In recent years, Infrastructure as Code (IaC)—a method of maintaining infrastructure and platform services through descriptive code—has become a point of emphasis as organizations adopt more tools, technologies, approaches, and practices to effectively manage their infrastructure.
Using modern IaC to improve networking, virtualization, cloud orchestration, and security, companies can minimize deployment and configuration sprawl, inject security standards, fully deploy and configure stacks with no manual intervention, and reduce the time it takes to deliver infrastructure and services to customers.
What Problem Does IaC Solve?
There is a wealth of opportunity for organizations to add value using IaC. For instance, IaC helps drive standardization and efficiency in how we deploy, configure, and continuously maintain platforms and infrastructure. But before we can truly measure the impact of IaC, we must first understand just how far we’ve come by exploring where we’ve been.
We’re all familiar with the concept of following internal documentation to configure the latest version of SQL – and most of us tend to have a favorite script to configure that application, despite its inability to run on anything other than a legacy version of RHEL. Over the years, we have come up with truly creative ways of documenting, standardizing, and automating everything we’re building and maintaining, but these approaches and techniques can be problematic for a host of reasons.
While following documentation or internal wikis is a great start, this approach can ultimately fall short because it’s far too simple for documentation to become outdated, for the technology our documentation references to be updated and throw us for a loop, or for unexpected issues to arise that require hours or days of troubleshooting.
Scripting configurations provided the ability to automate deployments, but simultaneously presented script maintenance challenges. These obstacles included scripts lost amidst personal files as well as changes to scripts not propagated amongst everyone who may need them. Last, but not least, scripts have an inherent challenge in that they are imperative in nature – i.e., we’re defining the steps to achieve the desired outcome without necessarily maintaining or tracking the inputs needed to get there.
What Comprises an Effective IaC Toolset & Approach?
Generally, there are a few key characteristics that make IaC a valuable infrastructure management solution. As with any technology, a truly impactful approach requires not only a shift in the tech itself, but a shift in the process as well.
Standardization with Declarative Code
Effective IaC tools are typically declarative – or a combination of declarative and imperative – in nature. Declarative approaches and languages are intended to holistically define the desired outcome of a deployment and/or configuration. Where an imperative script may define the steps required to reach a desired outcome, a declarative approach enables the definition of the precise outcome without concern for the specific configuration tasks needed to achieve that outcome. Therefore, a declarative approach is the preferred option, as it allows the IaC orchestrator to handle specific tasks and frees up individuals to focus their attention on meeting the overall deployment objectives.
Efficiency through Version Control
Version control isn’t necessarily an element of an IaC tool, but rather, a best practice that goes hand-in-hand with IaC adoption as a method for storing IaC templates. Version control is by no means a ‘new’ concept but is generally something that traditional infrastructure groups aren’t as familiar with. It is, however, an important component of IaC because it allows teams to store code and all relevant changes in a common location. As we continue to make changes to existing configurations or create new deployments and configurations, version control enables us to reuse and repurpose code. Not only that, but it provides referenceable documentation that indicates exactly what, when, and how something was deployed and configured.
Gaining a Single Source of Truth via Deployment Automation
Lastly, IaC deployment automation is yet another crucial aspect of the best practices and procedures needed to fully realize the solution’s value. Once we’ve developed and stored the code, we need to shift our process and procedure to automate the IaC jobs themselves. This allows us to treat the code as the single source of truth. Once the code is updated and tested, we can ultimately deploy and configure it to production without ever having to touch the production instance. Eventually, we can even reach the point where we actively deny anyone’s ability to manually interact with production changes, ensuring both accuracy and consistency from end to end.
These key components of effective IaC practices are always easier said than done, but by treating IaC as a priority and recognizing its critical role in your organization’s digital transformation efforts, you’ll find that an array of real, valuable, and tangible benefits will follow.
At AHEAD, we help organizations implement, adopt, and develop Infrastructure as Code tools, approaches, and processes at scale. Get in touch with us today to learn how we can revitalize your infrastructure by helping your organization adopt and advance IaC capabilities.