Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is the practice of managing infrastructure through code-based configuration files rather than physical hardware. It’s how DevOps teams approach IT infrastructure management. When cloud computing technology emerged, it loosened the relationship between systems and their physical resources, changing the dynamics of infrastructure configuration. A new kind of infrastructure needed to be managed in a new way, and the industry landed on IaC.
Historically, IT engineers configured physical resources for every machine, and every step was manual. First, teams would build a reference computer with the configuration they wanted for all their machines. Then, the parts and structure that made up the configuration were captured in an operating system image—a file that could be transferred to other computers. Working from the reference to configure new computers was like backing up a hard drive and restoring from the backup, except the backup recorded a freshly installed operating system and restored more than one machine.
The ideal image didn’t stay static, though. Engineers had to constantly update it — along with the individual machines based on it. IT infrastructure management relied on preserving the image, which was tedious and hard to keep consistent.
Cloud services introduced more complexity and teams started working with software they weren’t running themselves. That meant they couldn’t capture the image of a configured installation of that software and replicate it. Since cloud software gets configured in an admin console or through API, replicating configurations across multiple environments meant replicating the same admin actions in an admin console for each environment. Soon engineers realized they could also replicate cloud configurations programmatically, by coding them.
Now, instead of worrying about the integrity of a single resource, teams can practice IaC and automate much of the work. Rather than preserving systems, this practice designs them to be disposable. It reduces resources down to code, which is declared in a collection of version-controlled configuration files. The code repository holds the infrastructure, in parts.
IaC is relatively new, but it builds on older software engineering standards, especially for virtualization and automation. To manage cloud environments, teams need to master these concepts. IaC brings them together.
Virtualization is the technology behind cloud environments. The process creates a virtual simulation of physical infrastructure, such as a server. Software coordinates between the hardware and simulation. Through virtualization, multiple simulations can run off the same physical resources and be accessed from afar.
Organizations used to keep physical servers on-premises, as a rule. For a while, that was the most effective way to secure data — it couldn’t be accessed offsite. Now there are many lines in from outside most systems. So, while physical servers still exist, they’re no longer more secure than virtualized ones. Running them on-premises has stopped being the best practice for critical business infrastructure. Organizations are turning to cloud services provided by enterprise-grade vendors with strong security.
One reason why is that the cloud opens doors for efficiency. Virtualized environments allow for automation in a way that was never possible when infrastructure configuration happened through physical hardware. When the tasks a team supervises are predictable and repetitive, they make good candidates for automation to boost speed, quality, and team morale.
For example, the work of provisioning and deploying server environments could involve running a series of bash files. Without automation, engineers would have to manually execute each individual task and command. That might take hours and could create inconsistency or increase the risk of errors.
So, how does it all work? Virtualization forced infrastructure lifecycles to follow a pattern with distinct, repeatable units. With IaC, this “pattern language” is represented through code and declared in version-controlled configuration files. DevOps teams automate these repeatable processes to build consistent, reliable systems. They simply mix up the components they need to create a new “batch” of infrastructure.
Mixing up a well-orchestrated batch of infrastructure takes templates—and the right approach, with two methods for getting it done.
Templates are code artifacts within IaC configuration files that confirm whether a machine is properly configured and working right. They can also be used to create deviations of base configurations without changing those configurations.
These artifacts convey two approaches to IaC:
Systems get configured through push and pull methods. With the push method, a controlling server pushes the configuration to the destination endpoints. With the pull method, the endpoints contact the controlling server and pull down the configurations they need.
Organizations usually use a combination of approaches and methods.
IaC, when done properly, can empower organizations to maintain better systems and solve major IT problems. It brings clear benefits:
Transposit empowers teams to run more consistent, secure IaC practices. Transposit enables self-service infrastructure through automated workflows that provide the guardrails teams need to ensure consistency and accuracy.