Configured for Cloud with IaC

By April 22, 2021 Powerlearnings

Compiled by Kiran Kumar, Business analyst at Powerup Cloud Technologies

Contributor Agnel Bankien, Head – Marketing at Powerup Cloud Technologies


IaC is a DevOps initiative, which is all about writing codes to dispense infrastructure and deploy applications automatically on cloud. The blog touches upon why IaC is important in today’s times, principles it is based on, how automating workflows is the need of the hour, its benefits and best practices with names of a few dominant IaC tools in the market. 


1. What is Infrastructure as code?

2. Why is it important?

3. Principles of Infrastructure as code       

4. IaC Workflow

5. Automating Infrastructure Workflows                                      

5.1 Mutable vs Immutable

5.2 Imperative vs Declarative 5.3 DevOps

6. Benefits of IaC

7. Best practices of Infrastructure as code

7.1 Codify everything

7.2 Use minimum documentation

7.3 Maintain version control

7.4 Continuous testing

7.5 Go modular

8. Infrastructure as code tools

9. Conclusion

1. Introducing Infrastructure as Code (IaC)

With the revolution in IT, configuring a cloud environment through code is fast trending. Popularly termed “Infrastructure as code”, it is a system adopted by organizations to a device, develop and support IT infrastructure. 

Unlike the traditional setup where system administrators manually built and managed all the hardware and software requirements, Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is the management and provision of networks, virtual machines, load balancers, and connection topology via computer-readable files without involving physical hardware configuration or interactive configuration tools.

Gartner predicts that by 2024, automation and analytics will help the digital resources shift 30% of their time spent on endpoint support and repair to continuous engineering.

2. Why is it Important?

While conventional IT infrastructure management requires a huge amount of expertise, IaC employs nominal resources that lead to cost-effective management and simple uniform communication, making it faster and more consistent.  A code-based approach makes it easier to get more done in less time. 

IaC is capable of managing large distributed systems, cloud-native applications and service-based architecture, giving cloud users a better understanding of the setup and granting them the power to make changes when required without impacting the existing infrastructure. It develops scalability and availability while improving monitoring and performance visibility of the overall infrastructure. 

3. Principles of Infrastructure as Code         

Adam Jacob, co-founder of Opscode, states; “There are two steps to IaC principles:

1. Break the infrastructure down into independent, reusable, network-accessible services and 

2. Integrate these services in such a way as to produce the functionality your infrastructure requires”.

The major principles on which IaC works upon are:

  • Services must be broken into smaller and simpler modules.
  • Re-building of systems should be effortless and flexible with zero dependency on manual decisions, thus eliminating the majority of risks and failures.
  •  Create a comprehensive design at the initial stage that takes all possible requirements and scenarios into account. Design should be able to accommodate change in a way that promotes continuous improvement.
  • Services must be able to build and integrate complex systems with also the ability to edit, transfer, destroy, upgrade or resize resources to cater to the ever-changing cloud infrastructure.
  • Deploy a unified automated structure that facilitates compute, network and storage capacities to run a workload dynamically in production through API tools.
  • Services must produce the same results when used repeatedly with maximum focus on the component level and its functions. It should be in concurrence with the policies and the overall system as a whole eventually.

4. IaC Workflow 

Infrastructure as code is a key DevOps strategy that is treated the same way as application source code where the teams would examine its version control, write tests for it and ensure it is in concurrence with continuous delivery.

Developers define configuration specifications in a domain-specific language after which the instruction files are sent to a master server, management API or code repository based on which the IaC platform creates the infrastructure.

As all the parameters are saved as machine-readable files called manifests that are easy to reuse, edit, copy or share. IaC users need not configure an environment each time they plan to develop, test or deploy software, making the process swifter and consistent.

Developers then systematize and store the configuration files with version control. In case of edits or pull requests, code review workflows are able to verify the exactness of the changes.

5. Automating Infrastructure Workflows

Structuring infrastructure through IaC provides a standard template to organizations for provisioning servers, operating systems, storage and other components without the involvement of developers, every time something is developed or deployed. The infrastructure aspect is treated more like software where a code is written and executed manually or via automation to build and run servers, load balancers, networks, storage, firewall, policies, databases and application configs.

According to Gartner, more than 90% of enterprises will have an automation architect by 2025, up from less than 20% today.

5.1 Mutable vs Immutable

Mutable infrastructure originated in the physical data center world and as acquiring new servers was expensive, the existing servers were upgraded regularly along with ad hoc fixes, edits or patches when necessary. Recurrent manual changes made the setup complicated, fragile and difficult to duplicate. 

With the advent of cloud, virtualization and on-demand cloud computing revolutionized server architectures making it more affordable, scalable and high-speed. Configuration management and cloud APIs gained momentum with new servers being automatically provisioned and deployed via code that could never be modified in the future.

5.2 Imperative vs Declarative 

An imperative style defines the specific commands that need to be run. In a declarative approach, the desired resources with specific properties are affirmed, which the IaC tool then configures. 

It also maintains a list of the current state of system objects that assist in pulling down the infrastructure with ease.

IaC tools mostly use a declarative approach that automatically provisions for the required infrastructure. A declarative IaC tool will apply changes made, if any, while an imperative tool will not implement changes on its own.

5.3 DevOps

With IaC, DevOps teams are able to convert the code into artifacts that are a deployable component processed by the build. In the case of infrastructure as code, Docker images or VM images can be considered artifacts.

Once the build is installed, unit, integration and security checks can be performed to ensure all sensitive information is intact.

The scripts can be unit tested to check for syntax errors or best practice violations without provisioning an entire system. Conduct tests to ensure right server platforms are being used in the correct environment and that packages are being installed as expected. The next step is integration tests to verify if the system gets deployed and provisioned accurately. This is followed by security testing of the infrastructure code to ensure security mechanisms are not compromised and that IaC is compliant with industry standards.

Automation of IaC saves significant debugging time, enables tracking and fixing of errors, is subject to shorter recovery time, experiences more predictable deployments and speeds up the software delivery process. These factors are vital for quick-paced software delivery. 

The IaC approach helps DevOps teams create servers, deploy operating systems, containers and application configurations, set up data storage, network and component integrations. IaC can also be integrated with CI/CD tools that help build infrastructure code for your pipelines.

6. Benefits of IaC

  • Speed and Consistency: Code based approach of IaC eliminates manual processes and enables repeated usage of code, making it easier to get more done in less time. Iterations are faster and repeatable, consistency is the key value and changes can be implemented globally without altering the software version.
  • Collaboration: Version control helps multiple teams from different locations to collaborate on the same environment. Developers are able to work on varied infrastructure sections and release changes in a controlled format.
  • Efficiency: IaC enhances competency and productivity of the code and infrastructure across the development lifecycle via established quality assurance practices. It also keeps a repository of all the environment builds allowing developers to focus more on application development.
  • Scalability: The current infrastructure can be upgraded as well as expanded effortlessly through IaC.
  • Disaster Recovery: IaC facilitates recovery of large systems in case of a disaster by re-running its manifest code scripts where the system can be made available on a different location if needed.
  • Reduced Overheads: Unlike the conventional setup, IaC reduces the cost of developing software and does not need a group of admins to govern the storage, networking, compute, and other layers of hardware and middleware. IaC offers a utilization-based cost structure paying only for those resources that are being used, thus reducing remarkable cost-overheads.

7. Best Practices of Infrastructure as Code

7.1 Codify Everything

All the parameters must be explicitly coded in configuration files describing the cloud components to be used, their relationship with one another, and how the whole environment came into existence. Infrastructure can only then be deployed faster and with transparency. 

7.2 Use Minimum Documentation:

The IaC code itself acts as a document that has defined specifications and parameters in it. Diagrams and setup instruction documents may exist to a certain extent for resources unaware of the deployment process. However, deployment steps would ideally happen through configuration code leading to minimum or no additional documentation.

7.3 Maintain Version Control:

All configuration files must be version controlled. Any change in code can be managed, tracked or resolved just like application code. Maintaining versions of IaC codebase provides an audit trail for code changes and the ability to collaborate, review, and test IaC code before it goes into production.

7.4 Continuous Testing:

Constantly test, monitor, integrate and deploy environments before pushing changes to production. To avoid post deployment issues, a series of unit, regression, integration, security and functional tests should be carried out multiple times, across multiple environments, preferably via automation techniques to save time and efforts. 

DevSecOps is the association of DevOps and security professionals to detect and eliminate risks, threats and violations, if any. 

7.5 Go Modular:

IaC partitioning offers division of infrastructure into multiple components that can be combined through automation. This enables organizations to control – who has access to what parts of their code while limiting the number of changes that can be made to manifests.

 8. Infrastructure as Code Tools

Tools are opted for, depending upon the infrastructure and application code being utilized. A combination of tools enhances better decision-making capabilities on how systems can be structured.

Tools commonly used in infrastructure as code are:

  1. Terraform: An IaC provisioning tool that creates execution plans using its own DSL stating what exactly must happen when a code is run. It builds a graph of resources and automates changes with minimal human interaction across multiple cloud service providers simultaneously and cohesively.
  2.  AWS CloudFormation: A configuration orchestration tool used to automate deployments. Used within AWS alone, CloudFormation allows preview of suggested changes in the stack to see how it impacts resources and how its dependencies can be managed.
  3. Azure Resource Manager: Azure offers in-house IaC tools that define the infrastructure and dependencies for the applications, group dependent resources for instant deployment or deletion and provide control access through user permissions.
  4. Google Cloud Deployment Manager: GCP offers features similar to AWS and Azure such as template creation and change previews prior to deployment for automation of infrastructure stack.
  5. Puppet: A configuration management tool that helps in the continuous delivery of software that supports remote execution of commands. Once the desired config is declared, Puppet deciphers how to achieve it.
  6. Ansible: An infrastructure automation tool that describes how the infrastructure components and system relate to one another as opposed to managing systems independently.
  7. Juju: Juju contains a set of scripts that deploy and operate software bundles linked together to establish an application infrastructure as a whole. 
  8. Docker: Dockers create containers that package code and dependencies together for applications to run in any environment. 
  9. Vagrant: This tool facilitates development of environments by using small amounts of VMs instead of the entire cloud infrastructure. 
  10. Pallet: An IaC tool that automates cloud infrastructure providing a high level of environment customization. Pallet can be used to start, stop and configure nodes, deploy projects as well as run administrative tasks.
  11. CFEngine: The desired state of the infrastructure can be defined using DSL after which CFEngine agents monitor the cloud environments’ convergence. It claims to be the fastest infrastructure automation tool with execution time under 1 second.
  12. NixOS: A configuration management tool that ensures easy, reliable and safe upgrade of infrastructure systems or convenient rollbacks to old configuration.

9. Conclusion

DevOps need to equip themselves with a broader set of skills to keep pace with the accelerating cloud infrastructure capabilities.

Gartner predicts that 50% of organizations will fail to meet cloud adoption goals due to lack of in-house skills and experience.

As a solution, organizations will largely leverage infrastructure as code to furnish such expertise and improve their infrastructure quality and productivity.

Infrastructure as Code can simplify and accelerate infrastructure-provisioning processes, comply with policies, keep environments consistent and immaculate while saving considerable time and costs. With the implementation of IaC, developers can focus on innovative growth, become more productive and increase the quality of customer service.

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