Not so long ago, the term IT infrastructure would throw up images of racks with many machines surrounded by a tangled web of wires and systems and dedicated full-time resources to ensure server availability to run critical business applications. However, as the role of IT became more central in the fast-evolving digital paradigm of business, infrastructure also sought an upgrade to bring in flexibility and cost-effectiveness. This upgrade came in the form of Infrastructure as Code
Introducing Infrastructure as Code (IaC)
Infrastructure as Code virtualizes entire systems and provides enterprises the flexibility to provision and configure an environment using code instead of setting up systems and devices manually. Essentially, IaC automates infrastructure provisioning using high-level descriptive coding language. Using IaC, developers no longer have to manually manage and provision servers, OS’, databases, storage, and other infrastructure elements each time they need to develop or test an application. With IaC, organizations get the capability to develop, deploy and scale applications faster, with lesser risk and at a lower cost.
Why do we need IaC?
We are in an age when enterprises are deploying software continuously and version after version hits the production environment at pace. Historically, infrastructure provisioning has been a costly, time-consuming, and manual process. But with IaC, it becomes automated and moves away from physical hardware in data centers to virtualization, cloud, and containers.
The rise of cloud computing and DevOps has led to more applications being released into production daily. Infrastructure has to support this need and has to be constantly spun around, scaled up or down to respond to developer and user needs.
Infrastructure also plays an essential role for DevOps in accelerating software development and deployment by helping DevOps teams rapidly create and version infrastructure and track these versions capably to avoid inconsistency in IT environments.
Further, infrastructure as code employs configuration files to contain infrastructure configurations that make it easier to edit and distribute configurations and helps developers provision the same environment every time. IaC also simplifies configuration management as it helps organizations avoid ad-hoc and undocumented configuration changes.
Infrastructure as code becomes essential to aid the speed of development and eliminates the pains of managing IT infrastructure and makes sure infrastructure is available, scalable, and ensures that developers ‘order up’ fully versioned, documented infrastructure simply by executing a script.
The benefits of Infrastructure as Code are exactly as imagined:
Speed and agility
IaC enables organizations to set up the complete infrastructure simply by running a script for every environment, from development to production. Since it takes away the major provisioning work from developers, it ensures that application deployments are not held up simply because they are waiting for infrastructure. This speed also aids the CI/CD process by providing infrastructure that is ready to go.
This accelerated speed automatically translates to faster time-to-market. Since IaC codifies and documents everything, it can even automate the provisioning of legacy infrastructure that is otherwise dependent on time-consuming processes like raising a ticket.
Avoid configuration drift, improve consistency
IaC helps enterprises avoid configuration drift and improves infrastructure consistency which ensures that there are no issues during deployment, security challenges, and risks when developing applications and services.
IaC uses the configuration files as the single source of truth, provides clarity and transparency into configuration management. Since enterprises can version IaC configuration files like any source code, they get complete traceability of the changes that any configuration might have encountered.
This ensures that there are no ad-hoc configuration changes and updates that lead to mismatched development, test, and deployment environments.
Increased SDLC efficiency
While IaC simplifies provisioning and ensures infrastructure consistency, it can confidently enhance each phase of the software delivery lifecycle. IaC gives enterprises the flexibility to deploy infrastructure architectures in many stages. It enables the creation and launch of sandboxed environments to allow programmers to develop in isolation.
CI/CD environments, necessary for DevOps, can also be provisioned faster with IaC. It can be used to create the perfect, full-fidelity production environment to run tests in. During deployment, engineers can push both the infrastructure and code into production in a single step.
Without a doubt, one of the biggest draws of IaC is lowered costs of infrastructure management. IaC dramatically reduces the time and effort and the need for specialized skills to provision, scale, and manage infrastructure. IaC allows enterprises to take advantage of cloud computing consumption-based cost structures. It also adds agility to the development process and lowers opportunity costs by allowing developers to spend more time on developing mission-critical applications and solutions and less time on plumbing.
IAC also does not necessarily need skilled engineers or dedicated IT staff to provision infrastructure. The reduced dependence on specialists means that the organization no longer needs to worry about reconstructing the process if any of these engineers leave. Owing to this, provisioning intelligence always remains with the organization, and human resources can engage in more high-value work.
However, to get the most out of IaC, it is essential to have a clearly defined IaC strategy that ensures that code becomes the single source of truth, all configuration files are under source control to drive version control, and there is very little external documentation. Further, IaC is code, and like all code, it has to be tested for errors and inconsistencies in servers before they are deployed into production.
Could computing was the first step to solve many of IT’s challenges when it came to manual IT management. IaC is the next logical step that frees developers and other professionals from performing manual, error-prone tasks. Plus, it is a crucial part of DevOps. Given the fast-evolving digital paradigm and the glaring shortcomings of conventional IT infrastructures, IaC plays an important role in helping organizations in future-proofing IT infrastructure to drive competitiveness and organizational agility.