What Is Infrastructure as Code?
When using Infrastructure as Code (IaC) you replace hardware and the related configuration, deployment, and management processes with software to provision and run data centers.
In a DevOps environment that joins together development and operations it is only fitting that operations use more of the tools of the developers to improve their flexibility, scalability, and control. It is just as appropriate that the underlying infrastructure on which everything runs follow similar software-based methodology, with the same DevOps goal of achieving continuous improvement.
Many examples of infrastructure as code have entered the mainstream over the past few years. When once a server was a piece of hardware running a single instance of a network operating system, since the introduction of virtualization there can be many, many servers each running their own OS, all running within a given piece of hardware. Each server is defined by software.
Software-Defined-Networking removes the control plane from the hardware and restores it to its rightful place in software, where it can be easily modified to accommodate scale, operating changes, changing capacities, and more. Similarly, software-defined-storage removes the logical unit of storage from the physical enabling amazing new resilience, fault-tolerance, and transport capabilities that function across networks to deliver a new definition of redundancy and scalability.
Where once it seemed to make sense to integrate the intelligence into the device itself, separating the intelligence to run on its own has enabled all of this, along with dramatic reductions in cost and risk, and increases in sheer speed of operations.
Going Beyond Automation
It becomes easy to characterize infrastructure as code as simply another term for process automation, but there is far more value to be gained.
When treating infrastructure as code, every change that is made to the environment is accomplished through code, right from the beginning. Instead of having to design a hardware infrastructure from scratch, then order the components, receive them, prepare them, rack-and-stack them, configure them and then first start loading software, all of this is accomplished through code. Beyond being infinitely easier, infinitely faster, and infinitely more flexible, it is also very self-documenting.
This is important for two reasons. First, it is extremely convenient later when the need arises to trace back an anomaly and you simply consult the code. It also overcomes the human tendency to “forget” to create documentation for all settings, addresses, and other critical information. The process documents itself.
As in DevOps, infrastructure as code enables you to test, integrate, and deploy infrastructure improvements constantly, with an easy process for rolling back problematic changes through software version control.
Controlling infrastructure through code creates an ability to resolve problems and improve performance that is far more responsive and efficient than human operators, with far fewer errors. By applying the collaborative aspects of DevOps to automation scripts we create several key opportunities.
Key Benefits of Infrastructure as Code
Cost reduction and control is an obvious benefit derived from IaC. By having computers respond to alerts and integrating corrective scripts human labor is reduced. The accelerated process is executed instantly, reducing downtime and the ensuing disruption. Many operations choose to reassign the newly available labor to higher-value tasks.
Reduction in cost is matched by increases in speed. With fewer anomalies and outages creating less disruption, operations run faster. Typical infrastructure management and problem resolution are executed far more quickly than a human could respond.
Just as important is the reduction of risk created by the use of automation. Software executes consistently which all but eliminates errors. Humans routinely misconfigure hardware and software. And properly configured software never violates security protocols where humans often seek the easiest access even if it does.
Upgrades and updates to servers and client devices can result in errors due to changes made in their configuration by humans since the last upgrade or update, a condition commonly referred to as “configuration drift”. Multiply this problem by the number of devices you need to upgrade or update and potentially you have a substantial field remediation challenge. By using IaC, you can opt to include a complete restoration of the accepted base configuration of any device before performing any upgrades, updates, or patches. Potentially, a single operator could launch hundreds of machine updates. Not only does this eliminate the problem of having to potentially remediate hundreds of devices, it also reduces support costs by promoting consistent configuration. It also can serve to discourage users from making changes that will only be eliminated in the next upgrade.
Infrastructure as Code and DevOps
Some say DevOps wouldn’t be possible without IaC. It enables them to create and release multiple stable, identical, and consistent production environment simulations very quickly and at scale for application testing and comparisons.
Perhaps most important, however, is the value of unifying, and eliminating contention, between developers, operators, and data center management by aligning them all using consistent tools and techniques to get their respective jobs done.
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