Cloud infrastructure as a service has changed a lot of things about technology. Now that apps and microservices can run independently in the cloud—without requiring huge investments in hardware and network—more solutions can be made available to multiple types of end-users from SMEs to large enterprises. The result is exponential growth in IT implementation, more advanced solutions, and lower cost of technology.
The shift towards cloud infrastructure was driven by the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) business model. Rather than paying for hardware, developers and corporations pay for resource usage. The lower cost makes even the most capable cloud infrastructure available to small developers through service providers like Amazon.
The availability of cloud infrastructure, however, comes with its challenges. DevOps requires equal attention to both the development and operational parts of the equation. A system is only as good as how it is deployed, which means a DevOps team needs to invest in maintaining the cloud infrastructure properly.
The next big shift to anticipate is the move towards Infrastructure as Code or IaC. A lot of people believe IaC will replace DevOps, but the truth is more interesting than that.
DevOps X IaC
At its core, DevOps combines development and operations into a more fluid, collaborative function. The methodology optimizes a more continuous and controlled development cycle that starts with iteration and ends with deployment. DevOps also supports developers working in smaller increments without delaying updates or harming Production environments.
IaC actually approaches another problem using a similar method. Rather than combining development and operations, IaC combines code and infrastructure. Similar to the way DevOps combines the process of CI/CD, IaC combines the steps required in the deployment phase into a more streamlined process.
Code and infrastructure are combined into one package. This package automates deployment, eliminating the need for a dedicated software engineering solutions team or server admins. Developers with limited experience in maintaining a complex cloud environment can turn to code—something they are already familiar with—to make sure that their application gets the resources it needs.
IaC minimizes the need for dedicated server admins on a larger scale too. Instead of having multiple admins handling specific parts of a cloud environment, everything can be managed—in a fully automated way—by a single person. VMs and cloud instances can be created and maintained with just a few lines of code.
A Supported Concept
Let’s take a step back and acknowledge that today’s cloud environments are already vastly more straightforward to maintain in comparison to traditional on-premise data centers. When using AWS, for example, all the tools necessary to handle everything from cloud security to advanced storage and archiving are on hand to set up in just a few clicks. There are even specific tools for monitoring and automating some of the more mundane maintenance tasks.
IaC, however, takes things a step further. There are no manual steps to complete, buttons to press, or configurations to meddle with. All aspects of the cloud infrastructure are managed through codes built into deployment and they update packages directly. Everything else is fully automated.
Infrastructure automation is being embraced the world over. Major cloud service providers are adopting IaC standards to make server deployment and maintenance as easy as possible. In one simple sweep, you can create a pre-configured EC2 instance, an S3 bucket for your data, a Memcached cluster, Elastic Load Balancers, and even MySQL RDS instance for your application.
All of these can be done using AWS CloudFormation on AWS, which acts as the programming language for resource provisioning and cloud environment structuring. Even better, the programming language is human-readable, so you don’t have to remember complex commands to trigger the right changes in your cloud environment.
Even the formats are familiar. AWS CloudFormation uses YAML and JSON to store templates. There are repositories from which you can download pre-made templates that suit your application best. Upload the packaged deployment assets to an S3 bucket (or check them out locally) and use AWS CloudFormation to turn the template (configuration file) into a stack that is ready for use.
Benefits of IaC
There are reasons why IaC is indeed the next big thing, starting with the simplicity it offers. Since you don’t have to configure your stacks manually every time you want to deploy an app or an update, you can automate even more things about infrastructure management. You can, for instance, create containers and automatically replace existing ones with an IaC designed for update routines.
Speed is another major advantage to gain when you implement IaC as a deployment approach. Templates certainly make deploying solutions easy. Now that you can combine those templates with persistent storage and more S3 buckets, you can also integrate IaC with your disaster recovery plans. From a catastrophe to normal operation in less than one minute? Yes, you can!
Consistency is the next advantage to expect from implementing IaC. Rather than adjusting your application for the deployment server, you can automate the creation of necessary stacks as part of the deployment routine. Instead of worrying about configuration errors and mismatches, you can deploy with absolute confidence.
That leads to the next benefit: mitigated risks. We all know how messy a bad update can be when deployed in an unstandardized cloud environment. Even worse, we have all dealt with firefighting a single bad line of code that ruins the entire application when it is updated in the cloud. I know, I’ve deleted the wrong orphan cloud component by mistake.
Terraform and Infrastructure as Code
Hashicorp’s answer to Infrastructure as Code, Terraform, has gained a lot in popularity over the last five years since its initial release. It has swiftly risen to become the defacto tool you need to master if you are in or about to get into an Ops / DevOps role. Terraform starts from the same principles as configuration management tools like Ansible and Chef, but focuses predominantly on the entire automation of the infrastructure itself. You can describe and launch your whole cloud infrastructure (instances, volumes, networking, IPs) in Terraform.
The beauty of IaC is that it solves so many potential issues even before they happen. IaC doesn’t replace DevOps. It is simply here to complement the fundamental core methodology of improving the flow of DevOps.
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