For more than a decade now, DevOps has been bringing the development and IT teams together to release better software, faster. Despite its relative maturity, this practice still confronts roadblocks that hinder its progress.
Irregular resource allocation, misalignment of responsibilities, fragmented processes, lack of metrics to achieve the goal are some of the factors that limit organizations to adopt and scale DevOps practices. While the blockers to DevOps adoption are many, the one that bothers the IT team the most is infrastructure management.
A managed infrastructure ensures that the resources are secured, load-balanced, configured, regularly backed up and monitored for compliance, and can scale up or down according to the requirement. However, manually performing these tasks for multiple enterprise-level solutions is not feasible. That is why infrastructure automation is a sought-after practice in DevOps.
Understanding Infrastructure Automation and its Benefits
Infrastructure automation (or configuration management/scripted infrastructure) enables developers or the operations team to automatically manage, monitor, and facilitate resources instead of manually configuring hardware, software, or operating systems. The process is sometimes referred to as programmable because the infrastructure configuration is defined in scripts.
The idea of automating infrastructure enables the DevOps teams to test applications in a production-like environment, early in the development cycle. It gives them the confidence to provision multiple test environments and prevents common deployment issues on time.
The several benefits of infrastructure automation include improving speed and efficiency of development, flexibility to align with modern IT practices, etc. Let’s talk about them in detail.
- Automation improves speed and efficiency
Automated management and provisioning of resources ascertain that the software development cycle is more efficient compared to manual processes. Virtualization, resource management, networking, databases, and user account management are all covered in an automated environment. Moreover, a scripted infrastructure allows to scale up or shut down resources/environment as the requirement strikes.
- Automation maintains consistency in the environment
When software developers program the infrastructure, they follow business practices and policies to make the system foolproof, instead of relying upon system admins in the DevOps environment. The config file helps to maintain consistency in the environment, ensuring that any component dysfunction does not affect the entire setup.
Infrastructure Automation DevOps: Challenges Involved
Along with the benefits, infrastructure automation has some challenges as well. Apart from writing scripts and making infrastructure programmable, the developers require additional tools for configuration management and automation/orchestration system. This can lead to learning curves and chances for error. These errors can escalate through servers, especially in automation scenarios. That is why it is important to monitor version control and perform comprehensive testing before the final release.
Moreover, if there are any changes to the infrastructure outside of the defined server configuration, it results in configuration drift. Therefore, when infrastructure code is integrated into IT operations, system administration, and DevOps practices, it must be done following standard procedures and policies.
Another important aspect of infrastructure automation is security and regular monitoring. This would require investment in additional tools, training, and need testing to integrate them into workflows.
Creating an Infrastructure: Mutable vs Immutable Infra
Mutable and Immutable - These are the types of infrastructure that can be created using automation. In a mutable infrastructure, the infra components are changed in production while the services continue to function normally. On the other hand, in immutable infrastructure, the components and resources are assembled to create a new service or application. Any changes to the component would result in an update or redeployment of the instance. The new iteration of the service/application is tested and launched while the old one is discontinued.
Infrastructure Automation: How to get started?
There are two approaches to program an infrastructure: declarative programming and imperative programming.
In the declarative approach, the desired state of infrastructure is defined, generally using SQL statements. For example, AWS CloudFormation templates are written in a declarative style.
In an imperative approach, commands to automate the infrastructure are written using Object Oriented languages such as Java, C++. For example, third-party automation tools like Chef helps to program infrastructure automation using an imperative approach.
When choosing a tool or approach for infrastructure automation, it is important to consider the target deployment. For example, AWS CloudFormation is the right choice for managing AWS infrastructure. Similarly, for on-premise servers, tools like Chef can be an ideal choice.
Despite the availability of different approaches and tools for infrastructure automation, organizations are struggling to create a failproof, automated environment. Thus, it is always recommended to seek professional help in this concern or have a team in-house who can take care of every detail while programming the infrastructure. In case, any such help is needed, our DevOps consultation team is there for your help.