A mandatory requirement for IT operations in the “good old days” was their ability to configure and deploy new infrastructure through command line interface (CLI) and scripts. In fact, being a command-line jockey was highly valued and still remains a badge of honor within the ranks of IT administrators as evidence of technical prowess. GUI? GUI is for wimps.
Of course, the inherent challenge in configuring infrastructure this way was its lack of scalability and agility, no matter how fast one IT pro can configure a single device. This situation has only been getting worse as the numbers of data centers, server farms, and network edge devices proliferated. And configuration is only one problem. All infrastructure must be managed throughout their entire lifecycle, requiring frequent updates for new capabilities, security patches, and other upgrades. Scripting tools emerged to automate at scale, but scripts still needed to be highly customized and change management is complicated.
To address these challenges, Infrastructure as code (IaC) has emerged as the most popular infrastructure automation methodology for IT operations teams as well as software developers and DevOps. Simply defined, IaC is the process that lets the user codify and automate the provisioning, configuration, and even management of infrastructure through machine-readable text rather than physical hardware configuration or interactive configuration tools like CLI or scripts. IaC can be deployed at mass scale and much faster than traditional manual processes.
IaC can benefit developers, DevOps, and IT Ops alike, but there is no doubt that developers and DevOps were the earliest adopters, but mostly within public cloud environments. The appeal was simple - IaC gave developers the ability to treat infrastructure like code and use the same tools as any other software project. This allowed them to procure the necessary infrastructure and rapidly deploy applications as part of the application CI/CD without IT’s involvement and without going through a complex ticket based approval workflow. This enabled self-service developer agility that accelerated the speed of innovation for businesses.
However, IaC tools have had less impact for IT Ops and for private clouds and on-premises data centers. One obstacle to mass adoption has been IT governance models that typically frowns on putting new technologies and tools into production without proper due diligence. It’s one thing for IT pros to “kick the tires” on a new tool like IaC for a specific, limited test case. It’s an entirely different challenge for them to go live with it in production environments.
This can be especially true for cloud-native and open-source technologies and tools, where some of the most exciting and dynamic breakthrough innovations are found today. So as IaC tools like Puppet, Chef, Ansible, and Terraform have gained a strong foothold within the DevOps communities, IT Ops has been still mostly on the outside looking in.
This situation is about to change through the emergence of hybrid cloud operations platforms. These platforms promise to interconnect highly distributed infrastructure and applications irrespective of domain – private, public, edge or data centers. It also provides users such as IT Ops a single control point for simplified operations and enhanced agility with a seamless end-to-end experience. And through the power of API integrations, these platforms can provide IT access to a whole catalog of new tools through the platform and interface they’re already familiar with.
A recent example of this is the announcement between Cisco and HashiCorp that provides access to the highly popular Terraform Cloud Business (TFCB) directly through Cisco Intersight via single sign-on authentication and secure on-prem access. One clear benefit is that it will jump start IaC automation adoption and usage for private and hybrid cloud among IT Ops teams. This will allow IT Ops teams to rapidly create and deliver self-service automation modules to their internal application teams and developers, unlocking cloud-like agility on the premises, but with the necessary IT security and compliance policies.
Innovations such as this will help transform and modernize IT operations for the cloud era and make IT operations an accelerator for innovation and agility. Frankly speaking, this democratization of innovation could not happen soon enough.
Vijay Venugopal is a senior director of product management for the Cisco Cloud & Compute organization