What Is Infrastructure as Code?
In the simplest terms, IaC is the process of managing and provisioning your computing infrastructure through machine-readable definition files, rather than traditional configuration tools. It’s like scripting for your infrastructure, wherein you write code for your infrastructure needs and use it to automate the process of management and provisioning.
This concept is not just about automation, but also about consistency, repeatability, and speed. With IaC, you can apply the same configurations many times over, eliminating the possibility of human error and achieving rapid deployment. It’s like having a blueprint for your infrastructure that you can use to build an identical environment whenever and wherever you need it.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) lets you apply this concept on its cloud platform, providing a range of services and tools that support IaC, including AWS CloudFormation, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, AWS OpsWorks, and AWS CodeStar.
This is part of a series of articles about infrastructure as code.
How IaC on AWS Works
When using IaC on AWS, you will typically write files (in formats such as JSON or YAML) that describe the resources you need, their configurations, and the relationships between them.
These files, also referred to as templates or manifests, serve as the ‘blueprints’ for your infrastructure. The written code can be stored in version control systems, which allows you to track changes, maintain a historical record, and revert to previous versions if necessary. This process leads to efficient, reliable, and rapid deployments as you can recreate identical environments at any time using the saved templates.
When you’re ready to deploy your infrastructure, you use AWS services like AWS CloudFormation or third-party tools such as Terraform or Pulumi. These services and tools interpret the code you’ve written, and they make the necessary API calls to AWS to create, modify, or delete resources in your AWS account based on the definitions in your code.
For example, with AWS CloudFormation, you create a template that describes all your AWS resources and their properties. You then give this template to CloudFormation, which understands how to create or update the resources described in your template to achieve the desired state. It handles dependencies between resources so they’re created in the appropriate order.
IaC tools and services also continuously monitor your infrastructure to ensure its actual state matches the desired state defined in your code. If discrepancies are detected, they can either report it or automatically correct the configuration.
This way, the entire life cycle of infrastructure management, from provisioning and configuration to update and deprovisioning, can be handled programmatically using IaC on AWS. This process saves time and reduces errors that can come from manual processes. It also ensures that your infrastructure is consistent and reproducible, which is a key requirement for modern, scalable, and reliable application deployment and operations.
IaC Tools Commonly Used on AWS
AWS CloudFormation is a service that helps you model and set up your Amazon Web Services resources. It allows you to automate both AWS and third-party application resources, and even custom-developed ones, in your cloud environment.
By using AWS CloudFormation, you can define infrastructure as code (IaC) and deploy it across various regions and accounts in a consistent manner. This eliminates the need for manual operations, reduces the potential for human error, and increases efficiency.
In terms of flexibility, CloudFormation supports JSON and YAML, two popular formats for defining your infrastructure. It also provides a visual designer that helps in creating and modifying templates, making it user-friendly even for team members who are less technical.
AWS OpsWorks is another AWS service for infrastructure management. It provides managed instances of Chef and Puppet, two popular open-source configuration management platforms.
OpsWorks offers a high degree of customization and automation, allowing users to model and manage their entire application from load balancers to databases. It allows for automation of server setup, application deployment, and more, making it an excellent choice for organizations looking for flexibility and control.
One standout feature of OpsWorks is its lifecycle events model, which allows you to specify tasks to execute at specific points in the server or application lifecycle. This enables precise control over the configuration and management process.
Terraform, developed by HashiCorp, is an open-source tool that allows you to define and provide data center infrastructure using a declarative configuration language. Unlike the previously mentioned AWS-specific tools, Terraform is a platform-agnostic tool, meaning it works with multiple cloud service providers, including AWS.
Terraform uses a simple syntax to define infrastructure and to set up cloud resources. This simplifies the process and makes it easier to manage and version the infrastructure. It is particularly useful for creating complex multi-tier, multi-provider setups with ease.
One thing to note about Terraform is that it maintains state, meaning it keeps track of your infrastructure and configuration. This makes it possible to detect and manage changes to the infrastructure over time, improving overall manageability.
Pulumi, like Terraform, is a multi-cloud IaC tool. However, unlike Terraform, Pulumi uses standard programming languages to define and manage infrastructure. This allows developers to leverage existing skills and tools, and enables more complex and dynamic configurations.
Pulumi supports a wide range of clouds, including AWS, and allows you to manage resources across them in a consistent way. It integrates well with existing CI/CD pipelines and provides robust state and secret management.
The use of familiar programming languages makes Pulumi a potent tool for developers. However, it also means that it might have a steeper learning curve for those not familiar with those languages.
Ansible, developed by Red Hat, is an open-source tool that provides software provisioning, configuration management, and application deployment.
Ansible uses human-readable YAML code for its definitions, making it easier for developers and system admins to understand. It is agentless, which means there’s no need to install any software on the nodes you’re managing. This makes it a lightweight and efficient tool.
Ansible is particularly good at managing complex multi-tier deployments, and it provides a lot of flexibility in how you organize your infrastructure and applications.
Chef is a powerful automation platform that transforms complex infrastructure into code, bringing your servers and services to life. Whether you’re operating in the cloud, on-premises, or a hybrid environment, Chef automates how infrastructure is configured, deployed, and managed.
Chef uses a pure-Ruby, domain-specific language (DSL) for writing system configurations. The types of automation provided by Chef include deploying and managing servers and applications, as well as tasks such as troubleshooting and auditing.
Puppet is another open-source configuration management tool. It allows you to manage your infrastructure as code, automating the entire lifecycle of your AWS infrastructure.
Puppet uses a declarative language for defining infrastructure, which means you specify what you want your infrastructure to look like, and Puppet takes care of how to get there. This allows for a high degree of automation and repeatability, which in turn leads to higher efficiency and fewer errors.
Related content: Read our guide to infrastructure as code examples (coming soon)
Best Practices for Implementing IaC on AWS
Scalability and High Availability
When implementing IaC on AWS, you should design your infrastructure to be highly scalable and available. This includes leveraging AWS’s auto-scaling and load balancing features to manage traffic and resources efficiently. For example, Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling allows you to automatically adjust capacity to maintain steady, predictable performance at the lowest possible cost.
Similarly, AWS Elastic Load Balancing automatically distributes incoming application traffic across multiple targets, such as Amazon EC2 instances, containers, and IP addresses. These services work hand-in-hand with IaC to ensure your infrastructure can quickly scale up or down to meet demand and maintain high availability.
IaC Security Practices
Securing your infrastructure is crucial in any IaC implementation. This includes practices such as regularly auditing and updating your IaC templates to ensure they are aligned with the latest security best practices. Implementing identity and access management (IAM) to control who can access your resources is another key security practice.
In AWS, you can use AWS IAM to securely control access to AWS services and resources for your users. For example, you can create and manage AWS users and groups and use permissions to allow and deny their access to AWS resources. You should also implement encryption to protect sensitive data, both at rest and in transit.
Testing and Validation of IaC Templates
Testing and validating your infrastructure code are critical steps in IaC implementation. AWS provides several tools for this purpose. For instance, AWS CloudFormation allows you to use a JSON or YAML template to describe the desired AWS resources and their dependencies so you can launch and configure them as a stack.
You can validate your CloudFormation templates before deploying them to catch any errors that could cause your stack deployment to fail. AWS also provides the AWS CloudFormation Designer, a visual tool for creating, viewing, and modifying CloudFormation templates.
Continuously Monitoring and Updating
Continuous monitoring is necessary to ensure that your infrastructure is running as expected and to catch potential issues early. AWS provides several services for this, including AWS CloudWatch for monitoring and observability and AWS CloudTrail for governance, compliance, operational auditing, and risk auditing of your AWS account.
Regular updates to your infrastructure as code deployments are also essential to benefit from new features, improve security, and improve performance. AWS Systems Manager is a management service that helps you automatically apply OS patches, create system images, and configure Windows and Linux operating systems.
Disaster Recovery Planning for IaC Deployments
Disaster recovery is important for IaC, because errors or malfunctions in IaC deployments can potentially cause disruption to important systems, data loss, or other serious consequences.
AWS provides several services that can aid in disaster recovery. For example, AWS Backup automates backup tasks across AWS services and on-premises. Similarly, Amazon S3 provides a highly durable, scalable, and secure destination for backing up and restoring critical data.
With IaC, the disaster recovery process can be automated and made more reliable, as the infrastructure code serves as a living document of the system architecture. By storing this code in a version-controlled repository, you can easily recreate your infrastructure in the event of a disaster.
Learn more in our detailed guide to infrastructure as code best practices (coming soon)
Infrastructure as Code with Codefresh CI/CD
Codefresh is built for modern tools with support for flexible frameworks. Most infrastructure as code tools are available as docker images and can be seamlessly integrated into Codefresh pipelines – this happens to be a very common pattern for many of our customers. Learn more about how you can easily execute a custom freestyle step with any of these images here.
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