Infrastructure as Code: tips, best practices, and top tools
N-iX
2022-02-15T21:34:14+00:00

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is one of the most crucial and popular DevOps techniques that accelerates software development, boosts scalability, and optimizes costs. It also automates many manual processes, which leads to fewer errors and better risk mitigation.  While the methodology is...

Infrastructure as Code: tips, best practices, and top tools

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is one of the most crucial and popular DevOps techniques that accelerates software development, boosts scalability, and optimizes costs. It also automates many manual processes, which leads to fewer errors and better risk mitigation. 

While the methodology is certainly useful, its implementation does not come without challenges. What are some of the best practices used in DevOps Infrastructure as Code? How do you find experts that can help you utilize them? What technical expertise should they have? And which Infrastructure as Code tools should they use? Read on to find out.

What is Infrastructure as Code?

So, what is Infrastructure as Code and why should you incorporate it into your software delivery process? IaC is the DevOps practice of managing and provisioning cloud infrastructure using a code-based approach instead of doing it manually. It evolved as a measure to battle environment drift – a common delivery pipeline problem that occurs when engineers have to manually maintain the settings for each deployment environment. As more unique settings are added, these environments become progressively difficult to manage and impossible to reproduce automatically (also known as “snowflakes”). This leads to inconsistent environments, which, in turn, hinder the development process. 

Infrastructure as Code is based on the idempotency principle, which enables configuring target environments with the same settings regardless of their initial state. Engineering teams create environment descriptions (or configurations) which are then automatically applied to the necessary environments in the delivery pipeline. This ensures a quick, accurate, and more efficient development process, as introducing environment adjustments becomes as simple as making a change in the original description. Even more importantly, the automation that comes with IaC leads to substantial cost optimization as it frees up your engineers’ time, letting them focus on more important tasks. 

Infrastructure as Code development process

Best practices of implementing DevOps Infrastructure as Code

Let’s explore some of the key standards that ensure successful implementation and effective use of Infrastructure as Code. 

  1. Codify all infrastructure specifications

As mentioned before, your engineering teams will create configuration files using one of the Infrastructure as Code tools (more on this later). All infrastructure specifications will be coded into these files which will serve as a single source of truth. They should include all the necessary information for configuring your infrastructure: from resources and components that should be used to how they are related. 

  1. Limit the amount of documentation

While implementation of almost any technology or methodology usually highlights the need to document everything, Infrastructure as Code goes against this principle. That’s because the IaC code itself serves as infrastructure documentation since it includes all the necessary configuration information. Furthermore, this documentation will always stay updated as it will be in constant use. As a result, your engineers do not need to devote their time to recording the changes or updates they make. 

The only important thing you need to keep track of is the codebase versions. Using tools for code control such as Git will help you track all code changes, as well as review and test them before live deployment. 

  1. Apply modular architecture to your infrastructure

The microservices architecture principles that have become very popular in software development can be applied in IaC. By breaking the infrastructure up into separate modules, you can gain many benefits, including:

  • Better infrastructure control. A modulated architecture makes it easier to distribute infrastructure access. It ensures more effective collaboration between your teams since they can focus solely on their modules without causing hindrance to one another.
  • Easier and quicker testing. When changes are made only in a particular module instead of the entire infrastructure, testing them becomes a lot easier and less time-consuming.
  • Infrastructure consistency. By using templates to create configurations for each module, you can build consistency throughout the entire infrastructure. This results in easier automation, development, and testing.
  • Reusability. Modules can be treated as templates for changing parameters that change the behavior of deployed resources and reduce the amount of repeated code.
  1. Secure support from a reliable tech partner

Finally, successful implementation of IaC relies heavily on the expertise and skillfulness of DevOps engineers. However, DevOps is one of the most sought-after skills in the software development industry, which makes finding the right experts challenging. 

Therefore, many businesses look for outsourcing partners abroad who can provide the experts they need. This practice provides a wide range of benefits, from the quicker and easier filling of technical gaps with the right experts to cost optimization, faster development, flexible scaling, and more. Furthermore, the right partner will also ensure the effective implementation of IaC by utilizing all of the aforementioned best practices.  

Top tips on finding a tech partner with the strong IaC expertise

Learn about the offered DevOps services

When screening potential partners, the first thing you need to pay attention to is the portfolio of DevOps services they offer. In addition to making sure that they offer what you need, you can get a good understanding of how experienced they are with similar projects. A partner that offers a wide range of DevOps services is a good indicator that they will not encounter significant difficulties during your cooperation. The offered services should include:

  • Infrastructure as Code (IaC);
  • Site reliability engineering;
  • Continuous Integration/Contonuous Delivery (CI/CD);
  • Infrastructure automation and orchestration;
  • Infrastructure stability;
  • Infrastructure security;
  • Incident management;
  • Configuration management;
  • Detection and prevention of DDoS, web attacks, and intrusions;
  • Hardware firewall and firewall as a service.

DevOps expertise to look for in a partner

Assess the DevOps skillset

Implementation of Infrastructure as Code is part of the complex process of DevOps transformation which requires strong expertise in this area. Therefore, you need to go through a thorough analysis of the skillset of your partner’s DevOps engineers to make sure they will be up for the task. Their experts should show solid proficiency in the following tools and technologies:

  • Automation and orchestration. Ansible, Bash, Chef, Kubernetes, PowerShell, Puppet, Python. 
  • CI/CD. Azure DevOps, Bitbucket Pipelines, CodeDeploy/CodePipeline, Jenkins Pipelines, TeamCity, ArgoCD, CircleCI, GItlabCI.
  • Data centers. Hetzner, Rackspace, Unicept, etc.
  • Infrastructure as a Code. AWS CloudFormation, Azure Resource Manager, Helm, PowerShell, Terraform.
  • Infrastructure security:
    • Firewall as a service: AWS SG, ACL, WAF, Azure NSG, etc;
    • Hardware firewall (Cisco ASA);
    • Detection and prevention of intrusions: OSSEC, Snort, Suricata;
    • Detection and prevention of web attacks: AWS WAF, Azure Firewall, Application Gateway, etc.
  • Monitoring and logging. AWS CloudWatch, DataDog, ElasticSearch, Grafana, Kibana, Nagios, Prometheus, Splunk, Zabbix, Dynatrace, NewRelic.
  • Public and private clouds. Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, DCOS Mesosphere, OpenStack.

DevOps tech stack

Analyze the data security policies

Malicious cyberattacks cause billions of dollars in damages every year, making infrastructure and data security the top priority for any organization. Before establishing cooperation with an outsourcing partner and providing access to your internal systems it is absolutely crucial to analyze their data security policies and practices. 

Regular employee training, compliance with data security standards, the use of secure development best practices (such as encrypting data traffic or using static code analyzers) are all good signs of a reliable partner that will keep your internal systems safe.

Security-related compliance that indicate a reliable partner

Overview of top Infrastructure as Code tools

Let’s take a closer look at what some of the most popular Infrastructure as Code tools on the market have to offer.

Terraform/Terragrunt

What makes Terraform/Terragrunt one of the most popular IaC tools? The answer is two-fold. 

First, it is an open-source tool, which makes it completely free and very flexible. In addition to being able to customize it to your specific needs, you can also take advantage of various tools and scripts that are constantly being developed by the community. 

Second, Terraform/Terragrunt is a cloud-agnostic orchestrator, which means that it can be used with any cloud-native services (AWS, Azure, or GCP). This is only the tip of the iceberg, however. The ability to interact with platforms via their APIs allows Terraform to manage infrastructures on several platforms, making it the perfect choice for hybrid-cloud solutions.

AWS CloudFormation

CloudFormation is an AWS Infrastructure as Code tool. Unlike Terraform, it is not cloud-agnostic and is intended for use with the AWS platform. However, it compensates for this by perfectly integrating with the platform. It also allows you to quickly and easily automate, scale, and manage the infrastructure. 

Furthermore, CloudFormation is equipped with various useful features that enhance your AWS cloud experience. For example, it allows you to preview any changes and their effect before deployment, and roll back to previous states to prevent any mistakes from coming through production.

Finally, being the official AWS Infrastructure as Code tool, it gives you access to all official documentation and support whenever you require it.

Azure Resource Manager (ARM)

The Azure Infrastructure as Code tool is similar to AWS Cloud Formation as it is intended solely for Azure. Unsurprisingly, it comes with a variety of useful tools that boost the platform’s capabilities. 

For example, it has native support for Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), which allows you to easily control access to all services. Also, ARM makes it possible to deploy multiple resources simultaneously thanks to the use of templates. Finally, it has excellent capabilities for resource management, as it allows you to apply tags to your services and organize them logically. 

Google Cloud Deployment Manager

Google Cloud Deployment Manager is similar to AWS and Azure IaC tools in many ways. It automates the creation, configuration, provisioning, and management of the platform by using a declarative language. For example, just as with AWS, it allows you to preview the changes before deployment.

However, what sets it apart is its level of integration with the Google Cloud Platform. By offering UI support inside the developer console, this tool allows your engineers to quickly visualize deployment architecture.

Wrap up

A clear understanding of what is Infrastructure as Code and what value it brings will help you accelerate the adoption of the DevOps culture within your organization. As mentioned before, this will lead to a great number of benefits, from better cost allocation to faster deployment of error-free code. And, if finding the experts becomes challenging, you can always look for support from a reliable tech partner. 

Find the best DevOps engineers

How can N-iX support you with DevOps Infrastructure as Code?

  • N-iX has a strong team of over 40 experienced DevOps engineers that have successfully delivered over 50 projects of varying complexity;
  • We have official partnerships with all three leading cloud providers, being an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner, a Microsoft Gold Partner, and a Google Cloud Partner;
  • N-iX has over 20 years of experience in providing IT outsourcing services worldwide;
  • Many leading global enterprises, such as Lebara and Deutsche Post, have formed long-lasting partnerships with N-iX.

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By Yaroslav Ketsman February 15, 2022
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DevOps
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About N-iX

N-iX is an Eastern European software development service company that helps businesses across the globe expand their engineering capabilities and develop successful software products. Founded in 2002, N-iX has formed strategic partnerships with a variety of global industry leaders and Fortune 500 companies, including OpenText, Fluke Corporation, AVL, Lebara, Currencycloud, TuneIn, and many others. With more than 1,800 professionals, N-iX offers expert solutions in software engineering, cloud-native services, data analytics, embedded software, IoT, machine learning, and other tech domains covering a wide variety of sectors, including finance, manufacturing, telecom, supply chain, to name a few.

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