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How to Overcome Infrastructure as Code Challenges

March 1, 2024 Asif Awan

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While IaC provides many valuable benefits for managing infrastructure and platform resources through code, there are challenges with mastering the tools and choosing them wisely, managing drift, security and governance and having expertise. In my last blog I discussed seven challenges of using infrastructure as code (IaC). But I don’t want to leave you with just the problems, I want to provide seven solutions for overcoming IaC challenges. 

1. Maximize Collaboration 

Technology is evolving rapidly and IaC has become a game changer for many organizations as they embrace cloud and cloud native technologies. But to leverage it fully and not get bitten by risk, your teams need to work together, leverage one another's knowledge, and not try to all be experts on the same topics. This requires both respect and a deep understanding of the expertise each team is bringing to the deployment lifecycle. Setting up lunch-and-learns, online social events, and even just group training or mock incidents, can help your teams build critical trust and communication skills they will need to collaborate on IaC solutions.

2. Choose Tools Wisely 

As your cloud native maturity grows (you can check out the cloud native maturity model), you may realize there are many tools doing similar things. Invest time to evaluate your organization’s needs in order to choose tools based on factors like ease of use, community support, and integration capabilities. You should involve your teams in this process to ensure alignment on what is required so that you don’t buy a tool with little adoption. Once aligned, select a standard set of tools that integrate well together to help streamline processes and avoid unnecessary complexity.

3. Try Infrastructure from Code

The cloud is complex and you will ALWAYS need infrastructure experts to help create and manage infrastructure components, provision and configure services and resources, and keep up with changes. But if you can abstract infrastructure and components and resources away from application deployment, you can let the abstraction tools deal with the version changes across resources. Infrastructure from Code (IfC) can help provide this abstraction layer. IfC analyzes your application code and applies standards needed during IaC generation to help reduce the number of properties a developer or Ops person must understand and edit during provisioning and application deployment. 

4. Manage Changes with Version Control Systems

We know version control can be challenging when applied to infrastructure. We also know that sometimes it feels impossible to update the IaC in the middle of an event or incident. But if DevOps taught us one thing, it’s that there are incredibly clear benefits to treating infrastructure states similar to application code. You need proper processes for managing versions that are lightweight enough for teams to use even when in the middle of an incident. Utilize version control systems like Git to track changes systematically. You’ll want to establish clear branching strategies and use tags to mark releases, incidents, or important code milestones.

5. Address Configuration Drift 

IaC introduced configuration drift, and paired with the right tools and processes, it can be overcome with IaC (but not in the form of “golden templates”). 

To effectively tackle configuration drift, the initial step involves establishing a continuous monitoring system to identify any deviations in configuration across environments for all deployed applications. This system should be implemented for both staging and production environments, regardless of the presence of an automated drift resolution mechanism.

There are two main automated approaches for remedying such drifts. The first one involves discouraging platform engineers from directly modifying cloud resources by consistently reverting them back to the configurations specified in the IaC. While some IaC solutions support this method, it may not be favored by the Site Reliability Engineers (SREs) responsible for the changes.

Alternatively, a second solution entails setting up an automated pipeline to detect drift in each environment, automatically generating IaC to reflect the delta changes in resources and their configurations. These changes are then presented to the DevOps team managing cloud resource provisioning, possibly in the form of auto-generated pull requests (PRs) if the original IaC is version-controlled using a system like Git.

6. Build Security Best Practices into Provisioning and Deployment

There are many security best practices including least privileged access, a core concept of zero trust access controls. You’ll want to put parameters around sensitive data and use secure storage solutions so that during infrastructure provisioning, you don’t inadvertently connect applications with resources that shouldn’t be connected. Many developers don’t know what this looks like. Providing a way for them to visualize IaC and drag and drop resources to enhance the deployment architecture is a straightforward way to ensure IaC follows security best practices. In addition, you’ll want to regularly audit IaC for vulnerabilities and implement automated security checks. 

This approach ensures that developers are looking at, and confirming, the information that they have the knowledge of, which is the deployment architecture itself, and the security team is constantly involved in the IaC process - and not being an after-the-fact review process - through predefined policies that are enforced when the deployment architecture is being visually finalized.

7. Embrace Golden Standards (Not Templates)

I mentioned “golden templates” above. It is a method being used to ensure consistency and governance for IaC. But templates go out of date quickly and with copy and paste, you might find that templates cause drift, security, and version control issues (see above!). Instead, you want to implement golden standards. What is a golden standard? It is a standardized set of security, compliance, and policy best practices set at the platform level and then applied automatically to all IaC creation. How do you apply it automatically? Don’t use templates. Instead, IaC should be generated based on the particular version of your application code, using Infrastructure from Code (IfC). 

IfC puts the infrastructure needs of the application first while ensuring infrastructure is least privileged and right sized based on your golden standards. Because you create IfC for every application deployment, standards can more easily be added or updated at the platform level. It removes the burden on the developer to stay current with every standard implemented or to implement after creation scanning software. 

Infrastructure from Code is Here Now

IfC enhances your application pipeline by removing one of the headaches of deploying your application. Yes, you need to add in one more step to your process, but this step can help reduce hours, days and even weeks of bottlenecks, uncertainty or risk. Instead, IfC can help you streamline infrastructure provisioning and application deployment, implement standards by default, and align teams across your organization goals. 

You can try appCD’s IfC solution to see how your team can overcome IaC challenges so that you can be more productive, secure and even profitable. 

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