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Infrastructure as Code in DevOps: Basics and Best Practices

Infrastructure as Code IaC in DevOps

DevOps has been steadily gaining ground as enterprises race to improve the speed and economy of the software development processes. While most developers focus on developing, testing, and releasing the applications faster, streamlining the implementation of the application is also crucial.

Enterprises are looking at infrastructure as code (IaC) as the solution to rapidly deploy and deliver the applications while managing the IT infrastructure economically. Individuals with a flair for IaC are in demand globally. Read on to learn the concept of IaC and its working principles. While discussing the tools and approaches, we will cover the importance of selecting a well-designed DevOps bootcamp to build a solid theoretical foundation and gain practical experience.

What is Infrastructure as Code (IaC)?

Infrastructure as code is the practice of automating the configuration and deployment of IT infrastructure using code. The automatic scripts can access the infrastructure through the cloud and eliminate the physical management of the components such as servers, desktop computers, data centers, and web servers.

IaC thus enables smooth, continuous delivery in the DevOps software development process, as software updates can be installed on the infrastructure via the configuration files stored on the cloud, regardless of location.

The Importance of IaC in DevOps

DevOps software development involves a streamlined process with continuous creation, testing, delivery, integration, and deployment. Hence, manual installation and configuration for each software version is cumbersome and delays the DevOps process.

Meanwhile, using IaC ensures the installation and utilization of the software version occurs via a code file that can be distributed easily. This significantly reduces the time and effort required for a manual distribution. Thus, it enhances the speed of setting up the infrastructure.

Further, IaC reduces human errors. Manual configuration may result in missed steps, lost files, corrupted hardware, and incomplete data, leading to incomplete installation. It provides scripts that can be downloaded and used as often as required. You can also directly use the configuration files and ensure consistency for each version.

Further, IaC makes the software development process transparent. You can track the versions, changes, and the person responsible for them. Any third-party tampering can be easily tracked and prevented, thus improving the security of the files.

Additionally, the infrastructure architecture can be deployed at each stage of the DevOps process. Every person involved in the process can use copies of the same configuration file for multiple simultaneous testing environments. This makes the entire DevOps process more efficient.

Finally, IaC reduces the overall cost of the software development process, eliminating multiple hardware components and relying on cloud computing as the storage and deployment space. It automates routine tasks and frees employees to tackle the more critical steps. IaC is immensely useful for managing your organization’s infrastructure without repetitive physical intervention.

How Does Infrastructure as Code Work?

There are two primary approaches for employing IaC—declarative and iterative. Both of them use three critical steps, irrespective of their distinct features.

Step 1: Development of specifications

Specifications form the configuration template and define the system’s requirements. As a developer, you will write the specifications in the language specific to the domain. These specifications are then used as a baseline for new versions and as identifiers for any drifts or modifications in later versions of the software.

Step 2: File transfer to the master server

After the specifications are finalized, they are transferred to master servers, management APIs, or code repositories for storage and access. The specifications are transferred from these storages to the destination infrastructure via the Push and Pull methods. In the Push method, the server sends the specifications to the destination infrastructure. On the other hand, in the Pull method, the infrastructure to be configured communicates with the controlling server and acquires the specifications.

Step 3: System configuration

Once the infrastructure receives the instructions, the platform that hosts the specifications implements them to create resources and configure the environment. If the declarative approach is used, this process occurs automatically, and the system gets configured. However, in the imperative approach, the user must implement the instructions from the master server.

What Problem Does IaC in DevOps Solve?

So, why is IaC required in the first place? The short answer is to simplify things. Until recently, IT infrastructure configuration and management were manual processes. Professionals would install physical servers and use hardware such as compact discs and USB flash drives to install the software on their systems, which required the physical transport of the hardware.

However, issues such as misplaced USB flash drives or compact discs, newer systems with no provision to use compact drives, and corrupted USBs limited the deployment of the DevOps software throughout the organization.

Further, the system was also limited to the software version available on the hard drives. As a result, systems had to be replaced entirely, resulting in a huge financial investment. Moreover, the system upgrades required substantial downtime, hindering the use of the application.

With IaC, all of these problems are resolved. No hard drives or discs are required. One can access and use the configuration files directly on the systems, regardless of location. A system upgrade and scaling can be done within a few hours by investing only the amount required to buy the new software. Overhauling the entire infrastructure is not necessary.

As a result, the DevOps team can streamline the integration, delivery, and deployment of the applications in real time without overloading the systems. The requirement for backup servers is reduced as the servers can be configured during the operation. IaC also reduces inconsistencies in the versions used by different team members.

Infrastructure as Code Tools and Best Practices

IaC requires specialized tools that can be integrated into cloud servers. They are also available as open-source tools to implement on an organizational level. Let us go through some of the popular tools.

Ansible

Ansible is an open-source tool that enables automation in IaC. It provides Python-based YaML scripts with prewritten code and ad-hoc commands. It utilizes an imperative approach and supports all languages returning JSON. Ansible uses SSG connections to gather information on client systems. It has approximately 3000 modules in its repository that were contributed by the user community. However, it must be used with supporting software such as Terraform for maximum efficiency.

Terraform

Terraform is also an open-source tool that uses the declarative approach to write scripts in its language, Hashicorp Configuration Language (HCL). It facilitates using the same configuration across several cloud service providers, making it [particularly useful for the hybrid cloud model. State files are employed for tracking modifications and managing infrastructure. Terraform is specially selected for its provisioning features. It helps manage accesses using cloud provider APIs and is helpful for infrastructures that require a complete overhaul.

AWS CloudFormation

AWS CloudFormation offers provisioning infrastructures on AWS as well as for other clouds. It employs a declarative approach using YAML and JSON languages. It utilizes a pool of AWS resources called stacks for managing states. It helps generate templates from the pre-written templates. It is deployed via command line tools, browser console, or API to create the stacks. CDK is available in case of provisioning in Go, Python, TypeScript, Java, and .NET.

Netreo

Netreo is a comprehensive application that runs on all platforms. It is capable of configuration management and infrastructure monitoring. You will get alerts about configuration errors, especially if the running configurations are not the same as the ones in the start-up memory. Developers can use Netreo to ensure device configurations comply with the required standards. Netreo helps manage the infrastructure overall by requesting configurations via SSH.

Azure Resource Management

Azure Resource Management helps you deploy your resources simultaneously to reduce the process’s time. You can choose from multiple templates or create a template with the help of native tooling in Visual Studio Code. This tool uses a declarative approach. The infrastructure as code process can be integrated with other Azure services to ensure compliance and speed up CI/CD.

Puppet

Puppet is a tool that helps manage and automate server configurations. This is a declarative-based tool where you use the Domain-Specific Language (DSL), also known as Puppet Code, to write the infrastructure code. It offers troubleshooting issues with the model and allows for a modification that ensures the problem does not occur again. It helps manage multiple servers economically. It will enable the developer to write their units and acceptance tests as required.

Chef

Chef is an open-source tool that facilitates configuration automation and management. It is written in Ruby, and you can integrate it with AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, etc. It uses a declarative approach and helps your infrastructure reach the desired state with the help of configuration specifications. It provides codes categorized as cookbook recipes and resources. Resources are the chef’s code and make up the set of instructions called recipes. Multiple recipes make up a cookbook, which plays a crucial role in IaC. Chef helps with provisioning, and configuration management can be applied across numerous OS systems and versions without issues.

Now that we know the essential infrastructure as code tools, here are some best practices for implementing IaC using these tools optimally.

  • Ensure your configuration files are explicit and comprehensive. They should be the single source of infrastructure specifications with minimal duplication or incomplete data. They must be the go-to resources for any issues or concerns related to infrastructure management.
  • The configuration files must not require extra documentation. The original files must include all the instructions and commands to avoid tampering with or desyncing external files with the current version.
  • Enable version control for every one of the configuration files to track modifications.
  • Employ and automate security controls to detect and fix security vulnerabilities in developer workflows. This way, any such risk in the IaC implementation will send an alert before the developer can proceed.
  • Test the configuration files and monitor them for duplication, inconsistencies, and errors before deploying them. Use appropriate tools capable of testing the crucial features of the files. Note the critical aspects to be monitored and arrange for automated monitoring for continuous quality control and error identification.
  • Implement measures to identify misconfigurations at the first occurrence. This helps prevent several undetected misconfigurations from multiplying and posing a more significant issue later in the process.
  • Keep an eye on the drifting of the configurations, which are not synced with their templates. Include testing steps to detect drifts and remedy them immediately and regularly.
  • Avoid inserting codes containing credentials. A single branch of credentials can put the entire infrastructure at risk. Scan the codes for such elements in the original code and further versions.
  • Develop a contingency plan to deal with code leaks. Put measures in place to sound alerts in case of leaks and allow for conditional shutting down of the system without affecting the overall process.
  • Lastly, keep it simple. A highly complex code can become difficult to handle, and errors may go undetected. Hence, take note of the key requirements and limit the code to include only the necessary information.

Declarative vs. Imperative Approaches to IaC

Declarative and imperative are two approaches used to implement infrastructure as code. In the declarative approach, automation is the key. Developers specify the requirements of the final infrastructure. The platform automates the implementation and applies the requirements to the infrastructure. The developer does not need thorough implementation knowledge as the platform handles all the criticalities. Hence, it is called a dominant method. Due to its automation capability, its results are consistent. The typical declarative languages used are JSON, YAML, and SQL.

On the other hand, the imperative approach relies on the developer’s expertise. It is a procedural approach requiring sequential commands to render the final configuration. In contrast to the declarative approach, this approach gives the user more control over the process. The user can modify the flow to include complicated configurations. Hence, the developer needs to be exceptionally skilled in Java, Python, or Ruby. This approach enables automation of each process step, converse to the declarative approach where there is no scope for customizing individual steps.

Provisioning vs. Configuration Management

IaC consists of two major phases—provisioning and configuration management.

Provisioning deals with preparing the system for the infrastructure. This includes setting up databases, accessible resources, virtual machines, etc. The key is to allow all users to access these resources. This step ensures that all the system requirements are accessible to the users, who can then use them for efficient configuration. One can only guarantee uniform configuration deployment and management if provisioning is done.

Configuration management is the next step. In this step, the software is installed and configured according to the required condition of the servers. Software maintenance is also part of this phase. Since the requirements are already satisfied, the developers need to ensure the configuration files are easily accessible and deployable.

Build Your IaC Knowledge and Take the Next Steps to a Flourishing DevOps Career

Infrastructure as code is a hallmark in today’s dynamic DevOps landscape as it has accelerated the processes in multiple ways. As a developer, you can contribute to this field by mastering the fundamentals, tools, and applications of IaC.

To take your skills to the next level, it’s essential to choose a DevOps program like ours that prepares you for the future. By enrolling in this program, you can seize the opportunity to learn configuration management using tools like Ansible and Terraform. The course covers source control, deployment automation, DevOps methodologies, and best practices. Besides gaining theoretical knowledge, you will also engage in hands-on projects crafted from real-world data sets of leading organizations.

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