Cloud Simplified: Infrastructure as code

One of the first things about Cloud computing that really fired up my imagination was the concept of infrastructure as code. The phrase instantly conjured up the merging of two worlds in a very exciting way. As I looked into it more I realised that this concept was clearly one of the cornerstones of the public  Cloud (and of DevOps as well but that is probably best left for another blog post).

This all sounds wonderful but what does it actually mean? To understand this it is easiest to consider the two parts of the term separately. In a traditional IT environment the infrastructure consists of the servers and storage that runs the applications a business uses on a daily basis as well as the networking components that plumb everything together. The code is the software that actually makes up these applications written in a programming language. The infrastructure would be physical but the code would be stored digitally and importantly could be backed up, copied and different versions could be maintained.

Virtual Infrastructure 

In the world of the cloud however the hardware infrastructure components are (from the user’s point of view anyway) virtual. If you need a new server you just log into your account and with a few clicks of your mouse you can have it up and running. The concept of infrastructure as code takes this a step further however and allows the virtual, cloud based infrastructure to be described textually in a way very reminiscent of computer code. This textual description or template can then be used to request the infrastructure.

This has many remarkable and powerful implications. It means that your infrastructure is now reproducible at the click of a button which is great for producing test and development environments that are identical to a given production environment. It removed a large degree of human error from the process. Your infrastructure is also documented in a single location and the templates can be stored, backed up and version controlled in the same way that computer code can be.

How to Achieve It 

To give a concrete example, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has a service called Cloudformation which allows you to describe your infrastructure using a language called JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). You then upload this template and the AWS Cloudformation service works out the dependencies between the various infrastructure components specified and requests that they are created. In AWS terms, this set of infrastructure is referred to as a stack. If you need to modify the stack then you can just make changes in the template and then Cloudformation can work out what has changed and apply them for you.

Infrastructure as code really is a concept that sounds simple and innocuous at first but the more you think about the more you realise how much potential it has to transform the way you work.

Cloud is about how you do computing, not where you do computing.


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