Infrastructure as Code (IaC) vs. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) vs. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

The heart of any software development operation is infrastructure. This combination of virtual and physical assets ensures that the flow, storage, processing, and analysis of data remains efficient and as seamless as possible. When it comes to selecting a model for managing and deploying infrastructure, IT managers typically have two choices: infrastructure as code (IAC) or infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Both models have benefits and weaknesses, so ultimately, it is up to the organization to choose what is suitable for its current operational needs. 

This article will discuss each model and compare and contrast the costs, benefits, and opportunities available with IaC vs. IaaS infrastructure management techniques. 

What Is Infrastructure as Code (IaC)?

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is a form of infrastructure configuration management that commits an organization’s infrastructure elements into text files within a version control system. These text code files contain your infrastructure specifications, making it easier to edit, duplicate, and distribute configurations. 

Historically, infrastructure management was a highly manual process. It required the physical placement and arrangement of servers and each server to be configured by the person deploying it. Only after manual configuration could software and applications be deployed. This process was slow, labor-intensive, expensive, and, unsurprisingly, left quite a bit of room for human errors that caused outages. When outages occurred, it was necessary to physically deploy technicians to troubleshoot and resolve the issue, and due to inconsistencies in the initial configuration, this could become a complex and time-consuming process. Because networks were not cloud-enabled, employing tools like server monitoring wasn’t possible. 

Using infrastructure as code helps reduce or eliminate the need for manual infrastructure management and provisioning processes. By committing these infrastructure configuration specifications to code and maintaining detailed version control notes, IaC eliminates undocumented, ad-hoc configuration changes and creates process consistency.

Key Benefits of IaC

IaC helps reduce environment drift issues often occurring in software development infrastructure environments. Cloud applications are typically composed of networked resources within separate deployment environments for various release life cycle stages. Environment drift occurs when the infrastructure between development, staging, and production environments falls out of sync. 

Infrastructure as code is a critical way to enhance security. Because all configurations are committed to code and deployed from the cloud, IaC prevents the possibility of shadow IT occurring within an organization, ensuring that all changes are appropriately managed within a version control system and ensuring that all configurations are maintained in their desired state. Infrastructure as code also allows you to standardize and scale infrastructure configurations in an automated manner. 

IaC helps improve software development operations in three critical ways: cost, scalability, and visibility. 

Cost reduction is one of the most immediately apparent benefits of employing IaC. Because there is no longer a need to deploy and configure infrastructure manually, it’s possible to have leaner teams that spend fewer hours on the setup, configuration, and maintenance of infrastructure assets. 

Scalability becomes possible in part because of this cost reduction creating improved profits, which can, in turn, be reinvested into the business. Additionally, because configurations are committed to code and can be deployed quickly and remotely, it becomes easier to support organizational growth through rapid deployment and 

With infrastructure as code, it also becomes possible to improve visibility into network, application, and server status with .real-time monitoring solutions across an entire organizational infrastructure. Ensuring that all infrastructure is connected to a central network allows the simple setup and deployment of hybrid IT monitoring solutions

Challenges of Infrastructure as Code

Because IaC is a locally hosted set of code files, it becomes important to ensure that security is completely up to par. The most common security issues aren’t necessarily malicious threats but human error. If upgrades are applied incorrectly, files are accidentally deleted, or an overwrite occurs, you could see a catastrophic problem occur. 

Luckily, these human concerns are fairly simple to mitigate with careful backups and varied permission levels. Physical access to servers and hardware can be restricted to critical users and administrators, as can software permissions. 

With infrastructure as code, it becomes essential to adhere to code strictly. Some older IT professionals might be resistant to the implementation of a more rigid process. It also requires that all necessary configurations are committed to the system, which may identify gaps in existing configuration processes that will need to be addressed. However, this will make configuration code the single source of truth in an IT DevOps organization and reduce questions about how things should be configured or managed. 

One of the most common challenges of IaC doesn’t come from security but from multi-environment challenges. If multiple cloud services and environments are used across an organization, this can lead to a lack of communication and difficulty standardizing data transmissions and securities between these environments. This creates a deeper need for clear visibility into the entire infrastructure and comprehensive infrastructure monitoring to ensure that regardless of environment, all networked assets are configured consistently and in accordance with the code set forth by IaC protocols. 

Declarative vs. Imperative Infrastructure as Code

There are two key approaches to infrastructure as code: declarative IaC and imperative IaC. These approaches differ in their starting point and how they reach a specific infrastructure configuration and can make a difference when comparing IaC vs. IaaS. 

Imperative infrastructure as code defines the commands needed to create a specific environmental configuration, then ensures that those commands are executed in a specific order. Declarative infrastructure as code, on the other hand, defines the state of the desired system and automates the configuration of that environment, including required resources and properties from a list of available system objects. 

While IaC tools can typically work with either a declarative or imperative approach, they tend to prefer one over the other. Many infrastructure management use cases prefer the flexibility and automation capabilities of a declarative IaC environment. When employing IaaS—more on this soon—it becomes imperative to select a service provider that works in the organization’s preferred approach, whether that is declarative or imperative IaC.  

Elements of Infrastructure as Code

Underneath the larger umbrella of your IaC falls a full stack of service lines and software tools. To make infrastructure as code work effectively, you need several tools to support this endeavor. 

Version Control System

A version control system is a key element to making infrastructure as code work correctly. Without this type of system in place, it becomes virtually impossible to manage the various stages of your software development and ensure the right version is being worked on at any given moment. It also ensures that the correct version is in the correct environment, acting as a repository for the most current code files. 

Configuration Management Platform

A configuration management platform helps ensure that all scripts, tools, and information are stored and replicable when connecting to your hosting environment and managing all required APIs and settings. Many open-source configuration management platforms are available, including Terraform, Chef, Salt Stack, and Ansible. 

Remote Capable Hosting or IaaS

The most critical element of successful infrastructure management is ensuring that a fully remote-capable option for hosting is in place. Your configuration management system and version management tools will need to plug into the remote host to effectively configure and manage your infrastructure assets. This is where infrastructure as a service provider can come in handy. They ensure that the selected hosting environment meets the organization’s specific infrastructure needs and fully integrates with the full DevOps tool stack. 

What Is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)? 

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a virtualized computing solution offered through cloud computing providers. IaaS is an entirely cloud-based infrastructure system, with servers, storage, compute, and network systems all provided virtually over the internet. 

In the simplest terms possible, infrastructure as a service gives you the option to entrust servers and storage, network firewalls and security, and occasionally even physical plant buildings to a third-party service provider. 

Infrastructure as a Service works on a monthly or annual subscription model. It is accomplished through a combination of bare metal hosting and virtual hosting environments. Instead of using one machine to perform computing functions or traveling to server banks to manage them, entire environments can be represented in a virtual manner. 

Key Benefits of IaaS

Infrastructure as a service offers complete flexibility for infrastructure management, with the ability to scale as needed and on-demand. In most organizations, this scalability is critical and helps ensure that usage and costs are directly proportional and in line with operational needs. 

Additionally, if other cloud services are employed within an organization, such as software (SaaS) services, platforms as a service (PaaS), and containers as a service (CaaS), it becomes simple for organizations to have a fully cloud-based technology stack. 

By employing infrastructure as a service rather than attempting to manage your full infrastructure in-house, you can also expect to see security improvements and reduced operational costs. You can also expect improvements in reliability, stability, and support from your IaaS provider when compared to managing your full infrastructure in-house. Your team will no longer have to worry about troubleshooting equipment problems or installing updates. The added support also gives peace of mind when planning for disaster recovery scenarios, enabling improvements to business continuity in the event of an outage. 

Most important to many organizations, IaaS gives software development teams the ability to become lean, efficient, and autonomous. By employing an infrastructure as a service provider, software developers have the ability to requisition the resources they require without the involvement of a systems administrator to manually provision the items required. Therefore, infrastructure as a service lowers not only hardware costs but also operational costs associated with staffing. 

Challenges of Infrastructure as a Service

While infrastructure as a service offers unique flexibility and scalability, it does come with challenges of its own. If your organization has not historically used cloud services for infrastructure management, there will certainly be a transition period for everyone involved. New processes and changes to your organization’s existing infrastructure will be required. If you have an existing data center to contend with, this change might come with costs and long timelines attached to it. 

In order to keep costs in line with budgetary expectations, it may be worth integrating your system into a third-party IaaS provider rather than implementing your own. This route will require learning to connect and maintain several APIs.  

Common IaaS Application Scenarios

There are several ways that infrastructure as a service can be applied to your business. The first, which is also the fastest and most cost-effective, is a lift and shift migration. This quick application does not require refactoring your existing infrastructure but grants all of the benefits of IaaS, such as reduced cost, improved security, and simplified scalability. 

For web apps, infrastructure as a service provides networking resources, as well as servers for storage, web, and application use. Because the demand for app service can be unpredictable, the scalability of IaaS is particularly attractive for web app organizations. 

Cost reduction is a key benefit of IaaS, and few applications realize these benefits more than high-performance computing operations and storage, backup, and recovery functions. When it comes to high-performance computing needs, using third-party IaaS resources frees up organizational assets and access resources that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive. For large operations that require multiple backup and recovery redundancies, IaaS becomes critical to keep operating costs within reason. 

Applications of IaC vs. IaaS

Infrastructure as a service and infrastructure as code aren’t disparate options to complete one function. When it comes down to it, infrastructure management is complex and requires detailed process management. Infrastructure as code is a tool for provisioning and managing infrastructure and configurations for those resources. Infrastructure as a Service is a method to create virtualized computing environments and rapidly scale infrastructure to meet specific organizational needs. 

Infrastructure as code is about more than logging code into a change management system and leaving it to exist within your organization’s servers. It requires a hands-on approach to infrastructure. Infrastructure as code can be employed in any software development operations, infrastructure management, and configuration management applications. 

Rather than discussing IaC vs. IaaS, it is more reasonable and effective to discuss how IaaS and IaC work in tandem. Infrastructure as a service can serve as a hosting environment for infrastructure as code. IaC is an umbrella under which entire software development infrastructure and operations fall. 

Especially in enterprise development operations, it isn’t reasonable to assume that all infrastructure can be managed offsite or through a third party, and some assets and servers will remain on-premise. This hybrid IT environment settles the debate of IaC vs. IaaS once and for all: it is essential to employ both for the most effective operation possible and even more essential to have full visibility across the organization’s entire infrastructure. 

The Role of Infrastructure Monitoring

Infrastructure monitoring tools allow you to gain full-stack visibility into your entire infrastructure, including cloud, on-premise, and hybrid environments. Using a cloud-based monitoring system like LogicMonitor’s infrastructure monitoring, you will be able to automatically detect, monitor, and alert your entire IT infrastructure. That way, when an outage occurs, you will be able to quickly identify the issue and reduce your repair time. 

LogicMonitor also enables you to quickly and efficiently configure your infrastructure assets with very little hands-on involvement, almost completely automating the setup and monitoring process so your team can focus their energy on growth, development, and innovation rather than setup and maintenance. 

Using a single pane of glass approach to monitoring infrastructure assets across all operational environments, including cloud-based and on-premise assets, will simplify your operations as much as possible. This approach will allow you and your team to commit more time to strengthen your product rather than focusing energy on manually monitoring system uptime and deploying necessary updates. 

Because everything is visible within one screen, you can easily visualize even the most complex infrastructure, allowing you to discover, map, and visualize all networking, server, compute, and virtualization resources. You can also simplify topology maps, streamline troubleshooting, and improve key performance metrics such as mean time to repair (MTTR). If you would like to see how infrastructure monitoring can help benefit your operation, whether you work with infrastructure as code (IAC) or infrastructure as a service (IaaS), LogicMonitor can help improve your infrastructure management functions and your entire operation. Sign up today for a free trial to see just how simple it is to set up and effectively monitor your operation.