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What Is Infrastructure as Code and Why It Matters

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) emerged as a lifeline for drowning administrators. This approach allowed infrastructure to be expressed as code, turning the manual processes into automated, repeatable, and scalable solutions.
Daniel Zacharias

Jovana Stankovic

November 15, 2023

Starting my web developer journey a decade ago, I remember hearing my seniors whisper a practice that would revolutionize the way we do web coding and server infrastructure. I didn’t know what it was at the moment, till I found the secret myself years later! It was …

Manual infrastructure management is dead!

Infrastructure management was once a laborious task. It required a delicate balance performed with precision by expert administrators. 

Each server was handcrafted, configured, and maintained with a personal touch. Automation wasn’t even a thing. You could only hear about it in some sci-fi movie. However, this craftsmanship approach, while noble, bore the weight of its own limitations:

  • Inconsistency. With human hands steering the wheel, the infrastructure was often as varied as the individuals behind the keyboard. When you have a team of developers that inconsistency is multiplied tenfold because everyone wants to go their own way.
  • Scalability issues. Manual configurations struggled to keep pace with the burgeoning demands of growing enterprises.
  • Error-prone. The human element, while invaluable, was exposed to the whims of fatigue and error.

Once celebrated, manual methodology turned into a source of dread, as the inconsistency and lack of scalability impeded progress and innovation.

How Infrastructure as Code changed everything for the better

But in 2009 everything changed. Infrastructure as Code (IaC) emerged as a lifeline for drowning administrators. This approach allowed infrastructure to be expressed as code, turning the manual processes into automated, repeatable, and scalable solutions.

Finally, the automation arrived with IaC, and with perks like these nothing could stand in its way:

  • Automated and efficient. IaC streamlined the process, reducing the time and effort required to manage infrastructure.
  • Consistent and reliable. With code as the blueprint, infrastructure became standardized, reducing discrepancies and errors.
  • Scalable and adaptable. IaC easily adapts and scales to meet the demands of growing and evolving businesses.

Code, not clicks: The new mantra of IaC

Back in the day, in the DevOps world, a revolution was cooking. The next big thing was GUI-based management, but it started to fade into history. Each click was a commitment, a non-reversible, non-replicable action that left little room for scalability and automation.

It wasn’t a pleasant world to be in as a DevOps developer back then.

Code-based infrastructure management was the revolution and Infrastructure as Code was the Joan of Arc we all needed. Each script, a meticulous set of instructions, was executed, revised, and replicated with precision, offering a level of control GUIs could only dream of.

IaC also brought: 

  • Version control. With infrastructure defined as code, every change and every modification is tracked and logged. This practice allows for version control, enabling developers to navigate through past configurations, identify errors, and restore previous states with ease.
  • Reusability. Code is inherently reusable. Once written, a script is deployed across various environments, reducing redundancy and ensuring uniformity. This practice not only saves time but also improves the efficiency of infrastructure deployment and management.
  • Consistency. Perhaps the most significant boon of the code-based management revolution is this. With code as the guiding hand, infrastructure is deployed uniformly, eliminating the notorious “it works on my machine” conundrum. Every environment, from development to production, mirrors each other, providing a stable and predictable operational landscape.

Immutable infrastructure: No more ‘It works on my machine’

“I don’t know, bro, it works on my machine. Have you tried to turn it off and on again?” was the usual thing you’d hear twice per day every Thursday in the DevOps department back in the day.

Now?

Now, it just works thanks to Immutable Infrastructure. In a nutshell, it’s a paradigm where servers are never modified after they’re deployed. If something needs to be updated, fixed, or modified in any way, new servers are deployed as a replacement for the old ones. This concept is deeply embedded in Infrastructure as Code (IaC), providing a stable and reliable framework for deploying applications.

But in order to work, you have to obey two key principles:

  1. Unchangeable. Once deployed, the infrastructure is set in stone, unalterable, and unmodifiable. 
  2. Replaceable. Any required change requires the deployment of new infrastructure, guaranteeing that every modification is deliberate and traceable. There’s no going back to adjust things.

The moment development became consistent production

The only way to fight deployment chaos was with the Immutable Infrastructure’s core – consistency.

With each environment carved from the same block of code, discrepancies between development and production environments are virtually eliminated. Thus, chaos was forever destroyed!

Since the infrastructure is defined as code – IaC – there is a single source of truth for the environment configuration. This consistency ensures that if it works in development, it will work in production. By adding immutability into the mix, the configurations experience zero drift over time. It’s what gave the environment its consistency throughout its lifecycle.

Besides eliminating configuration drift, immutability brought streamlined troubleshooting. 

The uniformity of immutable infrastructure and IaC behind it simplifies troubleshooting and accelerates resolution times. So, you won’t hear “It just works, bro” anymore.

Infrastructure as code: It’s not just for the cloud

The first beginner mistake I often see young DevOps make is associating IaC with cloud computing. Is it because of the different look on the servers? Or is it just that it makes them feel like the next TOP-G red teamer? Who knows!

Be that as it may, IaC isn’t bound to the cloud. Infrastructure as Code is a methodology, a philosophy of managing and provisioning computing infrastructure through machine-readable script files rather than through physical hardware configuration or interactive configuration tools. Its principles are universally fitting to a spectrum of environments, from the cloud to on-premises data warehouses to hybrid setups.

I’ll give a couple of examples: 

  • For organizations housing their own data centers, IaC offers a streamlined approach to managing hardware resources. It allows for automated provisioning, configuration, and management of servers, ensuring that on-premises setups are handled with the same efficiency and precision as cloud environments.
  • For enterprises navigating the complex landscapes of hybrid environments, IaC serves as a bridge, a unifying language that seamlessly integrates cloud and on-premises resources. It ensures consistency across diverse setups, simplifying management and operations.


Think of Infrastructure as Code as the multitool of infrastructure management. No matter the environment, it’ll get the job done. And that’s the beauty of it!

The dark side of IaC: Challenges and how to overcome them

Like with every revolution, there are winners, and there are bad sides to it. The truth is – like with any other IaC guide you’ll find out there on the web – you’ll hear IaC is peaches and cream, dandelions and chocolate, rose-tinted glasses all the way. This guide is not like that.

It’s true:  IaC requires a new set of skills and understanding. As a developer or IT professional of tomorrow, you must learn how to write, test, and maintain infrastructure code, which is daunting for newcomers. It’s not an easy one, trust me! Besides that, Infrastructure as Code, while aiming to prevent it, isn’t immune to the configuration drift. Manual changes and interventions lead to discrepancies between the actual infrastructure state and the code. And you’ll have to deal with it!

Let me add some more salt to your wound and mention — as infrastructure grows, so does the complexity of the IaC setup. Managing and organizing code for large infrastructure is challenging without proper practices in place.

It’s not such a rose-tinted glass now, is it?

IaC wrap up

It was Infrastructure as Code! From whispered secrets in the office a decade ago to the forefront of modern DevOps, IaC has truly reshaped our approach to infrastructure management. I’ll leave you with a golden rule I learned from a mentor long ago: “Your infrastructure is only as good as the code that defines it.”

Always test your IaC scripts in a sandbox environment before deploying to production. It’s a simple trick that’ll save you hours of troubleshooting and downtime.

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