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Yasitha Bogamuwa
Yasitha Bogamuwa

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Understanding Infrastructure as Code (IaC)

Overview

This article discusses the benefits of implementing infrastructure as code (IaC), which is a methodology that enables organizations to manage and provision their IT infrastructure through code. IaC provides a number of advantages over traditional methods such as increased speed and accuracy, improved consistency, and easier scalability. Additionally, IaC can help reduce the amount of manual effort required to maintain infrastructure, which can lead to cost savings and increased efficiency.

What is Infrastructure as Code?

When most people think of infrastructure, they think of the physical things that make up a company’s or organization’s IT environment. Servers, storage, networking gear, and so on. However, the definition of infrastructure has been changing over the past few years to include not just the physical components but also the software that controls them. This new category of software is often referred to as Infrastructure as Code (IaC).

Before the era of infrastructure as code, changes to an organization’s IT infrastructure were made manually. This process was often time-consuming, error-prone, and difficult to track. In many cases, it also resulted in duplicate work and inconsistency across environments.

In recent years, the use of Infrastructure as Code (IaC) has gained popularity in the DevOps community. IaC is the process of managing and provisioning infrastructure using code, typically in a declarative language such as YAML or JSON. IaC enables users to version-control their infrastructure, treat it like software, and deploy it in the same way as they would their application code. This allows for more repeatable, predictable and scalable infrastructure changes, and improve the consistency and reliability of the system. Let’s explore some of the benefits of using IaC, and how you can get started using it in your own projects.

Types of IaC

There are many different types of IaC, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. IaC tools like Terraform and Pulumi allow DevOps to write code that describes the desired state of their infrastructure. This code can be checked in to source control, allowing for collaboration and versioning. The IaC tools then automatically configure the resources to match the desired state. This results in more reliable and repeatable deployments, and allows for faster iteration on infrastructure changes.

Let’s explore two of the most common open-source types of IaC: Tettaform, and Pulumi. Terraform and Pulumi are both infrastructure as code tools that allow you to declaratively define your infrastructure. However, there are some key differences.

Terraform
Terraform is HashiCorp's infrastructure as code tool. It can be used to manage both public and private cloud providers, as well as traditional data center infrastructure. However, Terraform is more mature and has a larger user base. Additionally, Terraform has better support for provider integrations.

Pulumi
Pulumi is a newer tool, and as a result, has more features. It also allows you to use familiar general-purpose languages like Python, TypeScript, JavaScript, Go, .NET, Java, and markup languages like YAML, which can be useful for certain use cases.

For more information, please refer to Pulumi docs here.

Benefits of IaC

There are many benefits to using Infrastructure as Code (IaC) for businesses. Some of the key benefits include improving efficiency and agility, reducing costs, eliminating configuration drift, and improving security.

  • It helps businesses improve efficiency and agility by allowing them to quickly and easily deploy new infrastructure components or make changes to existing infrastructure. This can help businesses keep up with changing business requirements and keep their systems running smoothly.

  • It also helps businesses reduce costs by automating the deployment process. This can save time and money by eliminating the need for manual labor to set up new servers or make changes to existing infrastructure.

  • It improves security by ensuring that all systems are configured in a consistent manner. This can help prevent unauthorized access to systems and data, and minimize the risk of system failures.

  • It eliminates configuration drift. Configuration drift is a common challenge that organizations face when it comes to managing their infrastructure. As new servers and applications are added, or as existing ones are updated, the configuration of the systems can change in ways that are not always tracked or accounted for. This can lead to an inconsistent system state, with different servers running different versions of software, or with incorrect settings that can undermine performance or security. With IaC, all aspects of the infrastructure are defined and controlled in code, rather than being configured manually. This enables automated testing and verification of the infrastructure, as well as reproducibility and predictability. By eliminating the possibility of configuration drift, IaC can help organizations maintain a stable and consistent system state.

Declarative vs Imperative

The terms imperative and declarative come up often in IaC discussions. Both terms refer to how the user provides instructions to the automation platform. The imperative approach specifies the exact commands required to achieve the desired configuration, and those commands then need to be executed in the correct order. The declarative approach defines the desired state of the system, and the IaC tool determines how to achieve that state.

The debate between declarative and imperative approaches to IaC can be contentious. Proponents of the declarative approach argue that it is more maintainable and scalable. Imperative proponents counter that the declarative approach can be verbose and less flexible.

Many IaC tools follow the declarative approach and will automatically provision the desired infrastructure for you. If you alter the desired state, a declarative IaC tool will apply any changes for you. An imperative tool will require you to figure out those changes and apply accordingly.

Ultimately, the best approach depends on your specific needs. In my experience, the best method to IaC is to use declarative definition files where possible.

So far so good. But every coin has two sides!

We spend a lot of our time underscoring the benefits of infrastructure as code. It all works. Treating infrastructure as code can add a lot of value in terms of its ability to encourage consistent, predictable, and repeatable results in the delivery of application software throughout the process of infrastructure provision and deployment. But it doesn't mean treating infrastructure as code has no downside. Because adopting a programmatic approach means you reap both the advantages and the drawbacks that come along with it.

On average, developers find and fix about 100 bugs per 1000 lines of code. Discovering one of these bugs takes 30 times longer than writing a single line. Developers typically spend about 75% of their time debugging code (about 1,500 hours per year). That’s where code review comes in.

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A code review is the process of examining software code with the intent of finding defects, or potential problems with the design. The code review is often done as a pair programming exercise, where two developers work on the same code at the same time.

I won’t lie, code review can be frustrating at the start, but as soon as someone points an error that could have caused a serious security breach or an undesirable service outage, the initial pain is thoroughly compensated for. In the long run, code reviews are useful for minimizing disruptive errors.

Benefits of a Code Review

  • It helps to find defects in the code. By having another set of eyes look at the code, you are more likely to find problems that you may have missed.

  • It helps to improve the overall quality of the code. By finding and fixing defects early in the development process, you prevent them from becoming bigger problems later on.

  • Reviewing code also helps to ensure that the code is consistent and meets the standards of the organization.

  • It helps to improve communication between team members. By working together on code, team members learn how to communicate better and work more effectively together. Also, it provides an opportunity for developers to learn from each other and improve their skills.

Learn some Best Practices

As companies move to the cloud and adopt Infrastructure as Code (IaC) practices, they need to consider a number of critical success factors. The first step is understanding the IaC process and how it can be used to your advantage. Configuration management is key to managing your infrastructure in a reproducible way, while automation helps reduce the time and effort needed to manage your systems. Additionally, you’ll need to make sure your team has the proper training and tools in order to take advantage of IaC. By following these best practices, you can ensure that your company is getting the most out of its IaC investment.

Determined by IaC best practices, let me offer you a few tips for creating an effective IaC strategy.

  • Make sure to code everything in your infrastructure setup, and keep that file as your single source of truth. Whenever you need to confirm a setting, explore the layouts, or create any other configuration change, use the configuration files.

  • Always version control your configuration files. This should be self-evident, but put your config files under source control. Stick to little documentation (or none at all) for infrastructure settings. Since your configuration files should be your main source of truth, there's no need to store more documentation in external files. External documentation can easily become misaligned with the real configurations, but that is never going to happen with your config files.

  • Test your configuration. IaC is code, like other forms of code, it can be tested. By utilizing testing and monitoring tools for IaC such as Checkov, and TFSec, it is possible to check errors, vulnerabilities, and inconsistencies in your code before you deploy them to production.

  • Take your time and review the code!

In conclusion, infrastructure as code offers many benefits to businesses. It can help improve efficiency, save money, and reduce the risk of human error. By using infrastructure as code, businesses can automate the process of creating and managing their infrastructure. This can help them improve their bottom line and become more competitive in the market.

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References

1. What Is Infrastructure as Code? How It Works, Best Practices, Tutorials
2. What is Infrastructure as Code?
3. Declarative vs. Imperative in IaC
4. Four Rules of Thumb for Providing Effective Code Review Feedback
5. The Dark Side of Infrastructure as Code

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