Leveraging Infrastructure as Code (IaC) for Faster Cloud Deployments
From banking to ecommerce platforms, many of our customers develop and deploy applications for their end users. Each of these apps sits on top of infrastructure provisioned either by their own IT teams or our dedicated architects and engineers.
Thanks to cloud computing, a server or a database that once took weeks to configure can now be spun up in a matter of seconds via purpose-built platforms like Azure Resource Manager and AWS Management Console.
Infrastructure as Code (IaC) streamlines this process further by provisioning and managing infrastructure with code rather than manual scroll and click processes, automating deployments, boosting operational efficiency, and enhancing infrastructure consistency. IaC has become pivotal in reducing deployment cycles, giving many organisations an edge over their competitors.
We sat down with Nasstar Azure Technical Architect, Dan Rios, to understand IaC’s impact on software development, and explored Azure Bicep, an IaC tool specifically designed for consistent and repeatable Azure resource deployments.
Managing risk in software cycles
According to Dan, IT teams face several challenges that can hinder cloud deployments. Unrealistic project timelines often lead to hasty work. Equally, rushed development and a lack of expertise can lead to subpar code quality, resulting in non-functional software that’s vulnerable to security breaches. In worst-case scenarios, this kind of oversight can expose organisations to data breaches and service disruptions, damaging reputations and causing substantial financial losses.
Time to Market (TTM) is another crucial measurement of deployment success. Although a shorter TTM can provide a competitive edge, boost sales, and capture a larger market share, progress can easily be hampered by inconsistent and poorly configured infrastructure.
These issues need to be identified early in the development cycle to mitigate risk. Dan commented, “Embracing this “shift left” approach for your organisation's development cycles will help identify quality issues, security vulnerabilities, and misconfigurations before deployment into your environments.”
This approach is particularly prevalent in IaC and DevSecOps, where integrating security measures and testing early is crucial for streamlining development and improving quality.
“Combining IaC with tools such as Microsoft's Defender for DevOps can help. You'll be able to leverage many well-known community tools to also scan IaC for misconfigurations, docker image vulnerabilities, exposed secrets, and more. Identifying these problems early gives you an opportunity to review and remediate before deployment.”
What is Infrastructure as Code?
IaC is an infrastructure management approach that instead of configuring physical hardware or using interactive configuration tools, computer data centre resources are managed and provisioned via machine-readable definition files. These files make it easier to edit, distribute, and reuse approved configurations. Expressing infrastructure as code also allows engineers to better utilise version control to keep track of each modification to a codebase.
Advantages of using infrastructure as code
Infrastructure as Code offers a compelling solution to cloud deployment risks while providing a range of benefits:
Consistency: IaC guarantees consistency across deployed workloads. By defining IT infrastructure through code, IT teams can ensure that all resources are provisioned and managed uniformly, reducing errors and discrepancies that could lead to downtime and other issues.
Security: IaC enhances IT infrastructure security by enforcing security policies through code. This reduces the risk of security breaches and ensures that all resources are provisioned and managed with security in mind.
Collaboration: IaC promotes better collaboration between IT teams, utilising the same version control, testing, and deployment practices as software developers. This leads to improved communication, reduces error risks, and expedites issue resolution.
Efficiency: IaC streamlines IT infrastructure management by automating repetitive tasks, reducing the time and effort required for these tasks, and allowing IT teams to concentrate on more strategic tasks that bring value to the organisation.
Scalability: IaC simplifies the scaling of IT infrastructure as per requirements. By defining IT infrastructure through code, IT teams can readily add or remove resources as needed, making it easier to adapt to evolving business needs.
By addressing these areas, IaC significantly reduces operational risks within the software development lifecycle and facilitates faster TTM, providing organisations with a competitive edge and enhanced adaptability to business opportunities.
Dan says, “Whilst there is an initial upfront engineering overhead to developing an IaC template for your infrastructure the investment pays back tenfold. Your IT and Ops team will gain a repeatable deployment method and ‘source of truth’ for infrastructure components.
“Moving reliance from the user interface (UI) to IaC templates can help reduce ad-hoc changes which can lead to misconfigurations that could expose your infrastructure, data, and applications unintentionally. Once you start actively using Infra-as-Code you naturally start to grasp a much deeper understanding of how components tie together and work.”
Azure Bicep: A leading IaC tool
Bicep is a domain-specific language (DSL) that uses declarative syntax to deploy Azure resources, also known as IaC. In a Bicep file, you define the infrastructure you want to deploy to Azure, and then use that file throughout the development lifecycle to repeatedly deploy your infrastructure. So, your resources are deployed in a consistent manner.
DevOps: Nasstar’s Azure Practice utilises Bicep for all Azure deployments, automating deployment through Azure DevOps pipelines, and enhancing repeatability, speed, and agility.
Security: We rely on Microsoft Defender for DevOps to scan Bicep for vulnerabilities, exposed secrets (e.g., plain text passwords in a Bicep file), and Azure best practice to solve issues before deployment.
Community engagement: Our Azure team also actively engages with Microsoft on Bicep community calls to enhance the tooling for our customers and other adopters.
The benefits of using Azure Bicep
Cost efficiency: Bicep is a free tool fully supported by Microsoft.
Repeatable results: Azure resource deployments with Bicep are consistent and predictable.
Modularity: Bicep modules simplify the management of Azure resources by breaking them down into manageable components.
No state file dependency: Azure handles the deployment state, reducing reliance on state files.
Integration: Bicep incorporates new Azure APIs and resources, outpacing declarative languages like Terraform in terms of updates.
Dan agrees, “Azure Bicep is fantastic, known for being simple to read and easy for teams to pick up once the basic concepts have been grasped.
“The lack of managing a state file makes it a breeze to adopt, importing existing Azure infrastructure is a simple click in VSCode, and the Bicep team at Microsoft is tirelessly releasing features and enhancements to the tooling. I’m most excited about the upcoming MS Graph integration to Bicep which will open the door for creating Microsoft Entra objects and Azure App registrations natively in Bicep.”
If you’re new to Bicep and want to pick up some real-world examples to help break down and simplify the basic concepts, check out Dan’s GitHub project: Bicepify.
Future IaC developments
As tools and practices continue to evolve, organisations can expect to see even greater benefits in terms of operational efficiency, security, and agility.
Simplifying cloud adoption
IaC is set to further ease cloud technology adoption by offering a simpler way to deploy foundational resources like cloud landing zones and preconfigured firewalls.
AI will play a pivotal role in improving the accuracy and efficiency of IaC. It will lead to more automated and intelligent infrastructure management. This will reduce the need for manual coding while helping detect anomalies and errors before deployment.
We’re excited to see how IaC tools like Azure Bicep develop over time, further streamlining infrastructure deployments and allowing our team to deliver unbeatable software development services to our customers.