What is Infrastructure as Code and Why Does it Matter?


Cloud computing has fundamentally transformed the way organizations manage their IT infrastructure. Where companies once had to buy rooms full of expensive computing hardware and build complex facilities to house them, today’s most innovative businesses are shedding physical infrastructure altogether for virtualized solutions that offer maximum flexibility.

But just because those computing resources are moving to the cloud doesn’t mean they don’t still need to be built and managed. Fortunately, new approaches like infrastructure as code have made it possible for organizations to build operating environments that take advantage of the unique features of cloud computing.


What is Infrastructure as Code?

While there isn’t an agreed-upon infrastructure as code definition, the easiest way to think about it is to compare it to the way an application is developed. When developers are creating an application, they create very specific source code that creates a foundation for everything the application does. Each iteration of the applications uses the same source code, which ensures that it will function as intended from version to version.

Infrastructure as code applies the same principle to the management of any infrastructure, which could include networks, virtual machines, load balancers, or containers. By coding an operating environment’s characteristics into its configuration files, deploying a new environment is as simple as using those files to spin it up in a new location. Rather than having to manually configure the operating environment or refer to documentation (which might be outdated), developers can plug in the appropriate code to automatically reproduce an environment that’s already configured to their needs.

This technique originally came about to solve the challenges of environmental drift during application development. In the past, developers had to manually manage the settings of deployment environments throughout the development process, which meant that every environment evolved into a unique, customized system that was difficult to replicate elsewhere. Not only did teams have to dedicate huge amounts of time to documenting changes they made to infrastructure configurations, but they also unintentionally created bugs every time they moved the application into a new environment.

Infrastructure as code fixed this problem by allowing developers to build replicable environments that were scalable and easily managed. Since changes were made at the source code level, it was much easier to build and maintain stable environments to shepherd applications through the development process and accelerate time to market.


How Does Infrastructure as Code Work?

There are two main approaches to using infrastructure as code tools. The first approach is known as the “imperative model.” In this approach, developers code the environment with a series of commands and instructions to execute specific functions. As the name suggests, this model is all about “giving orders.” It tells the environment how it should take action to build the desired end state. While this approach can be rather complicated on the front end since it requires everything to be strictly proscribed, it offers a great deal of control over how environments are configured.

The “declarative model” of infrastructure as code, on the other hand, takes a somewhat different approach. Rather than defining “how” resources should be allocated and scripts should be executed, it focuses on “what” the desired outcomes should be. Declarative infrastructure as code defines what the environment should look like based on what it’s supposed to do and then creates the code to do it based on that model. While faster and easier to use, the declarative model doesn’t offer the same level of flexibility or control. 


4 Infrastructure as Code Benefits

There are several benefits organizations can gain from infrastructure as code tools, especially if they’re routinely using cloud computing resources to spin up new environments to develop, test, and host applications.


1. Speed

The most obvious advantage of infrastructure as code is speed. Development and IT teams will spend far less time configuring unique operating environments when they can simply use source code to build the environment they need using resources they already have on-hand. There’s no need to create anything from scratch or provision new equipment, which allows teams to get projects up and running quickly.


2. Consistency

One of the challenges of manually configuring environments is maintaining consistency across iterations. The combination of human error and system bugs can create discrepancies between operating environments that result in application errors and security vulnerabilities. With infrastructure as code, everything about a configuration is hardwired into the source code, so spinning up an identical new environment is as easy as cutting and pasting the code. More importantly, any changes made to an environment are altered at the source code level, ensuring that they’ll be carried over to new environments and reduce the likelihood of errors.


3. Scalability

This is incredibly important for software and application development. With infrastructure as code tools, it’s much easier to deploy various stages of infrastructure architecture as they’re needed. If new environments need to be built to test an application or handle an increase in processing needs, infrastructure as code makes it possible to deploy perfect copies of existing environments that will operate reliably without having to configure resources manually. For developers, this greatly increases the speed at which they can build, test, and deploy new applications.


4. Reduced Cost

Building and managing infrastructure of any kind is expensive. Even if an organization is using cloud environments, it still requires IT teams to constantly manage those virtual environments to ensure they’re running optimally. With infrastructure as code tools, much of this management can be automated, freeing up IT personnel to focus on more high-value work, such as developing the products and services that will help an organization grow.

For companies that have already made the jump to the cloud, implementing infrastructure as code tools can help them make the most of that investment. If you’re looking to improve your infrastructure’s efficiency, the cloud experts at DSM can help you put the right practices in place to maximize the power of cloud computing. Talk to our team today to create a plan that’s focused on your specific business needs.

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