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What is Infrastructure as Code (IaC)?

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is the practice of managing and provisioning infrastructure through software and automated processes, rather than through hardware and manual processes. It allows software developers to write and execute instructions for compute, storage and network requirements, and thus provision them more quickly than would be possible via a manual process. Unlike the basic scripts that are used to automate repetitive IT processes, infrastructure as code can govern more complex, versatile and adaptive processes. 

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Why is Infrastructure as Code important?

In a modern cloud environment, Infrastructure as Code is increasingly key to ensuring smooth operations. The rise of containers and microservices means that infrastructure must now be provisioned separately for hundreds of small applications rather than a few larger ones. Infrastructure as Code makes this possible by automating that provisioning.
IaC is also particularly important in DevOps environments, because it provides developers with the easy access to IT infrastructure that DevOps requires. By treating infrastructure and operations in a similar way as application code and other code, the business ensures that DevOps best practices, such as continuous monitoring and version control, are also applied to the code that manages their infrastructure.

Infrastructure as Code vs. Platform as Code

Infrastructure as Code and Platform as Code (PaC) are similar concepts applied to different layers of the tech stack. As we’ve seen, IaC deals with provisioning compute, storage and networking at the infrastructure layer. By contrast, PaC deals with the platform layer (including the OS and development tools), and allows developers to define and execute the platform for their applications.

Besides dealing with different layers, the key difference between IaC and PaC is in how they are implemented: IaC is implemented by writing wrappers over Kubernetes APIs, while PaC is implemented by writing Kubernetes API extensions.

What are the benefits of Infrastructure as Code?

Implementing Infrastructure as Code has a number of benefits, including:

  • Implementing DevOps best practices: When infrastructure is treated the same way as any other code, DevOps best practices such as continuous monitoring, version control and automated testing help ensure easy management.
  • Enabling self-service for developers: Instead of requiring developers to rely on the IT department to provision resources, IaC allows them to provision their own infrastructure in a way that is secure and compliant.
  • Delivering scalability and faster provisioning: The automated nature of IaC allows resources to scale up and down in a way that would be difficult to manage manually, especially in a containerized environment where microservices require infrastructure to be provisioned separately for each service. 
  • Ensuring repeatability and consistency: Using the same code base to provision infrastructure allows you to achieve consistency across hundreds or thousands of applications.

Considerations for Infrastructure as Code

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is necessary in a DevOps enterprise environment that is containerized, and has few disadvantages. However, it does have a few potential challenges: The array of Infrastructure as Code tools available can be complex and may introduce the need for additional training for IT teams. Infrastructure automation also means errors can proliferate quickly in an IaC environment, so version control and testing are extra important. Similarly, although IaC generally protects against configuration drift, it can actually contribute to configuration drift if IT admins change server configurations outside the standard IaC template, so it’s important to operationalize IaC standards and to document policies carefully.

What are the security benefits of using Infrastructure as Code?

When it comes to security, Infrastructure as Code comes with the same caveat as any type of automation: It must be set up properly from the beginning to avoid increased damage or security issues from errors that are repeated at scale. When set up and considered carefully, however, secure Infrastructure as Code can minimize the risks of human error and ensure that security considerations are built into the development process. 

Because it relies on automation rather than manual processes, IaC boasts all the security benefits of automation and can avoid the security issues associated with configuration drift. Centralized management of servers and applications ensures consistency and security across the environment. Changes are not made manually, but instead must be defined in the code, which helps prevent unauthorized changes. In fact, declarative setups ensure that any changes made directly (rather than through code) are automatically overridden in favor of the state defined in the code. It’s also easy to revert changes (even ones made via code) thanks to strong version control. 

IaC environments are also easier to audit, since everything (including server configurations) is defined and documented in code, making it easy to provide that information to an outside auditor.


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