Solving for Environment Drift: An Introduction to Infrastructure as Code

INCREASING SPEED, CONSISTENCY, AND STABILITY OF ENVIRONMENTS AND INFRASTRUCTURE

By Laura Laney | Cynerge Consulting 

As an essential part of DevOps, Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is an IT practice in which manual processes relating to infrastructure are automated. By applying IaC practices, teams find benefits including cost reduction, speed to market of deployments and new feature enhancements, improved infrastructure consistency and, ultimately, reduced environmental “drift.”

Environment or configuration “drift” happens when there are discrepancies between environments, such as production or secondary environments, that are intended to be identical to ensure business continuity. When there are changes to an environment’s software or hardware configurations, and these changes are not documented or communicated, it can slow down deployments, cause data loss, prevent recovery efforts during a disaster, and otherwise cause available and redundant systems to fail. These all have an impact on an organization’s bottom line in some form or fashion, sooner or later.

Another benefit of IaC as part of a DevOps culture is the ability to subject infrastructure to the same controls, testing, and business requirements as any other code or software. This acts like something of an insurance policy, adding another layer of security, reliability, and stability to the infrastructure that supports software development. Within a few clicks, organizations can now set up, replicate, or tear down environments and infrastructure, instead of the time- and resource-consuming processes that once required multiple engineers and the management of physical servers.

Security and cost effectiveness matter to everyone, and with the automation involved in IaC, overhead is decreased. The cost of employing engineers to manually set up, maintain and run physical servers and other hardware is greatly reduced, and so is the risk of data loss or human error. So, how does it work?

A diagram showing how Puppet works.

Breaking it Down

There are two tools that help facilitate the process: Puppet and Terraform.

With Puppet, infrastructure engineers can establish configuration “rules” or the desired states for systems and environments using a proprietary declarative language, or code. While this code, supported by a wide range of devices and operating systems, describes “what” the ideal state is, Puppet automates the process of establishing and maintaining the state of the environment or infrastructure. For complex cloud infrastructure, Terraform specializes in simplifying these configurations into reproducible and reusable templates.

Jack Coleman is the Chief Infrastructure Officer at Cynerge and head of its team of Puppet Certified Professionals. When asked to explain an abstract concept like IaC as simply as possible, Coleman said to think about it as “Terraform is what builds the empty house and Puppet comes in next to furnish it.”

By defining the architecture in Terraform once, it can be replicated into hundreds of “empty houses” upgrading or creating hundreds of servers instantly. Where what once would have taken multiple engineers days or even months, updating individual servers one by one, this can now be updated simultaneously and instantaneously. By “furnishing” and keeping servers secure with Puppet, teams can make sure dependencies are updated, prevent file permissions and settings from being changed and, at the end of the day, ensure we’re living in the right “house”, so to speak.

Conclusion

Since IaC is so consistent and reliable, and with the introduction of cloud computing and AWS, this allows service providers like Cynerge to increase the scale and scope of your application as well as the speed of deployments. Automating these processes allows our web developers to focus more on the features of your environment that are the most important to you, rather than fighting fires with the infrastructure that supports it.

By allowing infrastructure to be created, replicated, and destroyed quickly and efficiently, IaC practices are an indispensable part of a DevOps practice. We can create more stable environments and infrastructure while also increasing the speed, consistency and cost effectiveness of deployments. This, of course, provides a boost in the overall user experience and satisfaction for internal and end users alike.

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