Benefits and Drawbacks of Infrastructure as Code (IaC)

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With infrastructure as code, you can simply write a script that will automatically handle many infrastructure tasks for you. This not only saves time but also reduces the potential for human error.

You may remember the days when you bought and maintained your own servers and machines. We evolved from this “Iron age of IT” beginning around 2006 with the widespread adoption of virtualization. With virtualization, a single physical server could run multiple virtual machines.

This approach created an infrastructure that was more efficient and easier to manage. It also allowed for the development of new technologies, such as cloud computing.

However, organizations soon found themselves dealing with scaling problems. This problem necessitated the development of Infrastructure as Code. With IaC, businesses can provision and manage their infrastructure using code instead of manual processes. This allows for greater speed and agility when provisioning infrastructure. For example, consider a situation where you need to provision a new server. In the past, this might have involved logging into a server, downloading an ISO image, installing an operating system, and configuring networking settings – all manually. 

infrastructure as code speeds up this process – exponentially. 

Also see: Cloud is Down: Protecting Your Organization against Outages

IaC Vs. IaaS

IaC is often confused with IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service). IaaS is a type of cloud computing that provides infrastructure – servers, storage, networking, and data center space – on a pay-as-you-go basis. IaaS providers typically offer a self-service portal that allows users to provision and manage cloud infrastructure on demand. IaaS is often used by businesses that want to outsource the management of their infrastructure.

In contrast, IaC refers to the process of managing and provisioning infrastructure using code. You can do this in either a public cloud, private cloud, or on-premises environment. IaC allows for greater control over infrastructure and makes it easier to automate the provisioning and management of infrastructure.

How Does IaC Benefit Enterprises?

There are many benefits to using infrastructure as code; they include:

Automation and Cost Reduction

One of the main benefits of infrastructure as code is that it can automate repetitive tasks. Provisioning a new server using infrastructure as code to automate the process is the most straightforward example. As a result, enterprises can scale up infrastructure management without increasing operational expenditure.

Scalability and Standardization

Another benefit of infrastructure as code is that it can help organizations scale their infrastructure more quickly. With IaC, businesses can define infrastructure as code templates (or “blueprints”) that they can use to provision new resources when needed quickly. This allows companies to be more agile and respond rapidly to changes in demand. In addition, infrastructure as code can help businesses standardize their infrastructure, improving efficiency and further reducing costs.

Security and Documentation

Infrastructure as code can help improve security by providing a way to track and audit infrastructure changes and ensure all changes comply with security standards. With IaC, businesses can track who made changes to infrastructure – and when – which can help identify potential security issues. In addition, IaC can provide documentation of an infrastructure, which can be valuable for troubleshooting or compliance purposes.

Reduction in Shadow IT

One of the challenges of managing infrastructure is that it can be challenging to track all the changes made to it. This can lead to what is known as shadow IT, where unauthorized modifications are made to infrastructure without proper approval. Infrastructure as code can help reduce shadow IT by providing a way to track all changes that are made to the infrastructure.

Disaster Recovery

With IaC, businesses can define infrastructure configurations and then use these configurations to provide new infrastructure in a disaster. This can help reduce downtime and minimize the impact of disasters on businesses.

Also see: Top Managed Service Providers

What are the Challenges of IaC?

While infrastructure as code provides many benefits, there are also some challenges that businesses need to understand. These challenges include:

Complexity, Logic, Conventions, and Lack of Skills

One of the challenges of infrastructure as code is that it can be complex to define infrastructure configurations. This complexity can make it difficult for businesses to understand and maintain their infrastructure as code.

In addition, there are often conventions and standards that need to be followed when defining infrastructure as code, which can add to the complexity and a steep learning curve. In addition, skill staffers can be challenging to find. Businesses that do not have experience with IaC may not even know where to start and how to interview. Enterprises can remedy this by investing in IaC training and implementing continuous training programs for their staff.

Tooling Gaps and Feature Lag

One of the challenges of infrastructure as code is that there are often tooling gaps and feature lag. This means that there are often infrastructure as code tools that do not have all the features that businesses need.

Infrastructure as code tooling can lag in terms of new features and functionality. Therefore, you have no choice but to wait for the vendor to provide coverage; otherwise, you have to extend the functionality yourself or introduce new dependencies. The solution to this is investing in infrastructure as code tooling that is constantly updated and improved.

Configuration Drift

Configuration drift is another challenge of infrastructure as code. This occurs when there are differences between the infrastructure as code configuration and the actual infrastructure, such as manual or external updates to security patches. This can lead to non-compliance or even service failure over time.

Such differences can lead to unexpected behavior and can be difficult to debug. The solution to this is to use infrastructure as code tooling that can help identify and prevent configuration drift.

Challenging Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

One of the challenges of infrastructure as code is that it can be challenging to manage role-based access control (RBAC). This is because infrastructure as code often needs to be stored in a central repository such as GitHub. Without proper RBAC management, this can lead to security issues.

What is the Future of IaC?

The future of infrastructure as code is bright. As businesses move to the cloud, infrastructure as code will become even more important. As a result, IaC will continue to develop and grow in popularity.

However, the biggest issue is the need for IT personnel to fully grasp IaC language and tooling concepts for enterprises to operationalize IaC fully. This issue has created a mostly unsolved divide between Ops and Dev in most organizations. Ops try to optimize their setups as much as possible, while Devs fear touching IaC scripts out of concern about introducing problems. This situation leads to stagnation and inefficiency. Enterprises have two possible routes to deal with this: execute IaC on a case-by-case basis or bake execution of the IaC setup into a pipeline.

The next logical step for IaC is Internal Developer Platforms. In the future, Internal Developer Platforms (IDPs) may provide a middle ground between developers and IaC scripts. Internal Developer Platforms will enable developers to quickly self-serve infrastructure through a UI or CLI provisioned by IaC scripts behind the scenes.

Developers need only concern themselves with the resources (such as a database, DNS, and storage) they will require to deploy and run their applications. The IDP, on the other hand, will handle calling IaC scripts via specialized drivers to provide the appropriate infrastructure back to engineers.

Kihara Kimachia
Kihara Kimachia
Kihara Kimachia is a writer and digital marketing consultant with over a decade of experience covering issues in emerging technology and innovation. In addition to appearing regularly in Enterprise Networking Planet, his work has been published in many leading technology publications, including TechRepublic, eSecurity Planet, Server Watch, Channel Insider, IT Business Edge, and Enterprise Storage Forum.

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