06/14/23

Infrastructure as Code: An Introduction

What is IaC and when is it appropriate?

3 Min Read

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is an approach to managing and provisioning computing infrastructure, where infrastructure setup is defined in code files, rather than manual processes. IaC can be a game changer for organizations, especially in the context of backend development and DevOps.

IaC as a concept

At its core, IaC is about managing infrastructure in the same way that software teams manage application code. You write definitions for your infrastructure in a domain-specific language (DSL), and then run tools that use these definitions to provision resources. This could be anything from a simple server to an entire data center.

The fundamental benefit of IaC is consistency. It eliminates the "it works on my machine" problem because every environment is created from the same blueprint. This approach also supports DevOps practices such as continuous integration (CI), continuous delivery (CD), and site reliability engineering (SRE).

Benefits of Infrastructure as Code

  • Speed and Simplicity: IaC tools can quickly set up complex environments for various stages (development, staging, production) and keep them in sync.

  • Version Control: Like application code, infrastructure code can be versioned. This allows you to track changes, roll back to previous versions, and create test cases for infrastructure.

  • Reduced Errors: By eliminating manual configuration, IaC reduces the potential for human error. Consistency across environments also helps to catch issues early.

  • Scalability: IaC makes it easier to replicate infrastructure setup for different environments or new projects, promoting scalable operations.

Drawbacks of Infrastructure as Code

  • Learning Curve: IaC tools often have their own DSLs, which require time and effort to learn. There is also the complexity of understanding cloud provider services.

  • Maintaining Infrastructure Code: Infrastructure code has to be maintained just like application code. It needs regular refactoring, testing, and updates, which can be time-consuming.

  • Debugging: Debugging infrastructure setup can be complex, especially when there are many interdependencies.

IaC Tools in Practice

  • Terraform: An open-source tool created by HashiCorp, Terraform is platform-agnostic and can manage a wide array of service providers with its plugin system. However, its configuration language, HCL, can be complex to learn and manage. Another consideration is that managing different environments with Terraform often means duplicating configuration code, which can lead to inconsistencies.

  • Pulumi: Unlike Terraform, Pulumi allows you to define your infrastructure in general-purpose programming languages like Python, JavaScript, and Go. This makes the learning curve less steep for developers. However, as Pulumi directly interacts with the cloud provider's API, any changes to the API could potentially break your infrastructure code.

These tools make a big difference in managing infrastructure, but they still come with complexities and challenges. It's important to have a deep understanding of these tools and the cloud resources you are dealing with. Infrastructure as Code isn't just a fancy way of setting up servers; it's a fundamental practice that, when properly implemented, can improve the efficiency and reliability of your operations.

Encore: An Alternative Approach to IaC

Encore, a backend development platform, offers a compelling alternative to traditional IaC solutions. It addresses the learning curve and maintainability challenges with Terraform, by providing a declarative Infrastructure SDK that lets developers define the infrastructure requirements directly in application code.

Encore orchestrates the provisioning of the necessary infrastructure in local, preview, and cloud environments on AWS and GCP. It mitigates the cost optimization challenges of Terraform and Pulumi, by providing an automated path to use cheap serverless alternatives for dev and staging environments while relying on more robust options in production.

Ready to escape the hamster wheel?

Encore is the Backend Development Platform that automates infrastructure to give you a simpler workflow — from developing locally to scaling on AWS/GCP.