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What is Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC)?

Have you ever had a long conversation with a lot of small, important details, but you didn’t take notes and now are in a panic because some important details were missed or forgotten? IT infrastructure is very much the same way: when you manually configure software applications and networks you spend a lot of time tweaking minor details until you find the correct combination that works. If you’re considerate to your future self or to others who will be maintaining the systems, you will have jotted down the important, specific configurations you made to all of the servers, software, and networking equipment. However, despite all of your notes, it’s still a hassle to make changes, to replicate the system elsewhere, recover from disasters, or to even just scan and test your configuration for security vulnerabilities and outdated dependencies. This is where the practice of Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) comes in, it allows engineers and administrators to describe their infrastructure in markup and programming languages so that they can reproduce their IT infrastructure anywhere at any time, automate security and quality scanning of their infrastructure prior to being deployed, and facilitate incredible speed for deploying patches, updates, and new features.

IaC is a method of managing and provisioning infrastructure using code or declarative configuration instead of relying on manual processes. This approach allows developers and operations engineers to define, deploy, and manage their infrastructure in a repeatable and automated way. The benefits of IaC are numerous, but they can broadly be described as saving time, money, and resources for organizations while ensuring that their infrastructure is secure and up-to-date.

One of the biggest benefits of IaC is its speed. By automating the process of setting up and configuring servers, networks, databases, etc., IaC can drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to get an application or service up and running. IaC can also benefit teams who are migrating between infrastructure and infrastructure services; with appropriate abstractions and design, teams can quickly leverage the existing infrastructure design and add additional support for your application to run on new infrastructure. An example of this might be migrating a service from Amazon Web Services (AWS) to Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Implementing IaC in your organization means that teams can quickly and repeatably deploy new services or features to production or deploy systems into testing environments all without having to manually configure each component individually.

Not only can IaC speed up your development, but it can also help your organization save money by reducing the need for manual labor associated with setting up new services or features, which is an error-prone process. The automation that IaC enables eliminates the need for swathes of additional operations engineers who would otherwise be required. This reduces overhead costs associated with hiring additional personnel, mistakes made during manual configuration processes, and lost revenue because of easily-avoidable mistakes. Reducing the size of your teams is a quick way to save money, but IaC also saves organizations money through its speed; the quicker your organization can recover from a disaster, the quicker your software and applications will be back to generating revenue and serving your customers. Speed isn’t only helpful for new applications or features, it’s also critical for disaster recovery. Say that your company uses an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, like AWS, to host applications or websites that are generating revenue for your business, what is your emergency plan if the data center hosting your software catches fire? How much down time will it take your organization to manually recreate the application’s configuration from scratch in a new, unburnt data center? With IaC, your organization can immediately redeploy to unaffected availability/fail over zones, or even redeploy to another IaaS provider, like GCP. What if your team pushes a bad update that breaks your application; how long will it take to push a patch or rollback to the previous working version? IaC allows teams to leverage complex deployment patterns such as canary deployments, green/blue deployments, version rollbacks, and other deployment patterns to either test before deploying, silently test new updates alongside live services, or to quickly revert breaking application, infrastructure, or security updates.

IaC is a powerful enabler for your security team as it allows your organization and teams to implement security-focused scanning, testing, and quality gating – preventing insecure versions of your application from being deployed. With IaC, you can run automated static analysis tools on your system’s infrastructure, uncovering common vulnerabilities and insecure configuration. The reproducibility of IaC allows organizations to deploy their applications and systems into test environments that mirror their production environment, then leverage Dynamic Application Security Tools (DAST) to further improve the application’s security beyond what just static analysis scanning can. By using IaC, organizations can ensure that their infrastructure is securely configured via automated security tools, and teams can leverage software development practices such as CI/CD pipelines to continuously test the security of the application infrastructure when developers commit new code and features.

Overall, IaC is an incredibly powerful practice for development teams and organizations to streamline their operations and save money while maintaining a high level of security for their applications and services. It provides numerous benefits such as increased speed when deploying new features or services, agility and speed to respond to service outages, and cost savings due to automated process replacing manual processes. It’s important to keep all these benefits in mind when we look at the upfront cost of leveraging IaC: developers and operations engineers will need to learn new technologies, and product teams will have to accept the cost of investing in adopting and implementing these new tools. If you’d like to learn more about how IaC can help your business and make your software products better, reach out to us at!

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