Developers spend much of their day digging into their systems’ guts, allocating storage to an application, connecting the security system to the user interface and tracking which version of the application is where in the development cycle, among other tasks.
That’s why a new category of software has emerged, infrastructure-as-code (IaC), that promises to automate system infrastructure provisioning and integration. It frees up time so developers can focus more on frontend solutions rather than backend configuration management. First, though, let’s find out what IaC is and how it helps your organization.
What is Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC)?
IaC reduces system infrastructure creation and configuration time through the use of sets of tools, protocols, languages and processes. In conventional data center system management, each configuration entry and change has historically required manual action. Now, technology teams can manage everything in an intelligent, automated manner.
With IaC, infrastructure configuration management data is stored within standardized files. The tools monitor and maintain the state of the infrastructure and ensure that the right resources are available whenever an application runs. This saves DevOps teams from excessive manual effort. In essence, dramatically large-scale configuration and management become simplified.
Development Pain Points
Currently, development is a cumbersome process because friction arises in many places. A great deal of progress has been made in speeding up the front end of application development—building the feature set. Still, the process slows down on the back end when the software components are tied to the computer infrastructure.
Historically, software was deployed as one large, monolithic block of code. Updates were tedious to make because all of the application’s code had to run, even if it wasn’t involved in the update or bug fix. The advent of containers and microservices enabled developers to design applications that are modular in nature and therefore easier to update, add to or debug.
However, the application still has to be tied into the existing compute infrastructure. Cloud solutions—like AWS, Google Cloud Platform or Microsoft Azure, for instance—provide companies with quick access to large volumes of computing processing power. But that application software must be told how to access the network, present security information, allocate storage and run code on central servers.
Because of this, developers spend a lot of time building and maintaining infrastructure-as-code. To do so, they use languages like Python and solutions such as Chef and GitHub. They want to use automation to simplify and accelerate the process, but here, again, they encounter some roadblocks.
As applications become larger and components become smaller, developers find themselves mixing and matching software from a wide variety of places. Tracking what’s where in the process is a frequent challenge. Current workflows are often non-intuitive and rely heavily on pull requests. Some solutions try to address the problem with multiple workspaces, but the end result is fragile and nondeterministic code.
Without mapping of projects to branches or tags, someone who comments on an approved pull request can push unapproved code to production. In today’s fast-paced DevOps work environment, an approval meant for a short-lived test run becomes the current release, creating a ripple effect of unintended consequences that create confusion and defective code, slowing development—often substantially.
Most tools do not offer access control models. Developers can track a single repository and a single Terraform project, for example, but as the number of repositories and projects grows, ensuring that proper access control features are in place becomes more daunting.
Legacy waterfall and static development projects allowed IT teams to set their system infrastructure up once and forget about it. But in a dynamic environment, microservices come and go in the blink of an eye. New environments proliferate and product teams must continually configure their own workspaces, which eats up time and resources.
Generic IaC platforms don’t provide mechanisms to detect if the infrastructure is drifting. Because so much configuration is done at runtime, differences arise between the desired and the actual state of the infrastructure.
Drift has many causes, such as developer or machine script contingencies or the lack of system resources. Too much drift results in unstable applications. Catching such problems early in the development cycle is more efficient than trying to fix a production system. But needed visibility is often lacking, and shortcomings become clear only when the system is fully in use.
Given today’s dynamic environment, developers need clear visibility. They must be able to closely examine what happens as their job runs. Though they offer many advantages, CI/CD platforms deliver little insight into resource usage from a real-time or historical perspective.
So, whenever performance problems arise, these platforms offer little insight into what the source of the problem is or how to fix it. Consequently, developers’ attention shifts from application enhancements to troubleshooting.
Lack of Reusability
Legacy infrastructure failed to let teams reuse tried-and-true system images across multiple environments. To address this problem, teams often create a new image for each version of each application, slowing development time.
Setting up each IT environment manually requires time and manpower, which raises costs. Companies must have dedicated teams of engineers responsible for creating the infrastructure. But they also need supervisors and data center resources, which will ultimately boost technology expenses. IaC tools centrally manage the process and create the right environment. That way, organizations pay only for system resources that they truly need.
How Does IaC Improve the Business?
Legacy IT practices are expensive, slow and inconsistent because they rely heavily on manual input. Infrastructure-as-code automates much of the infrastructure management process, which delivers a range of benefits.
With IaC, provisioning and management are lightyears faster and more efficient than with a manual system. The environment’s infrastructure is defined in code. That code-based infrastructure significantly accelerates each phase of the software development and delivery cycle. Consequently, DevOps teams deliver applications faster and at scale while improving software quality.
IaC deploys consistent configurations constantly and with no discrepancies. Because of this, it enables fast delivery of consistent infrastructure and environments. This reduces errors and overhead while boosting productivity.
Eliminating Management Overhead
Infrastructure automation helps to reduce the number of people with hands on the routing parts of the software development process. That’s because human resources aren’t needed in the management of networking and storage. Companies free up personnel to work on more strategic initiatives.
Reducing Risks and Errors
IaC helps to reduce risks and avoid human errors. It also protects against runtime issues and security weaknesses caused by missing dependencies or configuration drift.
Developers version IaC configuration files the same way they do any other source code file. This gives them complete traceability of any changes. In this way, IaC ensures efficient, exceptionally transparent workflows and speeds up the development process.
Finding an IaC Solution
Maintaining legacy infrastructure was a time-consuming, complex process. IaC is emerging as a solution that alleviates much of the stress and pain that developer teams feel daily. Now, they can speed up the deployment and connection of system resources to applications. Developers can become more efficient and enable the company to respond to business demands in a faster, more reliable and more cost-effective manner. The development process no longer slows down the business.