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How Infrastructure as Code (IaC) & Amazon Web Services (AWS) Work Together

Organizations can unlock business value by combining Infrastructure as Code with CloudFormation from Amazon Web Services.

There’s a growing awareness of the value of Infrastructure as Code (IaC) — the practice of provisioning and deploying infrastructure using DevOps processes and best practices — to decrease IT costs and management burdens. At the same time, more and more organizations have begun to recognize and take advantage of the value offered by cloud environments such as Amazon Web Services CloudFormation.

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And yet, we haven’t seen a huge move on the part of enterprise IT departments to leverage the combination of IaC and AWS. Here are some of the benefits and use cases of IaC on AWS CloudFormation, and how organizations can get started.

IaC and AWS Benefits and Use Cases

IaC has a number of benefits over traditional infrastructure provisioning practices. For one, IaC enables organizations to set up their infrastructure much more quickly. Also, the process can significantly reduce human errors compared with manual processes, resulting in a much greater level of consistency.

IaC configuration files can be versioned to enable fully traceable changes, making it simple for IT managers to discover who made alterations to infrastructure configurations and when they made those changes. This level of transparency also reduces risk to the organization. Companies can suffer devastating losses in institutional knowledge when key IT employees leave. But IaC mitigates this risk by making configuration code visible throughout the IT department and tracking all the changes made to the source code.

Cost is another important consideration. By automating the infrastructure deployment process, an organization’s engineers can spend less time performing repetitive manual tasks and more time working on strategic IT projects that create value for the business. An IaC script can even automatically spin down environments when they’re not in use, preventing cloud sprawl and dramatically cutting down on wasteful cloud spending.

One key driver of IaC is a move to DevOps practices, which combine software development and IT operations. By using software development practices to configure infrastructure, IaC speeds up deployment and makes it easier for application development and IT operations teams to work more closely together.

CloudFormation makes this already streamlined process even simpler with the use of templates. For instance, engineers can create testing and development environments that are identical to their production environments — preventing all-too-common scenarios where an application works in testing but then “breaks” when it is put to actual use.

Another advantage is the ease of provisioning different types of infrastructure (instance types) for different environments. For example, there could be some differences between development, testing, staging and production environments. The performance characteristics of computing instances used for development and testing can be changed easily for the production environment.

Similar to this is the case for configuration of read and write capacity for DynamoDB, which can be much lower during development, albeit for an extended duration. The number of containers required for hosting a production workload can be increased to support increased requests via configuration changes as well.

Getting Started with IaC and AWS

While the benefits of using IaC are plentiful, the process requires a different skill set — and mindset — than what has been used to provision resources traditionally, and IT shops can sometimes struggle with getting started.

One benefit of working with AWS CloudFormation is that AWS makes it simple to start experimenting with IaC. Organizations can set up an AWS Free Tier account, which will allow them to test certain AWS solutions for up to a year without incurring charges. And with AWS CloudFormation, organizations pay only for the services they actually use. By combining services included within the AWS Free Tier with AWS CloudFormation, IT shops can learn and experiment with no risk and little or no expense.

In short: The benefits of IaC are too valuable to ignore, and the simplicity of AWS eliminates excuses for organizations to put off IaC efforts any longer.