What Is Infrastructure as Code (IAC)?


Infrastructure as code (IaC) is a technique for defining and provisioning infrastructure through the use of definition files that contain code.

IaC enables IT and development teams to automate and scale the provisioning and management of IT resources in a descriptive manner in accordance with application source-code releases.

Important Q&A

What business challenges drive IaC adoption?

  • Modern applications require frequent updates, necessitating repeated reconfiguration of infrastructure. This can become difficult to maintain over time, stifling innovation and increasing risk due to manual, error-prone processes. The following are significant drivers of IaC adoption:
  • Extensive application landscape expansion. As many businesses embark on a digital transformation journey, they realize that applications must reside in multiple locations inside and outside the organization’s firewall. Without a platform-independent approach to infrastructure management, the complexity exceeds human comprehension.

How can IaC overcome these obstacles?

IaC enables the consolidation of previously disparate processes and the automation of infrastructure provisioning. This simplifies, accelerates, and increases the reliability of aligning infrastructure requirements and application deployment.

With IaC, IT resources across data centers, edge locations, and public clouds are configured via a simple text file containing code instructing the software to perform the necessary tasks for infrastructure provisioning at any site.

The configuration file can be shared between multiple teams—for example, infrastructure and development teams—to facilitate collaboration and aid in the unification of previously disparate processes. As a result, infrastructure and applications are deployed concurrently.

Additionally, throughout the application development process, IaC configuration tools serve as a single source of truth. This enables simple version control and obviates the need for redundant documentation.

Developers can easily configure sandbox environments, and all teams can conduct tests using exact replicas of the production environment with a few clicks.

How does IaC function?

IaC configuration files are read by software that defines and configures infrastructure based on the file’s instructions.

The concept of immutable infrastructure has gained popularity as a result of IaC. In other words, rather than continuously updating and modifying existing infrastructure, the infrastructure is not reconfigured or updated in response to application changes. Rather than that, it is replaced with a new one constructed from a common image with the necessary modifications.

Typically, IaC configuration files are written in repeatable code and then compiled and stored in central repositories. The files can be stored locally or on public platforms such as GitHub, which can be accessed by members of the IT operations and application development teams.

Additionally, this repeatable framework enables further process automation, resulting in significant improvements in speed, efficiency, and cost savings for businesses.

Benefits of IaC

Increased development speed

Because repeatable, reusable code enables advanced automation, engineering teams can quickly and easily provision infrastructure by running a script. This can be accomplished at any stage of the application development process, including design, testing, and production, resulting in increased efficiency and alignment between the application and the infrastructure. This, in turn, results in shorter development timelines.

Consistency and dependability

Because new versions of the infrastructure are always deployed as brand-new, purpose-built deployments, immutable infrastructure provides application development teams with increased confidence when testing and running their applications.

Additionally, reusable code can aid in the reduction of human error. Because all team members work with the same file, which serves as the single source of truth, versioning errors and configuration drift are virtually eliminated.

Finally, this practice eliminates another potential source of error: the documentation inconsistencies that frequently accompany deployments. IaC’s configuration file acts as its documentation, obviating the need for an external copy.

Churn Defense

With IaC, infrastructure provisioning expertise is contained in code accessible to all rather than in silos of knowledge spread across IT and operations teams.

Savings on costs

IaC reduces the expertise, time, and staff required for infrastructure deployments, allowing more budget to be allocated to higher-value tasks. Additionally, IaC is a platform-agnostic approach, it enables enterprises to benefit from the cloud’s flexibility and usage-based pricing structure.

Choosing an IaC tool

Numerous IaC tools are available, some of which overlap and some do not. Understanding the available options can assist DevOps, and IT teams assess and selecting the most appropriate IaC tool for the organization.

Types of Tools

Configuration management tools are used to automate installing and managing deployments on pre-existing server instances. These tools automatically assign roles to instances without the user explicitly specifying them.

IT teams can use orchestration tools to provision server instances and delegate configuration to other tools. Orchestration tools excel at complex deployments spanning multiple environments and clusters.

Tools by programming logic type

IaC tools employ one of two distinct types of programming logic: declarative or imperative.

The declarative approach specifies the desired state of the infrastructure, and the tool automatically assembles it, aiming always to maintain the desired state. This is the most frequently used method by businesses.

The imperative approach enables the tool to assist in preparing automation scripts that are then used to gradually assemble infrastructure. While this approach requires more work, it has the advantage of requiring less expertise and reusing previously deployed automation scripts.

Type of Infrastructure

IT teams can use IaC to provision mutable or immutable infrastructure.

After deployment, mutable infrastructure can be modified or updated. While this approach allows for flexibility, it also undermines IaC’s primary benefit, namely the consistency provided by its versioning protections, which ensures the application always runs as designed.

When changes are required, immutable infrastructure is wholly replaced, ensuring that a consistent process is used for each deployment. With the flexibility and rapid availability of cloud infrastructure and the speed and reliability of IaC development, it is no longer impractical to replace immutable infrastructure repeatedly.

Steps in the IaC journey

The following are some initial steps to take when beginning the process of IaC adoption.

  • Step 1: Keep track of changes. Most configuration processes are written down somewhere in an organization. Gather these instructions and put them in version or source control systems that can be used to manage and track code, like Git or SVN. People who work on a project can see how their code has changed at a glance when they make changes.
  • Step 2: Choose a task that you want to make easier by making it easier to do.
    Look for simple, well-defined tasks that can be automated with simple steps, like setting server policies and profiles or setting up Kubernetes clusters.
  • Step 3: Make sure you use the same language and tools.
    It’s not just HashiCorp and Red Hat that make good IaC tools. There are a lot of other companies that make good tools, too.
  • Step 4: Switch to CI/CD pipelines instead. Continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) is a set of processes that help software development teams deliver code changes more quickly and reliably. CI/CD is also called “continuous delivery.” People who use CI/CD can help speed up software development, making the IaC process more flexible and quick.
  • Step 5: Adopt GitOps. GitOps is an extension of DevOps, and it uses the Git version control system as the source of truth for infrastructure. This is the fifth thing you should do. That’s one reason it’s vital to use GitOps: With one source of truth, development teams can make sure that infrastructure and code are always in sync with each other.

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