This is the first article of the series that presents the path towards automated infrastructure deployment. In the first part, we focus on what Infrastructure as Code actually means, its main concepts and gently fill you in on AWS Cloud Formation. In the next part, we get some hands-on experience building and spinning up Enterprise Level Infrastructure as Code.

With a DevOps culture becoming a standard, we face automation everywhere. It is an essential part of our daily work to automate as much as possible. It simplifies and shortens our daily duties, which de facto leads to cost optimization. Moreover, respected developers, administrators, and enterprises rely on automation because it eliminates the probability of human error (which btw takes 2nd place when it comes to security breach causes).

Additionally, our infrastructure gets more and more complicated as we evolve towards cloud-native and microservice architectures. That is why Infrastructure as code (IaC) came up. It’s an answer to the growing complexity of our systems.

What you’ll find in this article:

  1. We introduce you to the IaC concept – why do we need it?
  2. You’ll get familiar with the AWS tool for IaC: Cloud Formation

Why do we need to automate our enterprise infrastructure?

Let’s start with short stories. Close eyes and imagine this:

Sunny morning, your brand new startup service is booming. A surge of dollars flows into Your bank account. The developers have built nice microservice-oriented infrastructure, they’ve configured AWS infrastructure, all pretty shiny. Suddenly, You receive a phone call from someone who says that Amazon’s cleaning lady slipped into one of the AWS data centers, fall on the computing rack, therefore the whole Availability Zone went down. Your service is down, users are unhappy. 

You tell your developers to recreate the infrastructure in a different data center as fast as they can. Well, it turns out that it’s not possible as fast as you would wish. Last time, it took them a week to spin up the infrastructure, which consists of many parts… you’re doomed.

The story is an example of Disaster Recovery, or rather a lack of it. No one thought that anything might go wrong. But as Murphy’s law says: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong

The other story:

As a progressive developer, you’re learning bleeding-edge cloud technologies to keep up with changing requirements for your employer. You decided to use AWS. Following Michal’s tutorial, you happily created your enterprise-level infrastructure. After a long day, you cheerfully lay down to bed. The horror begins when you enter your bank account at the end of the month. Seems that Amazon charged you, for the resources you didn’t delete.

You think these scenarios are unreal? Get to know these stories:

  1. Parler taken down by AWS
  2. AWS DC outage 1
  3. AWS DC outage 2
  4. AWS charged me for 14k

How do You avoid these scenarios? The simple answer to that is IaC.

Infrastructure as Code

Infrastructure as Code is a way to create a recipe for your infrastructure. Normally, a recipe consists of two parts: ingredients and directions/method on how to turn ingredients into the actual dish. IaC is similar, except the narration is a little bit different.

In practice, IaC says:

Keep your IaC scripts (infrastructure components definition) right next to your application code in the Git repository. Think about those definitions as simple text files containing descriptions of your infrastructure. In comparison to the metaphor above, IaC scripts (infrastructure components definitions) are ingredients.

IaC also tells you this:

Use or build tools that will seamlessly turn your IaC scripts into actual cloud resources. So translating that: use or build tools that will seamlessly turn your ingredients (IaC scripts) into a dish (cloud resources).

Nowadays, most IaC tools do the infrastructure provisioning for you and keep it idempotent. So, you just have to prepare the ingredients. Sounds cool, right?

Technically speaking, IaC states that similarly to the automated application build & deployment processes and tools, we should have processes and tools targeted for automated infrastructure deployment.

An important thing to note here is that the approach described above leans you towards GitOps and trunk-based CICD. It is not a coincidence that these concepts are often listed one next to the other. Eventually, this is a big part of what DevOps is all about.

Still not sure how IoC is beneficial to you? See this:

During the HacktOberFest conference, Michal has been setting up the infrastructure manually – live during his lecture. It took him around 30 minutes – even though Michal is an experienced player. 

Using cloud formation scripts, the same infrastructure is up and running in ~5 minutes, besides it doesn’t mean that we have to continuously watch over the script being processed. We can just fire and forget, go, have a coffee for the remaining 4 minutes and 50 seconds.

To sum up:

30/5 = 6

Your infrastructure boots up 6 times faster and you have some extra free time. Eventually, it boils down only to the question if you can afford such a waste.

With that being said, we can clearly see that IaC is the foundation on top of which enterprises may implement:

  • Highly Available systems
  • Disaster recovery
  • predictable deployments
  • faster time to prod
  • CI/CD
  • Cost optimization

Note that IaC is just a guideline, and IaC tools are just tools that enable you to achieve the before-mentioned goals faster and better. No tool does the actual work for you.

Regardless of your specific needs, either you build enterprise infrastructure and want to have HA and DR or you just deploy your first application to the cloud and reduce the cost of it, IoC is beneficial for you.

Which IaC tool to use?

There are many IaC tool offerings on the market. Each claim to be the best one. Only to satisfy our AWS deployment automation, we can go with Terraform, AWS Cloud Formation, Ansible and many many more. Which one to use? There is no straight answer, as always in IT: it depends. We recommend doing a few PoC, try out various tools and afterward decide which one fits you best.

How do we do it? Cloud Formation

As aforementioned we need to transcribe our infrastructure into code. So, how do we do it? 

First, we need a tool for that. So there it is, the missing piece of Enterprise level AWS Infrastructure – Cloud Formation. It’s an AWS native IaC tool commonly used to automate infrastructure deployment.

Simply put, AWS Cloud Formation scripts are simple text files containing definitions of AWS resources that your infrastructure utilizes (EC2, S3, VPC, etc.). In Cloud Formation these text files are called Templates.

Well… ok, actually Cloud Formation is a little bit more than that. It’s also an AWS service that accepts CF scripts and orchestrates AWS to spin up all of the resources you requested in the right order (simply, automates the clicking in the console). Besides, it gives you live insight into the requested resource status.

Cloud formation follows the notion of declarative infrastructure definitions. On the contrary to an imperative approach in which You say how to provision infrastructure, declaratively you just specify what is the expected result. The knowledge of how to spin up requested resources lies on the AWS side.

If You followed Michal Kapiczynski’s tutorials, the Cloud Formation scripts presented underneath are just all his heavy work, written down to ~500 lines of yml file that you can keep in the repository right next to your application.

Note: Further reading requires you to either see Michals articles before or basic knowledge of AWS. 

Enterprise Level Infrastructure Overview

Automating Your Enterprise Infrastructure

There are many expectations from Enterprise Level infrastructure. From our use case standpoint, we’ll guarantee High Availability, by deploying our infrastructure in two separate AWS Data Centers (Availability Zones) and provide data redundancy by database replication. The picture presented above visualizes the target state of our Enterprise Level Infrastructure.

TLDR; If You’re here just to see the finished Cloud Formation script, please go ahead and visit this GitHub repository.

We’ve decided to split up our infrastructure setup into two parts (scripts) called Templates. The first part includes AWS resources necessary to construct a network stack. The latter collects application-specific resources: virtual machines, database, and load balancer. In cloud formation nomenclature, each individual set of tightly related resources is called Stack

Stack usually contains all resources necessary to implement planned functionality. It can consist of: VPC, Subnets, EC2 instances, Load Balancers, etc. This way, we can spin up and tear down all of the resources at once with just one click (or one CLI command).

Each Template can be parametrized. To achieve easy scaling capabilities and disaster recovery, we’ll introduce the Availability Zone parameter. It will allow us to deploy the infrastructure in any AWS data center all around the world just by changing the parameter value.

As you will see through the second part of the guide, Cloud Formation scripts include a few extra resources in comparison to what was originally shown in Michal’s Articles. That’s because AWS creates these resources automatically for you under the hood when you create the infrastructure manually. But since we’re doing the automation, we have to define these resources explicitly.

Sources:
  • https://docs.aws.amazon.com/AWSCloudFormation/latest/UserGuide/gettingstarted.templatebasics.html
  • https://martinfowler.com/bliki/InfrastructureAsCode.html
  • https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/devops/learn/what-is-infrastructure-as-code

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