The Benefits of Infrastructure Automation

In the past, management of IT infrastructure was a tough job.  System administrators had to manually manage and configure all of the hardware and software that was needed for applications to run.  The application environment involved getting a server rack and installing an operating system on it that would run the applications alongside any packages and configuration files needed.

This approach has limitations.  Having this single server that can’t go down means that you have a single point of failure and no redundancy.  Nightly backups and snapshots are not possible.  In terms of time required to keep it patched and up, it is expensive to host your own servers and equipment.  Using a single server for a web server is often wasteful, prone to configuration error, and a security concern.

In recent years there has been dramatic improvement in the way organizations design, develop, and maintain their IT infrastructure.  This trend is called “infrastructure as code”.  Let’s take a closer look it’s benefits and why it is so valuable.

What is Infrastructure as Code?

Infrastructure as code (IaC) is an approach to infrastructure that emphasizes consistent, repeatable routines based on software development for provisioning and changing systems and their configuration.  These changes are made to definitions and then rolled out to systems through unattended processes.

This approach has been proven with innovative companies like Amazon, Netflix, Google, Facebook, and Etsy.  These businesses handle millions of dollars in transactions on a daily basis.  It is no surprise that they rely on Infrastructure as code for their large scale, highly reliable IT infrastructure.

Infrastructure as Code allows you to write code to generate a data center or the environment for an application using services such as AWS, GCloud, and Azure. The largest advantage to this is that it allows you to document your infrastructure as you build it. It also allows you to better audit the condition of your environment and revise it such that you can be aware when something like a port change occurs. This also allows people to provide feedback about infrastructure before it is merged back into master, improving collaboration between developers and engineers.

What are the pros and cons of Infrastructure as Code?

Automation, visibility, and efficiency are a few of the benefits that result when we treat infrastructure like code.  There are many more benefits to this automated approach.

  1. It is scalable and audible. You can write it once and then reuse it many times.
  2. It provides visibility.  An infrastructure as code template serves as a very clear reference of what resources are on your account, and what their settings are. You don’t have to navigate to the web console to check the parameters.
  3. It improves deployment time.
  4. It documents the architecture of the system. If you create one well secured architecture you can reuse it multiple times, and know that each deployed version is following the same settings.
  5. It enables all the perks of version control systems.
  6. It needs less manual effort and reduces human error.
  7. It can be used to build end-to-end Deployment Pipelines.
  8. It can be easily visualized via software.
  9. It can be easily shared between DevOps Engineers.

As with any new approach, there are a few cons to using Infrastructure as Code.

  1. Hardware and software changes are hard to track and deployments can be broken by changes if not careful.
  2. It is time consuming to maintain and test changes because even little things like forgetting to make a folder can cause an entire deployment to fail.
  3. The ability to know how to write infrastructure does not absolve you of the need to understand how it works.
  4. It lends itself to refactoring, which can cause a lot of merge conflicts.
  5. If you don’t read you are susceptible to mage-cart type attacks.

What are the two approaches to Infrastructure as Code?

  1. The declarative approach focuses on what the eventual target configuration should be.  This approach “declares” the desired outcome.  Rather than explicitly outlining the sequence of steps the infrastructure needs to reach the final result, this approach shows what the final result looks like.
  2. The imperative approach focuses on how the infrastructure is to be changed to meet this.  This approach “gives orders”.  It defines a sequence of commands or instructions so the infrastructure can reach the final result.

What are the benefits of IaC?

One of the most valuable benefits of IaC is the lower cost of infrastructure management.  Cloud computing, along with Infrastructure as Code, can dramatically reduce your costs.  Organizations will no longer need to spend money on hardware, hire people to operate it, or build or rent physical space to store it.  Additionally, automation strategies allow smart, high-paid professionals to focus on the tasks that bring more value to the organization.  They no longer spend time performing tasks that can be automated using IaC.

IaC supports change, rather than acting as an obstacle or constraint.  The changes to the system are routine and eliminate drama and stress for users.  Professionals are able to define, provision, and manage the resources they need, without calling IT staff to do it for them.  Improvements are made continuously.  Solutions to problems are proven through testing, measuring, and implementation.

In this day and age when infrastructure is consistently being spun up, torn down, and scaled up and down in response to developers and user demands, it is crucial to automate infrastructure.  It is not uncommon for an organization to deploy hundreds of applications into production every day.  IaC will control costs, reduce risks, and respond with speed to new business opportunities, as well as competitive threats.

CABEM Solutions has 18+ years of experience developing custom enterprise solutions for businesses with the highest standards, across a wide array of industries including manufacturing, healthcare, education, and government.  We believe that software should not dictate business processes, but that your software should be able to do business the way you want to.  If you are ready to add the benefits of Infrastructure as Code to your business this year, click here to learn about our products or contact us.