7 min read

Infrastructure as code: a must for cloud environments

Improving your speed to market by embracing cloud services. Prime your cloud applications for peak performance and lower your cloud costs.

Cloud computing and online storage technology concept. A network of business computers connected to internet server services for cloud transfer, backup, and secure access to data.

Are your cloud costs spiraling out of control? Are you spending too much time managing your cloud infrastructure—and not enough time improving the performance of your applications? 

Many businesses answer “Yes” or “Not Sure” to these questions when the demand on their cloud applications spikes unexpectedly and outgrows the capabilities of the infrastructure supporting the applications. As performance becomes inefficient and is not optimized, out-of-date infrastructure configurations become too costly.

Chances are, the Infrastructure as Code (IaC) approach was not applied when building these environments. In this blog, we examine the benefits of the IaC approach and why it works much better and costs a lot less than manually managing cloud infrastructures.

The Benefits of Infrastructure as Code

Automated IaC solutions enable you to provision and manage your cloud infrastructures through source code. You first create definition files to describe the infrastructure and a program that parses the definitions. The IaC then builds the infrastructure as you defined it.

An infrastructure managed by the code includes physical servers as well as virtual machines and associated compute resources, such as load balancers and auto-scalers. By utilizing IaC, you can automate the process of provisioning cloud resources through machine-readable definition files—rather than manually managing the cloud infrastructure configurations.

When a business moves an application to the cloud or builds a cloud application from scratch, supporting that application with IaC is a must. Otherwise, the business won’t be able to reap the full benefits of the cloud, which can be broken down into three measurable categories:

  • Cost reduction—in terms of both the required compute resources to support applications, and the resources to manage the infrastructure (by removing the manual effort).
  • Scalability and performance—improved speed when changing server configurations and scaling the compute capacity of the infrastructure go hand-in-hand; thus allowing customers to conduct business more easily and employees to work more efficiently by ensuring the application is “close” to the users, and that the underlying infrastructure is designed to scale up and down as usage patterns, transaction volume and data loads dictate.
  • Risk mitigation—by removing the human errors that can occur during manual configurations, and subsequently lead to an increase in application downtime and a in decrease application reliability and performance.

IaC also helps businesses achieve a true DevOps environment, where applications are continuously improving and delivering, from 24×7 uptime to “push-button” deployments. This in turn frees up the IT team to focus more time on other strategic initiatives.

Problems with the Manual Infrastructure Approach

The Infrastructure as Code approach offers an alternative to the manual imperative paradigm—where a business asks its cloud provider to build the cloud infrastructure through a point-and-click API. The cloud provider may provide scripts and a software development kit, but because the infrastructure is stood up manually, it becomes cumbersome to maintain.

The problems may be hidden at first, especially if the business starts out with just a couple server instances. But when building out many instances with multiple operating systems, load balancers, auto scalers and applications, the infrastructure turns into a nightmare as the configuration environment becomes too big to manage and track.

This quickly leads to higher than necessary cloud-computing costs for compute resources and infrastructure maintenance resources. Businesses also suffer from visibility; there’s no “single source of the truth” as to what the server configurations should be.

As “configuration drift” sets in, the business has to keep patching and maintaining various operating systems, making it easy to have inconsistent configurations between servers. You may install the latest version of Linux distribution on one server, for example, but forget about another one that also needs an upgrade, which will then expose that server to vulnerabilities.

And because configuration drift leads to not knowing what you are running, you will also likely end up paying for resources you are under-utilizing, or not using at all.

IaC = Better Control, Lower Costs and More Security

When upgrading an application and releasing a new version to production, the manual infrastructure approach requires you to schedule downtime to stand up the new environment and make the application cut-over. In contrast to the manual approach, IaC leverages the concept of the clarity paradigm, where you define your infrastructure. This keeps services running continuously and improves uptime.

With IaC, you can leverage a blue-green deployment with two environments that are virtually identical. At any point-in-time, one will be your production environment and one will be your staging environment. The production environment runs the latest version of your application, and when you need to upgrade, you can prepare the application using the staging environment, which has an identical infrastructure.

As you deploy the new version of the application and validate it’s running properly, you can then switch over without causing any downtime. You essentially have a fully-automated deployment pipeline

IaC also allows you to maintain the infrastructure code as you would any application code; you can use source code versioning control so you can track what infrastructure you have in place at all times and the history of changes. If you manage the infrastructure manually—creating a server here, spinning up a load balancer there, and updating configurations when a server is not working properly—it’s easy to lose track of changes. You don’t know what you have, or you don’t know the version of a library or an application on the server.

But IaC keeps the infrastructure definition always updated and under source control so you never lose track of changes. Even if you have several versions of an application and many server configuration definitions, they are all in one place. Whether handling use cases or clients, you are able to identify and apply each one by utilizing a historical view as to how that application has evolved over time. If you want to go back to another version and apply part of it, you can.

The application and infrastructure can thus evolve in parallel; when you change your application, you can easily change the infrastructure as well—including virtual hardware, OS, patches, libraries, and software packages. If the infrastructure you have in your code repository is not the same as you have in the cloud, you can easily amend it and deploy the right infrastructure.

The end result is that you have better control and lower resource costs along with a more secure environment that is easier to manage. There are also fewer bugs as you avoid applications tapping into libraries on a server that has not been upgraded or patched. The environment is more reliable because you can ensure that system libraries and application dependencies are up-to-date across your infrastructure.

Bring Back the Simplicity of the Cloud

When the cloud first became mainstream, one of its key attributes was simplicity. Businesses could spin up a new server in an instant and start providing a new application to customers and end users. But as cloud usage has grown and as cloud infrastructures have become more complex and comprehensive, the simplicity attribute has disappeared—mainly because cloud infrastructures are being built using traditional data center methodologies. You can now bring back the simplicity of the cloud, take advantage of the unique attributes of scalability, and automate the implementation of cloud-native services by building your environment with the Infrastructure as Code methodology.

If your business is about to build a cloud environment, or if you need assistance applying the IaC approach to an existing environment, Allata can help. When building cloud environments for customers, we offer the advantage of providing developers who know how to build software solutions at the application level as well as the infrastructure level.

We optimize the performance of applications with IaC by using application development and programming techniques. After we build the infrastructure for you by using code, you can choose to automate updates to frameworks, libraries, and patches, or you can deploy only the updates you want. We adapt our approach to meet the needs of your DevOps efforts.

Whether you are just starting out in the cloud or have a cloud environment already in place, it’s best to leverage the Infrastructure as Code approach now—before it’s too late and your customer-facing or employee-facing applications begin to suffer.


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