Infrastructure as Code: the answer to a range of complexity and performance questions

Omar Akar, Regional Vice President, Middle East & Emerging Africa, Pure Storage says Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is a direct response to the complexities, as it allows IT to automatically monitor and provision infrastructure without the need for manual intervention.

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The management of technology infrastructure has become more complex across the Arab Gulf, with the rise of hybrid infrastructure and companies using both on-premise and cloud-based models. In parallel, CIOs and their teams have been expected to adopt the latest technologies at scale and innovate constantly. To add to this complexity, as applications and hardware grow our IT stacks, this puts a strain on our computing resources, and we can see performance degradation.

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is a direct response to this, as it allows IT to automatically monitor and provision infrastructure without the need for manual intervention. IaC is a popular and growing market expected by Global Market Insights Inc to be valued at $3.5Bn by 2030. Its flexibility, agility, and speed solve many of the performance bottlenecks that plague modern technology setups. It also delivers the reliability and performance expected by today’s users.

IaC platforms are designed to deliver self-service IT experiences and the automated management of physical architecture. They deliver cloud-like operating models on top of infrastructure, building on its origins in server virtualisation technology, which itself arose from the infrastructure challenges of the 1990s in industries like banking. At that point, virtualisation was the answer to a rapid escalation in data and workload volumes. It was a boon to management to be able to consolidate infrastructure through a methodology which greatly increased the number of configuration items entrusted to infrastructure teams. Servers went from running multiple applications to running multiple virtual machines.

The rise of IaC

Once we reached this point, we encountered a need for the automation of monitoring and alerts, given the large number of physical servers each running many virtual machines. This complexity gave way to the rise of the configuration management database (CMDB), which was dedicated to documenting which virtual entities ran on which physical assets. The evolution and improvement of the CMDB led to IaC.

The benefits of IaC are many. The repeatability of provisioning tasks makes for significantly lower error rates, greater deployment speeds, improved efficiency, a range of cost reductions, and the eradication of configuration drift — the stagnation that we see when software and hardware updates are not adequately tracked. IaC also delivers superlative scalability without any impact on resourcing.

The typical modern technology leader oversees an infrastructure with a long history. Larger companies commonly have undergone organisational changes, either internally or through M&A activity. This will have led to an amalgamation of different tools, applications, and platforms, some of which may overlap. IaCis designed for just this kind of patchwork legacy. It may be necessary to implement multiple IaC solutions for different use cases, but concise, auditable policies and practices should be created for their use. IaC solutions must be able to detect and overcome configuration drift, which is arguably the most significant challenge when developing strategies for the management and use of tools, particularly in a DevOps setting.

Best practice and rapid recovery

Issues often emerge as incidents in a live environment because testing and disaster-recovery scenarios have been meticulously staged and prescribed in terms of what actually takes place. In IaC management, best practice dictates that configuration management databases be thoroughly monitored and kept up to date, accurate, and well monitored. Organisations should also consider the consolidation of their existing tools to allow a single set of definitions of what the infrastructure looks like, rather than many. It is also worth taking the time to think about how configurations can be extracted from third-party assets such as firewalls, network switches, or storage arrays. IaC only works well if all assets — not just the ones owned by the organisation itself — are incorporated into the new IaC model.

If done well, captured configurations within an IaC model will help greatly with business continuity if it becomes necessary to recover from a ransomware attack or if a data centre goes offline. This is because IaC is capable of using configuration backups to rapidly and cleanly reinstate significant portions of infrastructure. In traditional recovery scenarios, one application may be back online relatively quickly, but if you have to resurrect hundreds of them, this can slow the process when done manually.

In talking about IaC, it might be possible to focus on “infrastructure” at the expense of “code”. The code component represents great value for organisations. As developers increasingly consume infrastructure directly from an automated system or from internal IT, we can help them change this and build the infrastructures that make sense to their use cases. This is a great way to test solutions and have them ready for pre-production. It speeds up development because it prevents having to raise multiple helpdesk tickets or wait around for other approvals. This is one of the most powerful aspects of IaC, attuned to the fact that modern applications are frequently written as cloud-native structures using containers and S3 as building blocks.

A more stable and creative environment

IaC has enormous potential and all signs point towards an acceleration of adoption in the coming years, in concert with continued cloud migration. Its many benefits make a strong business case. A cloud-like operating model gives more speed and agility. It can transform the role of the developer to become a more autonomous innovator. And it can help stakeholders achieve business objectives while keeping costs down. If technology leaders can adopt the right policies that allow IaC benefits to be maximised, it will solve the IT complexity problem and create a more stable and creative environment.

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