The shift to a developer-centric vision of infrastructure that started about 15 years ago offered users frequent updates and a way to simplify API-centric automation. Infrastructure as Code (IaC) became the standard method for software developers to describe and deploy cloud infrastructure. While on the surface, having more freedom sounds like a nearly utopian scenario for developers, it has become a nightmare for operations teams who are now tasked with understanding and managing the infrastructure and the underpinning tools in the DevOps toolchain. As cloud infrastructure became commoditized, new limitations emerged alongside the broader adoption of IaC, limitations that can have negative impacts for the overall business.

If you think of application environments like a pizza (or in my case, a vegan pizza), IaC is just the unbaked dough, and the individual IaC files alone are simply flour, salt, yeast, water and so on. Without the other necessary components like the data, network topology, cloud services and environment services – the toppings, if you will – you don’t have a complete environment. Additionally, the need for proper governance, cost controls, and improved cross-team collaboration has become even more critical. 

While the needs of developers are application-centric, IaC is infrastructure-centric. There is a disconnect between the expectations of the development and operations teams that creates delays, security risks, and friction between those two teams. For IaC to be used effectively, securely and in a scalable manner, there are some challenges that need to be addressed.

Let’s discuss the top four challenges of IaC and how developer and DevOps teams can overcome these pain points and obstacles using Environments-as-a-Service (EaaS). 

Integrating IaC assets 

One of today’s central challenges is in generating a pipeline that provides a way to deploy infrastructure assets continuously and consistently. Many DevOps organizations are sitting on top of mountains of IaC files, and it’s a monumental task for these teams to understand, track and deploy the right infrastructure for the right use case. 

EaaS solves this problem by automating the process of discovering, identifying, and modeling infrastructure into complete, automated environments that include all the elements that the end user requires. 

Furthermore, EaaS solutions eliminate the application environment bottleneck and enable faster innovation at scale by defining elements in modular templates, otherwise known as “blueprints,” and help organizations manage the environments throughout the entire application life cycle. Existing IaC scripts can easily be imported and managed in an infrastructure stack, or users can choose to build “blueprints” from scratch. 

Distributing the right environments to the right developers

Using the wrong environment definitions in different stages of the SDLC is like using a chainsaw to slice your pizza; it won’t get the job done right and could create more problems. It’s crucial for developers to have access to properly configured environments for their use case. Developers don’t necessarily have the expertise to properly configure environments. Yet, in some cases, they’re expected to, or they attempt to do it because there aren’t enough people in their organization with the cloud infrastructure skills to do so in a timely manner. The result could be an environment that’s horribly misconfigured like putting sauce on top of your pizza (sorry, Chicago) or even worse, pineapple and ham (not sorry).

Organizations should distribute complete environments to their developers with “baked-in” components and customized policies and permissions. To accomplish this, most EaaS solutions have the ability to provide a self-service environment catalog that simplifies this process, while also dramatically reducing provisioning times. Operations teams can take advantage of role-based policies, so developers have access only to the environments that are appropriate for their use case, ensuring consistency throughout the pipeline.  Consumption of this service should be available via command line or API, so it can seamlessly integrate into your CI/CD pipeline.

Managing the environment life cycle & controlling costs 

The orchestration of environments is only one piece of the pie. It has to be served, consumed, and then, of course, you have to clean up afterward. In addition to configuring and serving up the right environments for the developers to consume, EaaS allows for seamless enforcement of policy, compliance, and governance throughout the entire environment life cycle, providing information on how infrastructure is being used. During deployment, end users can set the environments for a specified runtime, automating teardown once resources are no longer required to ensure the leanest possible consumption of cloud resources. 

We all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, so understanding and managing cloud resource costs is a crucial element of the full environment life cycle and demonstrates the business value of a company’s infrastructure. By leveraging auto-tagging and custom-tagging capabilities, businesses can easily track how environments are deployed in a centralized way, providing complete operational transparency, and ensuring resources are being provisioned in line with an organization’s prescribed standards. Understanding the business context behind cloud resource consumption allows businesses to optimize costs and better align those expenses with specific projects, applications, or development teams.

Creating a reliable IaC infrastructure 

There are several critical steps to ensure infrastructure reliability. This includes depositing IaC code into a source control repository, versioning it, running tests against it, packaging it, and deploying it in a testing environment – all before delivering it to production in a safe, secure, and repeatable manner. 

In maintaining a consistent and repeatable application architecture, the objective is to treat IaC like any application code. You can meet the changing needs of software development by creating a continuous IaC infrastructure pipeline that is interwoven with the software development and delivery process, leveraging best practices from software delivery, and transposing them to the infrastructure delivery process.

To ensure that your infrastructure is reliable, you must consider the larger picture. IaC has become ubiquitous and has certainly advanced infrastructure provisioning, but that’s where it ends. Organizations need to start thinking about not just configuring and provisioning infrastructure but managing the entire life cycle of complete environments to realize the true value of infrastructure. Just like you wouldn’t go to a pizza parlor and order a blob of raw dough, you wouldn’t serve your developers just the infrastructure – they need the complete environment.

Using EaaS, developers are able to achieve their project objectives, support the entire stack, integrate IaC assets, and deliver comprehensive environments needed to orchestrate the infrastructure life cycle. Buon appetito!