What is Infrastructure as Code (IaC)?

The rise of cloud computing and modern web frameworks in the mid-2000s posed significant scaling challenges for enterprises, which created a widespread need for a more efficient and automated way to manage infrastructure. IaC emerged as a solution to this problem, allowing developers and IT administrators to treat infrastructure as code, using the same principles and practices they would apply to software development. By modeling infrastructure through code, IaC enables the design, implementation, and deployment of CloudOps (cloud operations) using well-established software engineering practices, such as version control, testing, and continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD).

According to recent market research, the global IaC Market size was valued at USD 0.8 billion in 2022 and is projected to reach USD 2.3 billion by 2027, growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 24.0% during the forecast period. This growth highlights the importance and relevance of IaC in modern software development and IT operations. In this blog post, we discuss IaC and the benefits, challenges, and best practices you can follow for a successful implementation.


  1. Infrastructure as Code (IaC) manages IT infrastructure through machine-readable definition files and addresses the scaling challenges.

  2. IaC offers several benefits, including maintaining consistency across deployments, improving efficiency and speed, reducing the risk of human error, enabling version control and collaboration, and facilitating cost savings and resource optimization.

  3. DigitalOcean integrates with IaC tools like Terraform, Pulumi, and Crossplane to define and manage infrastructure as code.

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What is Infrastructure as Code (IaC)?

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is an IT practice in which infrastructure components like virtual machines, networks, and storage systems are managed and provisioned using machine-readable scripts or configuration files rather than manual hardware configuration or interactive configuration tools.

This approach allows for automated, consistent, and repeatable infrastructure setups on workloads hosted in organizations’ private, public, and hybrid cloud environments.

Different approaches to IaC

IaC can be implemented using two primary approaches: declarative and imperative. Each has its own method of managing and provisioning infrastructure resources, offering unique advantages.

Approach Description Use case
Declarative Defines the desired state of the infrastructure without specifying the exact steps to achieve it. - Standardized environments: Ensures development, testing, and production environments are identical.- Automated scaling: Automatically scales infrastructure based on predefined rules. For example, you can use DigitalOcean with Terraform to manage and provision infrastructure to declare the desired state of resources like Droplets (Linux virtual machines), databases, and networking components. This ensures consistent and repeatable deployments.
Imperative Involves writing code explicitly defining the steps to achieve the desired infrastructure state. - Complex orchestrations: Managing multi-step processes and dependencies.-Incremental changes: Applying updates and patches to existing infrastructure. For instance, you can use DigitalOcean with Ansible playbooks to script detailed deployment steps for infrastructure, such as installing software packages, setting up networking, and providing precise control over each process step.

5 Benefits of Infrastructure as Code (IaC)

By treating infrastructure as code, organizations can reap several benefits that boost efficiency, reliability, and collaboration in their IT operations:

1. Maintain consistency

One of the primary benefits of IaC is the ability to ensure consistency and repeatability across infrastructure deployments. With IaC tools, you can describe infrastructure resources in configuration files stored in a code repository. This eliminates configuration drift and ensures that the same configuration is applied continuously, creating consistent environments.

For example, a cloud application can use IaC to deploy the same environment for development, testing, and production, ensuring all stages of the software development lifecycle have identical infrastructure configurations.

2. Improved efficiency and speed

IaC improves efficiency and speed by automating infrastructure management tasks. Instead of relying on manual processes or interactive configuration tools, you can provision the infrastructure through scripts and automation. This infrastructure automation reduces the time it takes to spin up new environments, allowing software developers to focus on coding rather than infrastructure setup.

For instance, a platform engineer can write infrastructure code to create environments and deploy cloud resources in minutes rather than hours or days using provisioning tools like Terraform.

3. Reduced risk of human error

Manual and physical hardware configurations often lead to human errors, which might result in costly downtime and system failures. By using IaC, you can minimize these risks. With IaC tools and configuration management tools, you can control and manage infrastructure deployments through code, which is less prone to mistakes.

For example, by using a declarative approach in IaC, the desired state of the infrastructure is defined in code. This ensures that the infrastructure matches the specifications without the errors that manual processes might introduce.

4. Improved version control and collaboration

IaC allows infrastructure configurations to be version-controlled, just like application code. When you iterate with version control systems, such as Git, you can easily collaborate with your team members. Infrastructure changes can be tracked, reviewed, and rolled back if necessary.

For example, a team of software developers can use a code repository to manage infrastructure code, making it easy to see who made changes, what changes were made, and when. This practice supports continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines, improving the overall development cycle.

5. Cost savings and resource optimization

IaC helps you to optimize resource usage and reduce costs associated with infrastructure management. Automated resource provisioning and management reduce the need for manual interventions, cutting down labor costs, increasing cloud ROI, and minimizing the risk of missing dependencies or misconfigurations. With IaC, you can also prevent over- or under-provisioning of resources by ensuring that the infrastructure precisely matches the required specifications.

For instance, using IaC to manage virtual machines and cloud resources ensures that only the necessary resources are provisioned and maintained. This can lead to significant cost savings, especially in large-scale data centers and cloud computing environments. Additionally, IaC supports using immutable infrastructure, replacing infrastructure components rather than modifying them, further reducing cloud automation costs and complexity.

Top 5 Infrastructure as Code tools

IaC tools are cloud computing tools that efficiently automate and manage infrastructure resources. Here are the top five IaC tools widely used in the industry:

1. Terraform

Terraform, developed by HashiCorp, is a flexible IaC tool that supports multiple cloud providers, such as DigitalOcean, AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. It uses a declarative approach, allowing users to define their desired infrastructure state using HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL). Terraform automates infrastructure creation, updating, and versioning, ensuring consistency and repeatability across environments.

  • Use cases: Multi-cloud management, automated scaling, disaster recovery.

  • Example: Provision a set of virtual machines, load balancers, and databases across cloud providers.

2. Ansible

Ansible, developed by Red Hat, is a popular open-source automation tool that uses a declarative approach to manage infrastructure. It employs simple YAML-based playbooks to define configurations and orchestrate complex deployments. Ansible is agentless, making it easy to set up and use without needing additional software on managed nodes.

  • Use cases: Configuration management, application deployment, continuous delivery.

  • Example: Configure web servers, deploy applications, and set up network devices in a cloud infrastructure.

3. Puppet

Puppet is a configuration management tool that uses a declarative approach to automate infrastructure provisioning, configuration, and management. It defines the desired state of infrastructure components using a Domain-Specific Language (DSL). Puppet is known for its scalability and ability to manage large and complex environments. There is also an open-source version of Puppet available, which provides a free and flexible option for organizations that want to implement Puppet without the commercial licensing costs of the enterprise edition.

  • Use cases: Managing large-scale infrastructure, enforcing compliance, automated patch management.

  • Example: Ensure all servers have the latest security patches and configurations applied.

4. Chef

Chef is a configuration management tool that follows an imperative approach. It uses Ruby-based DSL that specifies the steps needed to achieve the desired state of infrastructure. Chef is flexible and integrates well with other DevOps tools and workflows.

  • Use cases: Infrastructure automation, continuous integration, delivery, and cloud migrations.

  • Example: Automate the setup of a multi-tier web application, including web servers, databases, and load balancers.

5. Pulumi

Pulumi is a modern IaC tool that takes a unique approach by allowing users to write infrastructure code using familiar programming languages like Java, TypeScript, Python, YAML, C#, and Go. Developers can use their existing skills and libraries while managing infrastructure resources. Pulumi supports multiple cloud providers, including DigitalOcean, AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, making it versatile and adaptable to various environments.

  • Use Cases: Cloud-native development alongside application code in the same programming language. Enforcing compliance and security policies through code.

  • Example: Automate DigitalOcean products like Droplets, Managed Databases, and DigitalOcean Kubernetes (DOKS) from an easy-to-use command-line interface that integrates with various popular CI/CD systems.

Challenges in implementing Infrastructure as Code

Adopting Infrastructure as Code (IaC) can come with its own challenges that organizations must address to successfully implement and maintain their infrastructure. Here are the key challenges and steps to overcome them:

Complexity of infrastructure configurations

Defining and managing complex infrastructure configurations can be difficult, especially as the infrastructure’s scale and diversity grow. To help manage complexity and improve maintainability, you can break down infrastructure configurations into well-defined, reusable modules. Ensure your cloud provider has offerings where you can easily attach IaC components for faster deployments.

You can use DigitalOcean Managed Databases, Load Balancers, and DigitalOcean Kubernetes(DOKS) to easily integrate the components into your infrastructure code without defining the low-level configurations.

Security and compliance challenges

Maintaining the security and compliance of infrastructure provisioned through code can be a significant concern, as errors or vulnerabilities in the code can directly impact the production environment. To bring the risk under control, develop a comprehensive testing strategy, including security-focused tests, and address potential vulnerabilities before deployment. Select cloud providers with included security options.

For example, DigitalOcean’s managed services, such as DigitalOcean Kubernetes and Managed Databases, come with built-in security features and automatic updates, reducing the burden of maintaining secure infrastructure.

Driving team adoption and collaboration

Transitioning from manual infrastructure management to an IaC approach can be a cultural shift that requires the entire team’s buy-in and collaboration. To mitigate the cloud migration challenge, you can offer training and resources to help team members understand the benefits of IaC and develop the necessary skills to facilitate a smoother transition. You can also encourage cross-functional collaboration, where developers, operations, and security teams work together to define and maintain infrastructure code, which leads to better-aligned and more secure infrastructure.

4 best practices for Infrastructure as Code

Following best practices for Infrastructure as Code, such as choosing the correct approach, separating concerns, and following the DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) principle, keeps your infrastructure code maintainable, scalable, and easy to understand. Furthermore, implementing the following strategies ensures that your IaC approach is efficient, reliable, and easy to manage, leading to better-provisioned and more resilient infrastructure.

1. Define infrastructure dependencies

Clearly define the dependencies between different components of your infrastructure, such as virtual machines, databases, and networking resources. This ensures that your infrastructure is provisioned in the correct order and all necessary components are set up correctly.

For example, when provisioning a web application, you might define dependencies between the web server, the database server, and the load balancer. This ensures the database is provisioned before the web server, and the load balancer is set up to route traffic to the web servers.

2. Implement version control

Use a version control system, such as Git, to manage your infrastructure code. This allows you to track changes, collaborate with team members, and easily roll back to previous versions if needed.

For instance, you can use Git to manage your Terraform templates, ensuring that all changes to your infrastructure are tracked and can be easily reproduced.

3. Automate deployment pipelines

Set up automated deployment pipelines to provision and update your infrastructure on demand or schedule. This will help cloud orchestration by maintaining consistency, reducing manual errors, and speeding up deployment.

You can use tools like Jenkins, CircleCI, or GitHub Actions to automatically build and deploy your infrastructure code triggered by changes to your version control repository.

4. Implement testing and validation

Develop a comprehensive testing and validation strategy for your infrastructure code. This can include unit, integration, and end-to-end tests to ensure your infrastructure is provisioned correctly and functions as expected.

For example, you can use a tool like Terratest to write automated tests for your Terraform configurations, verifying that resources are created correctly and that the overall infrastructure setup works as intended.

Unlock the power of Infrastructure as Code with DigitalOcean

DigitalOcean has embraced IaC as a core part of its cloud platform, providing various tools and services to help startups and developers adopt and succeed with IaC.

Powerful IaC tools

Tools like Terraform, Pulumi, and Crossplane enable you to define your infrastructure through code, automating the deployment and management of resources across environments. DigitalOcean recognizes the transformative power of IaC and has integrated support for the leading IaC platforms:

  • Terraform DigitalOcean: Explore the power of the Terraform language to define and manage your DigitalOcean resources.

  • Pulumi DigitalOcean: Define and provision your DigitalOcean infrastructure using your preferred programming language, such as Python, TypeScript, or Go.

  • Crossplane DigitalOcean: Manage your DigitalOcean resources declaratively as part of your Kubernetes-native infrastructure.

Managed services for simplified IaC

DigitalOcean’s fully managed services, such as Managed Databases, DOKS, and Droplets, abstract away the underlying infrastructure complexity, allowing you to focus on your application and services rather than low-level configurations.

Extensive documentation and community support

DigitalOcean provides comprehensive documentation and tutorials to help you start with IaC and beyond. The DigitalOcean community is a valuable resource for sharing knowledge, finding solutions, and collaborating with other developers and infrastructure engineers.

Secure and compliant infrastructure

DigitalOcean’s infrastructure is designed with a security approach on six robust pillars. It follows cloud security best practices and adheres to popular security control frameworks, including SOC 2, SOC 3, and GDPR, and helps you build and maintain secure and compliant infrastructure.

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