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What is Infrastructure as Code for NetOps?

As DevOps approaches creep over the wall into network operations, it drags with it new terminology. These colloquialisms can be confusing to NetOps who’ve not encountered them before, and can befuddle IT executives who are being pressured to embrace the methodology.

Amongst them is the notion of infrastructure as code. In the world of developers, infrastructure is primarily the platforms and servers and container systems on which apps are deployed and in which they are scaled. Infrastructure is primarily compute.

On the other side of the wall lives a wider, more robust, set of infrastructure that spans storage, security, and networking in addition to compute. There are four ops, after all, and all must be operating in sync to achieve continuous deployment and enable the kind of optimization IT and business leaders are looking for out of digital transformation. infrastructure as codeThat means infrastructure as code includes a much broader range of systems, devices, and services in production than it does in development. An app deployment generally means infrastructure in each of the four ops will be touched in some way. That makes infrastructure as code in production a bit trickier, but also has a greater impact on efficiency and speed.

That’s because automation can eliminate the wait times between hand offs that are too often the source of inefficiencies in deployments, particularly when manual processes run afoul of vacations and sick days and lunch hours.

IT’S A SIMILE

Infrastructure as code is a simile; which means we don’t actually (at least not now) want to turn our network and application services systems into code that we build and then deploy. That’d be craziness for most enterprise organizations and disrupt the stability and reliability of the corporate network. But we do want to take advantage of the benefits of a system that decouples configuration and profiles from the systems on which they are running.

That means separating out configurations, policies, and profiles from the hardware or software on which they are deployed.

It is this collection that is then considered “deployment artifacts” and can be treated just like code. That means they can be stored and managed in repositories, versioned, and reviewed. They can be pulled, cloned, and committed in the same way a developer pulls, clones, and commits code to and from a repository (like Github).

We also should include “automation artifacts”. These are the scripts and associated files describing automation tasks that go along with your automation toolkit of choice. If that’s Ansible, it’s playbooks. If it’s Chef, it’s a recipe. For Puppet, a manifest. Or it might just be a plain old Python script.

For BIG-IP and an increasing number of network-hosted systems, that also includes templates (iApp) that might further describe more complex or standardized configurations. Using a template can be advantageous here because it can support options and application services that might not yet be supported by the core toolset.

Along with the deployment artifacts, automation artifacts form the collection that we call “infrastructure as code.” It is assumed that you can provision a system and subsequently run an automation process against it to configure it as desired.

When combined with a per-application approach to network and application services, an infrastructure as code approach can dramatically mitigate the risk of frequent deployments. By isolating configurations and confining their impact to a single system, the impact of a deployment gone wrong is practically eliminated. That, in turn, encourages per-application schedules that better align with the needs of the business and demands of users.

For cloud-minded organizations, taking an infrastructure as code approach can reduce the friction involved in migrating from data center to cloud, or cloud to cloud. Because the configuration is decoupled from the system it can ostensibly be deployed on a similar system elsewhere.

There are a lot of good reasons to undertake the effort to move to an infrastructure as code approach, and very few good reasons not to. Infrastructure as code is one of the most advantageous ways to realize the agile network organizations need to succeed in a multi-cloud, app-driven digital economy.