Best practices and tools that will elevate your Infrastructure as Code
In my last blog, I talked about the whats and whys of Infrastructure as Code. It is important to understand that IaC is more than just automation. Similar to code development, it is about managing your operations environment in a better way using rules, policies, and structures. In addition, it is about making sure your environments are free from errors and are easily replicable, and can be detracted when idle. So, how do you make sure that all the aforementioned things are achieved? The answer is simple - by applying DevOps practices to your infrastructure, combining them with modern coding systems and configuration management and orchestration tools. I have already talked about the benefits that you can rip off by replacing manual processes and standard operating procedures with code to configure discrete hardware devices and operating systems. Let’s see how you can build the perfect IaC for your environment by following best practices and some of the industry-leading tools.
Best practices for IaC
Say goodbye to documentation
Documentation is the most hated part while maintaining an infrastructure. Thanks to IaC, you won’t have to deal with it henceforth. You don’t have to manually document the state of the machine and the infrastructure; your code will take care of it. And as the code is taking care of the documentation, it will always be up to date. So, next time someone asks for the documentation, you will have it at your fingertips, which is almost never the case in the manual process (of course, if you are too motivated to maintain it.) You can go on with the updates and changes to your infrastructure because now you don’t have to worry about the most boring part of it - the documentation.
Continuous testing is everything
In one of the whitepapers, my friend Colwin mentioned the importance of continuous testing for DevOps. The same applies to your IaC. Maybe it is even more important to test your infrastructure configuration continuously to save yourself from post-deployment issues. Continuous testing practices might involve unit, regression, and functional testing along with automated test cases that can analyze your infrastructure setup every time you change the code.
Bigger roles for version/source control
You might be using Git, CVS, SVN, Bit bucket, VSTS, or some other version control tool to maintain a version of your application code. The same practice should be applied to your IaC codebases. All configuration updates and changes can be tracked, audited, and managed easily. This will also help the test teams to test the code before your configuration goes live. You can also include code branching and merging for better results.
High availability and disaster recovery are of essential things one looks for while configuring any data center environment. But it is very difficult to maintain these aspects with the continuous upgrades to software and hardware an environment has to go through. This may result in inconsistencies across the configuration items and devices. The result is known as configuration drift which can subsequently result in system failure and substantial loss to your business operations. One way to avoid configuration drift is by maintaining detailed network addresses of hardware devices and changes to software versions.
But in IaC, it will be very difficult to maintain these for obvious reasons. So, the only way to avoid this is by making infrastructure immutable to changes. This, in simple terms, means redeploy and replace instead of restoring and updating, and once the servers are up don’t make any changes to them.
Culture above everything
Just like DevOps, IaC is more about culture and the collaboration between different teams in the organization. Of course, there will always be tools for facilitating things. After all, technology is always about how one implements and utilizes it to its full potential and tools are mere facilitators. It is more about how dev, test, ops, and security teams collaborate to provision infrastructure much faster than ever before and utilize it to its full potential.
Tools for IaC
In the fast-paced IT world, everything is about the right set of tools that will elevate the performance or the desired output of systems and practices. For IaC one should use the right configuration management and/or configuration orchestration tools. Here are some of my favorite ones:
Hashicorp’s Terraform is an open-source infrastructure as a code software tool that enables users to define and provision a data center infrastructure. It follows a declarative approach more than the procedural approach, which most of the other tools follow. As mentioned above, immutable infrastructure is one of the must-haves for IaC, and Terraform provides the exact thing. The best about Terraform is it allows you to write your own code irrespective of the provider you are using. This gives the freedom to choose the cloud provider. Most of the IaC tools, like Chef and Ansible, follow the client-server architecture. This involves lots of intermediaries like agents and other moving parts, which, in my opinion, unnecessarily complicate things. Terraform, on the other hand, uses cloud provider API's to configure the infrastructure and directly communicates with the client.
Launched in 2011, Amazon was the first vendor to provide IaC tool exclusively, which means if you are using AWS infrastructure, then CloudFormation is for you. CloudFormation is one of the leaders in IaC, thanks to the dominance of AWS in the cloud market. CloudFormation lets you manage dependencies, it helps in predicting the impact of the changes in the configuration as well as monitoring and orchestrating changes in the infrastructure. Plus, you can recall changes using Rollback Triggers. You can use templates to make these changes that are created using JSON or YAML files and the best thing is a single template can be used across multiple regions and multiple AWS accounts.
Azure Resource Manager and Google Cloud Deployment Manager
Just like AWS, Azure, and GCP have their own IaC tools, viz. Azure Resource Manager(ARM) and Google Cloud Deployment Manager (DM). To configure and implement infrastructure in Azure, you can develop your ARM template using JSON, which can be deployed via Powershell script or directly from within the Azure Portal. Similarly, for DM you can create templates using YAML or Python.
Ansible, developed by Red Hat, is another opensource configuration management tool popular amongst SysOp. It includes its own declarative language to describe system configuration, and the code is written in YAML, known as Playbooks. Ansible modules and plugins are customizable to match specific requirements.
If you are working in the CI/CD, then there is very little need to talk about Chef, such as the popularity of this tool when it comes to configuration management. The workstation, cookbook, Node, Chef client, and Chef server are the main components in Chef. With workstations, you can play around cookbooks, the cookbooks allow you to customize the allocation process for configuration. As mentioned earlier, Chef follows a procedural approach. Chef client and Chef server are the communicators to reach the desired configuration destination. The best thing about Chef is it can get along with almost all the leading cloud providers. This includes AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, OpenStack, etc.
Puppet is another popular tool when it comes to configuration management. Puppet consists of 2 components viz. Node and server, and for communication it uses 2 more components viz. Puppet agent and Puppet server. Puppet uses a mechanism called Resource Abstraction Layer (RAL) that stores all the configurations for a node. The configurations will be comprised of Puppet components such as manifests, modules, resources, factors, and catalogs. Puppet server and agent communicate to deploy the latest configuration changes and Puppet APIs can help to generate reports which will give the exact details of the updates deployed. Just like Chef, Puppet uses a declarative approach; the basic difference is Puppet is directed toward system administrators, while Chef primarily targets developers.
The exponential growth of the container market has boosted the use of Docker. Docker can help to create content packages that contain code and dependencies necessary to run applications in the environment. YAML is used to create Dockerfiles. These Dockerfiles are used to specify configurations which in turn are used to create Docker images. These images are the templates used to create a container and include code, runtime, system tools, libraries, and settings. If you are working in a hybrid or a multi-cloud environment, then Docker is the best thing for you because it increases the portability of applications.
Apart from these, you can also go with Juju, Saltstack, Spinnaker, NixOS, CFEngine, PalletOps, or Otter. The aforementioned practices and tools will help to achieve the implementation of Infrastructure as Code in the best possible way and help to automate the infrastructure at will. Combining them with Opcito’s IaC expertise and proficiency will make your Infrastructure deployment effortless.