IT technologies continue to evolve at an unprecedented pace. From cloud computing to DevOps and artificial intelligence (AI) to internet of things (IoT), the technology landscape has unlocked potential opportunities for IT businesses to generate value.
The enterprise IT infrastructure has become crucial for modern-day digital business. It is because it facilitates the compute, network and data capabilities required to run business-critical software applications. The key role of infrastructure goes beyond production environs. It spreads across the complete development process. The infrastructure includes a host of components including servers, load balancers, firewalls, and databases. They also include DevOps tools, CI/CD platforms, staging environments, and testing tools. But there’s a catch here.
With the rapidly changing technology landscape, the traditional approaches to infrastructure are hampering businesses to adapt, innovate, and thrive optimally. The manual process of managing infrastructure has become obsolete and fails to meet the demands of the DevOps-based high-speed software development cycles.
The need of the hour is an infrastructure focused on continuous innovation, automation, and optimization. An infrastructure that can help organizations keep pace with rapid software development and accelerated technological change. And, at this juncture, Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools have emerged as the key to navigating this challenge. Let’s delve deep into the details:
What Are Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) Tools?
Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) is the process of codifying and managing underlying IT infrastructure as software. It enables DevOps teams to automatically manage, monitor, and provision resources, instead of manually configuring multifarious hardware devices and operating systems. IaC is also referred to as programmable or software-defined infrastructure.
With IaC tools at their disposal, DevOps teams can easily edit and distribute configurations, while ensuring a stable state of the infrastructure. The IaC tools allow easy integration of infrastructure into the version control mechanisms and provide the ability to imbibe automation for infrastructure provisioning and management.
What Are the Benefits of Using Infrastructure as Code Tools?
IaC tools have transformed the way IT infrastructure is provisioned and managed today. They paved the way for complete automation and configuration of infrastructure, with its elements such as physical servers, configuring networks, and databases being treated similarly to software. This empowered development teams to adopt a range of DevOps and Agile practices that automate and fast-track software development processes. The IaC tools helped teams to leverage best practices such as continuous integration (CI), continuous delivery (CD), and test-driven development (TDD). Moreover, IaC enabled businesses to make the most of deployment orchestration, automated testing libraries, and version control systems (VCS). Besides these salient features, the IaC tools offered a host of businesses benefits as follows:
High Transparency and Accountability
The IaC source code files are versioned, and configuration control. This bestows teams with high traceability, rollbacks, and branching.
Improved Configuration Consistency
Unplanned changes or updates lead to asymmetric development, testing, staging, and production environment. This, in turn, results in configuration drift. This is where IaC tools come in.
IaC helps avoid configuration drift by provisioning identical and reproducible environs every time. Moreover, this environment can be scaled as per the demands by leveraging the centralized/reusable module with the reserved configurations as many times as needed.
Enhanced Speed and Efficiency
With IaC tools, teams can set up infrastructure swiftly within a short turnaround time by simply running a uniform code stored in SCM, making it repeatable and scalable. This can be implemented at all stages of the application delivery lifecycle, from the development to the production stage. This results in more efficient and faster software development.
Improved Cloud Utilization
In a bid to gain the best of both clouds, businesses across the globe are leveraging multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments. However, multi and hybrid clouds have multifarious software-defined APIs, giving rise to unwanted bottlenecks. And IaC tools are the best way to abstract the layers from the heterogeneity of the cloud.
As infrastructure as code tools eliminate the need for resources in terms of time, budget, and staff to manually provision, scale, and manage the infrastructure, businesses can save potential costs. Moreover, as IaC is platform-agnostic, businesses can leverage cloud computing solutions and benefit from its advantages such as flexibility and pay-as-you-go pricing. They can also save costs by deploying automation strategies that help technical teams to relieve error-prone, manual tasks and divert their valuable time towards developing innovative and mission-critical applications.
What Are the Must-have Features of an Iac Tool?
The above benefits emphasize the need for IaC tools in the present-day DevOps world. But choosing the right set of IaC tools that rightly fit the business needs can be a herculean task. This is because there are numerous IaC tools available in the market, with a wide range of overlapping features and differences. Taking due cognizance of this challenge, we have curated the must-have features of an IaC tool to help you choose the best tool for your organization:
Ease of Use
One of the most prominent USPs of an IaC tool is its ease of use. The tool must make it simple to configure, deploy, and manage IaC across numerous infrastructure environments.
Organizations across the world are now moving to multi-cloud to lower the risk of cloud downtime and business outage. Moreover, they gain the flexibility to use the best possible cloud for each workload, to improve performance. So, IaC tools must be multi-cloud compatible to enable businesses to manage infrastructure across multiple cloud environments. The IaC platform must be designed from the ground up to meet the demands of the modern cloud.
Adoption by Industry Experts
Before adopting infrastructure as a code tool, businesses must do some research on how the tool is adopted across the industry. This research helps in understanding the ins and outs of the tool. As there are innumerable IaC tools available in the market, look for tools that are adopted by experts in your industry to make your investment count. In this way, you avoid any chances of going astray.
The IaC tool must enable unlimited scalability for managing IT resources. Traditionally, a team’s scalability is limited by the team’s size, skillset, and the time it can devote to the configuration and management of infrastructure. In order to gain an edge in the modern world, the IaC tool must remove this barrier by enabling teams to configure a large number of resources very quickly. This is especially important as many IT environs today must scale up and down quickly and efficiently.
Reusability is one of the prominent must-have features of an IaC tool. The reusability of IaC empowers developers with the ability to script once and use that code multiple times, achieving great economies of scale, efficiency, and time savings.
Now, let’s have a glance at the best infrastructure as code tools that helps DevOps teams to optimally automate infrastructure deployment and management:
The Top 10 IaC Tools To Automate Deployments in 2022
Terraform is an open-source infrastructure-as-a-code tool that uses Hashicorp Configuration Language (HCL), which is one of the easiest IaC languages. The tool comes with a host of benefits, making it one of the most popular IaC tools. Terraform tool is multi-cloud compatible and is used for codifying the management of any cloud and on-premises resources. Simply put, you can provision, change, and version resources in any environment.
Terraform uses declarative config files to create new resources, manage the existing ones, and remove those that are unused. This open-source tool is easily readable and uses modules to easily configure your code and call your resources. Common use cases of Terraform include automate infrastructure provisioning, multi-cloud deployment, Kubernetes management, virtual machine image management, existing CI/CD workflow integration, and policy as code.
After Terraform, Ansible is the most preferred IaC tool in the world. It is an imperative IaC tool, so it not only provisions infrastructure but also manages the configuration of the services. Ansible is a simple IT automation platform that helps automate cloud provisioning, configuration management, application deployment, and intra-service orchestration, among other IT requirements.
The IaC tool uses no agents and custom security infrastructure, making it easy to deploy. Moreover, the tool’s code is written in a very simple language YAML in the form of Ansible Playbooks, allowing users to describe their automation jobs in an easy manner. Users can also expand the features of the Ansible tool by writing custom Ansible modules and plugins.
Chef is another top IaC tool used by DevOps engineers to develop and deploy secure and scalable infrastructure automation across multi-OS, multi-cloud, on-prem, hybrid, and complex legacy architectures. This configuration management tool leverages open source community-based software development and enterprise-class support.
The Chef IaC tool uses Ruby-based DSL to create ‘recipes’ and ‘cookbooks’, which include step by step guide to achieving desired configuration stage for applications on an existing server. The tool is cloud-agnostic and is compatible with major clouds such as AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. Some of the use cases of the Chef tool are consistent configuration, system hardening, hybrid cloud control, automated remediation, and continuous delivery pipeline automation.
Puppet has garnered a spot in the top 10 IaC tools for the scalable approach it brings to infrastructure automation. Since 2005, Puppet’s Infrastructure as Code has helped over 40,000 organizations, including 80% of the Global 5000, to simplify the complexity of their IT infrastructure and fortify their security posture, compliance standards, and business resiliency.
Puppet IaC tool is written in Ruby-based DSL and uses a declarative approach to manage configuration on Unix and Windows operating systems. It integrates with all the leading cloud platforms such as AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and VMware, enabling multiple cloud automation. Puppet is available in both open-source and enterprise versions.
Offered by VMWare, SaltStack is an open-source configuration management tool based on Python language. It is an easy-to-use IaC tool for provisioning, deploying, and configuring infrastructure on any platform at a high speed. The key selling point of this IaC tool is its remote execution engine that creates high-speed, bi-directional communication networks for a group of networks. It even comes with SSH support that can offer agentless mode. Moreover, the tool has a scheduler that enables you to schedule how often the managed servers should run your code.
The SaltStack tool enables businesses to create simple, human-readable infrastructure-as-code to provision and configure systems and software across virtualized, hybrid, and public cloud environments. You can manage and secure your infrastructure with powerful automation and orchestration. With the Salt event-driven automation engine, one can define the state of a system and auto-remediate as soon as a drift occurs.
CloudFormation is an Infrastructure as Code tool that is deeply integrated into the AWS cloud. It enables users to model, provision, and manage infrastructure and resources across all AWS accounts and regions through a single operation. One can easily code their infrastructure from scratch with the CloudFormation templates language, which is in either YAML or JSON format.
CloudFormation empowers users to easily automate, test, and deploy infrastructure templates with DevOps, and CI/CD automation. Moreover, with this IaC tool, teams can run anything from a single Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instance to a complex multi-region application. The last piece of the puzzle is the AWS Free Tier which offers 1000 handler operations per month per account.
Google Cloud Deployment Manager
As the name suggests, Google Cloud Deployment Manager is an infrastructure deployment tool offered by Google Cloud. It automates the creation, configuration, provisioning, and management of resources on the Google Cloud Platform. This IaC tool enables users to specify all the resources needed for their application in a declarative format using YAML. Python or Jinja2 templates can also be used to specify the configuration. Moreover, it allows the reuse of common deployment paradigms such as load-balanced, auto-scaled instance groups.
With this popular IaC tool, teams can write flexible templates and configuration files for creating deployments that include a host of Google Cloud services, such as Compute Engine, Cloud Storage, and Cloud SQL.
Azure Resource Manager (ARM)
Microsoft has gone the extra mile to meet the evolving needs of its massive Azure customers by introducing Azure Resource Manager, infrastructure deployment, and management service. This Azure-specific IaC tool facilitates a management layer that allows users to create, update, and delete resources in their Azure account. It also offers management features, including access control, locks, and tags, to efficiently secure and organize resources after deployment. The tool also comes with Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) to enable users to control access to all the resources within a resource category.
With an ARM, teams can quickly redeploy their infrastructure several times throughout the application development lifecycle, while maintaining consistency in the state. Moreover, they can manage their infrastructure through declarative templates instead of scripts.
Developed by the same creator of Terraform, HashiCorp, Vagrant is an IaC tool most preferred by professionals using a small number of virtual machines rather than those having large cloud infrastructures.
Vagrant enables teams to build and manage VM environments in a single workflow. The easy-to-configure, reproducible, and portable work environs, controlled by a single consistent workflow, reduce development environment setup time and maximizes productivity and flexibility.
Vagrant is compatible with VirtualBox, VMware, AWS, and other cloud service platforms and can integrate with provisioning tools such as shell scripts, Chef, and Puppet.
Though it is a newer IaC tool in the market, Pulumi managed to bag a spot in this list of best IaC tools because of its more modern approach to coding. In contrast to other IaC tools that use Python, YAML, JSON, or Ruby language, Pulumi uses powerful programming languages such as C++, Python, Go, and JS to code the instructions. This makes Pulumi a genuine Infrastructure as a Code tool. This IaC tool is available in open-source and enterprise versions.
How To Choose the Right IaC Tool for Your Organization
Apart from the above-listed top 10 IaC tools, there are many other IaC tools that are gaining ground in the market in recent times. With so many options available, choosing an Infrastructure as Code tool is a tough decision, which requires thought, research, along with comparing the pros and cons of various tools. So, it’s imperative to take time and go through various options available and find the best tool that meets your unique business needs.
Once an IaC tool is selected, ensure that your team works automating not only the infrastructure but also the delivery process with a robust Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) tool.
In Reality, There Is No One-size-Fits-all IaC Tool
Though you can choose an Infrastructure as a code tool that best suits your business requirements, relying only on that one IaC tool is unwise. It is because there is no one-size-fits-all IaC tool that can completely suffice all your infrastructure needs in this ever-evolving IT world. So, in order to be future-ready and stay ahead of the dynamic infrastructure needs, businesses must rely on a set of IaC tools rather than a single tool. But there’s a catch here!
Businesses must orchestrate their choice of IaC tools to simplify and streamline the infrastructure workflow and manage tools efficiently. Without orchestrating these tools, the business may end up in the crosshairs of infrastructure management complexity.