What do we mean when we talk about ‘Infrastructure as a Code’?

New approaches to IT operations tend to emerge quickly and spread like wildfire – so much so, in fact, that it can be difficult to keep up with every development. One such trend that's picking up steam is Infrastructure as a Code, and it's definitely a model you don't want to sleep on. There are plenty of benefits to IAC, and upon digging a little deeper into the topic, you may decide it would be a welcome addition to your IT department.

What is IAC?

The idea behind IAC is relatively simple, but ingenious all the same. It takes the concept of automation and programmable scripts to its logical, cloud-era conclusion. Essentially, an IAC process can provision servers and computing resources without needing a systems administrator to manually handle those tasks.

As TechTarget's Margaret Rouse noted, it's a spin on an old idea, repackaged for IT environments that aren't tethered to physical on-site hardware. IAC has a lot in common with traditional software development processes, wherein new builds and code versions are not fully deployed until they have been submitted to thorough testing. The difference being that instead of a developer pushing builds through to test environments, it's an IAC process.

"IAC has been strongly aligned with the DevOps movement."

That's pretty exciting news for software developers who might otherwise be stuck waiting for system admins to provision and deploy assets such as testing environments to run quality assurance processes, review performance levels and try out new features.

Naturally, IAC has been strongly aligned with the DevOps movement, as it helps blur the lines between developers and operations teams and takes some of the pressure off of the latter to provision new resources at a moment's notice.

Why IAC could be good for your department

If your organization is interested in pursuing a DevOps model, IAC is a perfect fit for a new IT environment, giving developers more agency in the provisioning and procurement of critical assets. It streamlines deployment processes by using code to manage your infrastructure. Moreover, IAC allows for repeatability and uniformity in the production cycle by presenting a shared source of deployment. Writing for DevOps.com, market analyst Chris Riley explained that this consistency helps organizations avoid potential issues like software performance varying between developers, QA and operations team because they're all using different environments.

Those aren't DevOps-specific benefits, of course. Even if you haven't fully embraced the DevOps model, IAC can still help streamline IT operations and support software production efforts.

Look out for IAC drawbacks

IAC processes aren't perfect, however, and it may not necessarily be the right fit for every organization. Rouse noted that poorly managed IAC processes can put businesses at risk for configuration drift, where various servers and other infrastructure assets have different configurations, causing major headaches for system admins. To safeguard against such problems, it's a good idea to have a fully mapped-out IAC strategy in place, complete with detailed policies and guides for deployment.

That will also help companies address another drawback cited by Rouse: IAC's steep learning curve. Just because developers can provision their own assets doesn't mean they'll be able to, especially right off the bat. Making IAC work as intended will likely take some up-front training, which should be included in any IAC strategy.

Automation is critical to IAC success.Automation is critical to IAC success.

How to make IAC a reality

If, after weighing the pros and cons of IAC, you're ready to jump right in, be sure to follow deployment best practices. Some of the most critical steps to take include:

  • Automating your scripts – This should probably go without saying, especially if you're implementing a broader DevOps culture, but it really can't be stressed enough how important automation is to IAC. The more IT members can move away from manual, time-consuming processes, the better.
  • Managing your scripts – There's no sense in letting a good script go unused. By properly naming your scripts and organizing them in a shareable folder or location, developers and other IT staff can quickly find and leverage these tools.
  • Testing your scripts – A time-saving approach like IAC won't do much good if teams spend more time reworking faulty code than simply looking to system admins to manually provision resources. Make sure your scripts work as intended by diligently testing them.

Organizations should also consider supporting IAC initiatives with server provisioning, containerization and task runner tools. If deploying an IAC-based approach to software development appears too costly or difficult to manage entirely in-house, look into IT managed services to help shoulder some of the workload. DevOps-savvy managed service providers should have ample experience working with these kinds of processes and can help make IAC a reality for your business.