Infrastructure As Code: How Your Business Can Benefit From It

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Confused about what IaC has to offer? Here's why you should be considering it for your infrastructure.

Article 4 Minutes
Infrastructure As Code: How Your Business Can Benefit From It
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Networks are constantly getting bigger and more complex. But one of the downsides of this sprawl is that it becomes much more difficult to manage essential day-to-day operations. Routine maintenance, patches and updates, load balancing and other critical management tools can quickly become overwhelming, leading to errors and instability in essential infrastructure.

Tackling this should be a priority for any network manager, and one way to address these challenges is to turn to software to help lighten the load. This is where Infrastructure as Code comes in.

What is Infrastructure as Code?

Infrastructure as Code, or IaC, applies a DevOps approach to your provisioning and configuration activities and works by enabling you to manage infrastructure through software.

This lets you automate many of the essential tasks involved with getting infrastructure up and running and keeping it performing optimally. In an IaC strategy, you can create files that contain details about your infrastructure specifications, which can then be used to edit and distribute configurations or even automate the process of setting up new environments from scratch. This avoids many of the manual processes - and associated risks - that come with traditional infrastructure management methodologies.

IaC tools can be subdivided into four distinct categories, with each having their own merits for certain situations. These are:

  • Scripting: The most direct and simple form of IaC. Using scripts is ideal for straightforward or one-off tasks, but is not well-suited to more complex processes.
  • Configuration management: These tools help automate the configuration of servers. As specialized tools designed specifically for managing software, they can handle more complex tasks and are the most common type of IaC.
  • Provisioning: Designed to aid with the creation of infrastructure, provisioning tools also offer a solution for highly complex tasks. Some of the most commonly-used solutions in this category include OpenStack heat and AWS CloudFormation.
  • Containers and templating: These solutions offer everything a firm will need to run an application in one preloaded image, including libraries and components. They offer easy management and low overheads, but may be less customizable and come with more security concerns.

Why Infrastructure as Code matters

Without IaC, each environment within your business' network must be deployed and maintained manually. Not only is this a time and labor-intensive process, it brings with it the issue of 'environment drift'.

This happens when each deployment becomes so unique that it isn’t able to be reproduced automatically - known as a 'snowflake'. Like a real snowflake, these environments can quickly fall apart when subjected to pressure, so must be very delicately looked after.

In such situations, management and maintenance involve complex manual processes that are not only hard to keep track of, but more prone to efforts such as misconfigurations. As well as impacting performance, this can leave your business vulnerable to cyber attacks.

What are the business benefits of Infrastructure as Code?

While getting to grips with IaC involves a significant change in strategy and requires you to have personnel with expertise in DevOps and automation, being able to deploy this technology effectively offers a range of business advantages. Some of these include the following.

1. Faster deployments

Being able to automate the infrastructure provisioning and configuration process means you can get new environments up and running much faster than with legacy technology. In some cases, it could cut the time taken to complete tasks by up to half. In turn, this means increased agility to react faster to changing requirements and greater scope to conduct testing or potential solutions, as you can try out new ideas and fail quickly and move on if they don’t work.

2. Fewer errors

As noted above, greater reliance on automation means taking manual processes out of the hands of your infrastructure and network engineers. This results in fewer opportunities for errors such as misconfigurations. IaC offers a standardized approach to every process, with activities fully logged. This lowers your exposure to threats such as cyber attacks, as well as making it less likely that individually-configured environments will fail due to unique quirks in how they must be maintained.

3. Improved consistency

Because every configuration is documented and set out beforehand, this also ensures that stable, consistent policies and practices are followed across the business. This reduces confusion and the risk of unwanted downtime caused by misconfigurations, as well as eliminating the risk of configuration drift and changes made to environments that move them away from their original purpose.

It also helps to futureproof your business. In many organizations, if an environment has been manually configured by a single member of the team, the knowledge of what happened and how to fix any errors may be lost once they leave the company. Even in best-case scenarios, it can take time and effort for new hires to get to grips with existing ways of working. But with IaC, every instance will follow a specified format that ensures everyone is following the same processes.

4. Reduced costs

Ultimately, all of these benefits translate into two things - better productivity and, in turn, lower costs. IaC means IT professionals waste much less time figuring out what will be needed to maintain unique deployments and can complete the processes much quicker. This leaves their precious hours free for more productive activities.

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