Software development

Infrastructure as Code — what is it, and why should you care?

Infrastructure as Code — what is it, and why should you care?

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is the next stage in the evolution of software engineering, enabling a world where much of a software engineer’s job is handled by highly efficient automation.

Over the past two years, BBD has worked with several large-scale clients to help them implement and manage IaC. Our knowledge and expertise in this space has given us a unique insight into IaC and what it means for businesses and how they can use technology to streamline costs and automate processes.

Why is IaC so important?

To understand the impact of IaC, it helps to quickly look over the history of engineering and infrastructure management. A couple of centuries ago, engineers spent their days slaving over heavy machinery in hot, smoky factories. Fixing problems required grit, dirt, and involved risk.

Later, with the emergence of the third industrial revolution, computers became a staple of the modern economy. Engineers were required to maintain the infrastructure behind them, tweaking and fixing the mountains of hardware needed to keep a progressively digital economy rolling while deploying and managing multiple parts of their infrastructure, things like servers, operating systems, networks and storage. Time-consuming tasks that required work across all elements of the infrastructure.

And now, as with the tech they work with, the role of the engineer is evolving once again. 

There are an estimated 400 million servers and 50 billion devices connected to the internet in 2020. But in order to really take advantage of this situation, engineers and development teams need to free themselves from many of the time-consuming tasks involved in deploying and managing infrastructure in their jobs.

This is where virtualisation and automation can help — facilitating reliable, secure, and repeatable operations and allowing development teams to focus the bulk of their energy and skills on innovation and progressive projects.

How does IaC work?

Put simply, IaC allows for the management and provisioning of computer data centres through machine-readable configuration files, rather than physical hardware configuration. It involves using virtualised environments and infrastructure in the same manner as applications and code.

By freeing up time, allowing for more efficient operations, easier collaboration and DevOps at scale, IaC allows software engineers to focus on uniquely human tasks such as creating new products and solving high-level problems. On a wider scale, it even benefits society and humankind by allowing for faster technological progress.

As a leading software development company, the experts here at BBD have years of experience working with IaC and helping implement it across organisations. Their expertise can provide a valuable insight into how this technology works and how companies can benefit from it.

IaC allows software engineers to focus on uniquely human tasks such as creating new products and solving high-level problems.

The benefits of IaC

  1. Speed and agility

IaC can quickly provide infrastructure for development, testing, and production by:

  • Deploying virtual servers
  • Launching network infrastructure
  • Deploying and managing storage systems

This agility makes it easier to respond to business consumers, test compliance, and standardise infrastructure across departments. According to BBD Executive David Xavier, “When the tech and cloud providers are the same, but there’s a different business problem, IaC allows you to give your new department the recipe.” In other words, IaC makes it much easier to map solutions onto new challenges, saving a huge amount of time and resources.

Ricardo Pinto, a principal engineer at BBD, points out that IaC truly enables DevOps at speed and scale with repeatability, auditability, visibility, and baked-in knowledge. This allows for collaboration, facilitates automation, and effectively tackles scale while maintaining speed and reliability.

2. Consistency across your organisation

IaC helps ensure total consistency – the infrastructure can’t be modified after deployment without replacing the entire infrastructure (which is easy enough to do with the power of cloud computing).

According to Pinto, “IaC tooling provides for declarative representation of infrastructure in a machine-readable manner, allowing for the practice of idempotency and a consistent operating model.” Simply put, it’s possible to apply operations multiple times always with the same outcome.

By harnessing the power of IaC, we can minimise risk, ensuring that deployment, test and production environments always line up the way they should. The result: more effective applications, a smoother process, and tighter security.

Pinto adds that this provides for history over time, allowing teams to detect drift, provide for traceability, and quickly isolate changes that might have impacted systems; providing a faster time to resolution.

He explains that IaC provides for parity of environments and a single source of truth which allows for repeatable and consistent provision of reliable infrastructure and applications. And by driving down risk, development teams are free to focus on new ventures and will spend significantly less time wrapped up in fixing errors.

But does IaC allow for migration from one cloud to another? What if, for example, you wanted to move from Azure to AWS? Pinto explains that IaC can make this transition process easier, and with the complexity of cloud at scale, IaC actually becomes a necessity in order to truly leverage the power of cloud adoption.

3. Lower costs

One of the biggest benefits of IaC lies in cost reduction. It helps reduce costly errors, security incidents, and downtime — saving companies significant amounts of money. 

On top of the benefit of saving on the cost of unintended errors, businesses that harness IaC don’t have to hire as many staff. Instead, they can work with an experienced software partner such as BBD — a more efficient and streamlined model.

4. Easier collaboration

Another advantage to IaC is the ease of collaboration. The declarative and code-based model of IaC lends itself to collaboration between teams and enables DevOps principles such as version control, testing, and auditability of infrastructure.

That means intelligence and information don’t leave when your employees do — all the relevant data can be accessed by successive staff. New teams can easily find out what historical changes were made, and who made them, making it easy to pinpoint changes and make corrections if something isn’t working.

Adopting IaC safely

Although IaC can bring incredible advantages to a company, it does come with challenges. For example, there’s a large upfront cost in terms of time, knowledge, and research. Learning and implementing IaC can be a long and occasionally challenging process, but an extremely rewarding one.

It’s also vital to be careful when allowing novices to use IaC tools. The ease of use that comes with IaC can cause major problems in the wrong hands, allowing inexperienced users to wreak havoc in a short span of time.

As BBD director Russell Davidson puts it, “There is a reason data centres were access controlled, for the same reason you don’t just allow anyone to get their hands on your IaC.”

To adopt IaC in the most effective and safe way possible, BBD recommends working with a trusted and experienced software partner. Infrastructure as Code is becoming a fundamental part of running a business. The benefits are simply too powerful to ignore — IaC is a core capability to enable effective DevOps practices.

With BBD’s years of experience working with software infrastructure, including helping many clients get started and maintain IaC, we can make sure all your software infrastructure is perfectly calibrated to meet your business’s needs.

What’s next? We’re ready!