordan McQuown, CTO at George Jon, shares his insights on maintaining quality control and security:
"It's easy to introduce security vulnerabilities accidentally that traditional infrastructure deployment plans have already considered. the benefits of an IaC approach are numerous. But make sure you have a complete program with quality control and security, which can be more important than ever."
What are the best practices for effective IaC implementation?
Implementing a proper set of best practices can increase team productivity and save money. As IaC continues to evolve, it is important to maintain a process foundation that allows for close attention to implementation.
1. Keep the focus on the codes
Since code is at the heart of IaC, you must configure the necessary infrastructure as extensively as possible to include codes in configuration files. Such files serve as the single source of truth for all your specific infrastructure requirements. Once you have all the codes available, you can quickly and seamlessly deploy your infrastructure without logging into the server and manually making any changes. In addition, you can skip the documentation section on the state of your infrastructure because your codes are sufficient for that requirement.
2. Prioritize continuous integration/continuous delivery
Like your application source code, infrastructure code must be managed through continuous integration/delivery. It is also important to set up automated tests that run whenever a configuration change is made to the codes. Continuous testing can prevent many post-deployment issues when applied to infrastructure configurations. In addition, continuous monitoring helps to identify threats continuously and monitor the security of the infrastructure throughout the development lifecycle.
SeanBarker, CEO of cloudEQ, has explained why CI/CD is critical:
"A complete continuous integration/continuous deployment pipeline, including IaC for rapidly changing applications, which can greatly improve your speed to market and reduce costs."
3. Search for modular architecture
When choosing an IaC solution, you must prioritize using the immutable infrastructure. To do this, you need to utilize the defined infrastructure several times and then replace it when the configuration needs to be changed or updated. This step eliminates the necessity to change the entire infrastructure configuration, thus avoiding configuration drift, bringing consistency, and increasing security. With little or no configuration changes, developers can track each edit and implement a more balanced process.
Implementing infrastructure as code effectively with top tools
1. AWS CloudFormation
With the help of CloudFormation, you can use IaC to preconfigure and manage different AWS and third-party resources.
The key features include：
- Extend your resources and automate resource management by integrating with disparate AWS resources.
- Leverage the open source CLI to build resource provisioners for supplying and managing third-party application resources.
- Code your infrastructure from scratch using the preferred template language, while CloudFormation preconfigures and manages the stacks and resources described in the template.
Puppet's main function is to manage multiple application servers simultaneously.
The key features include:
- Ruby-based Domain Specific Language (DSL) allows you to describe the necessary end state of your infrastructure.
- Reduced downtime due to configuration errors and effective disaster recovery.
- Use an easy-to-learn language to define configurations and support for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows, Debian, etc.
Red Hat introduced Ansible to promote the simplicity of automation. From provisioning and configuration to application management, it makes it easy to automate all processes.
The key features include：
- Create multiple identical environments using all security baselines, while Ansible takes care of compliance requirements.
- Execution of scripts to create and manage the necessary infrastructure resources.
- Write code in YAML to understand and deploy configurations. In addition, you can extend its functionality to write your own Ansible modules and plug-ins.
Terraform is an open-source, popular infrastructure automation tool for provisioning, configuring, and managing infrastructure code.
The key features include：
- Leverage the same CLI workflow to plan and build IaC across the different infrastructures.
- Provide multiple environments with the same configuration to manage the entire infrastructure lifecycle. It dramatically reduces manual errors and facilitates the greatest degree of automation.
- Pre-implementation checks allow configuration validation to ensure that the configuration meets the desired outcome before updating/configuring the infrastructure.
As a favorite among developers, Chef specializes in deploying and modeling automated processes that are scalable and secure in any environment.
The key features include：
- Using procedural language, thus users can write codes and describe how to reach the desired state step by step. In addition, users can choose the best deployment process.
- Recipes and cookbooks are created using Ruby-based DSL to specify clear steps to achieve the application configuration.
- Enable DevOps teams to configure and deploy an on-demand infrastructure easily.