Configuration Management and Infrastructure as Code for Secure Cloud

July 20, 2018 0 By jplme

In the age of the cloud computing, organizations are able to develop and deploy new software applications at an expedited rate. While in the past, this process used to involve an extremely siloed approach. It often required independent inputs from system administrators, compliance, and app development teams. Today these fractured systems have given way to more agile, collaborative approach (known as DevOps). This is achieved by using a combination of configuration management and Infrastructure as Code.

The speed with which resources need to be allocated and de-allocated has also made it necessary to automate key aspects of infrastructure provisioning. There is also a need to automate maintenance and configuration of these resources. This is where infrastructure as code (IAC) can prove to be beneficial and critical.

What is IaC

IaC takes away many of the time-consuming, manual tasks that would otherwise be associated with setting up new cloud infrastructure. Instead of writing custom scripts that often fail to scale to account for the increasingly complex nature of the their operations’ environment, IaC puts your entire infrastructure deployment on a smart platform. This enables you to maintain version consistency, perform virtualized testing and continuous monitoring with ease.

This is especially important for organizations that experience rapid growth in a short time-frame. When updates to product environments and staging are left to manual configuration processes, there is often a pronounced disconnect between the software applications and the tools and systems that support software deployment.

With IaC, you can simply assign a desired target state for your environment and the code will ensure that the infrastructure always returns to convergence. These capabilities allow you to:

  • Recreate your cloud computing environment with 100% confidence without the need for meticulous documentation. With IaC, the code itself dictates the state of the machine so you can always roll back to the last working configuration before servers crashed or network security was breached.
  • Ensure that cloud resources are provisioned accurately to meet demand without any of the variability that comes with manual processes.
  • Ensure that any undesirable changes are identified and rolled back automatically.
  • All aspects of the infrastructure code can be tested for functionality and integration, and be updated as required.
  • Test any new integration in a controlled manner before moving them to production environments.

IaC provides clear benefits in terms of the stability and quality of your digital services as well as the governance of the underlying cloud infrastructure. IaC also allows organizations to have a symmetrical multi-cloud presence, or at a minimum, a symmetrical DR site.

Configuration Management Tools Help IaC Administration

Configuration management tools like Ansible, Puppet and Chef enable many of the possibilities of IaC. These tools automate the deployment and configuration of cloud environments. Using configuration management, a normal IaC implementation would appear as follows:

  • Create a test version of the final of the production environment.
  • Develop code that describes how server hardware and configurations will be applied. Then use configuration management tools to apply the code in the test environment.
  • Use the coding and software to create a production environment. Ensure that the virtual machine and live version are identically configured.
  • Ensure that any changes to the configuration and provisioning are made in code before being applied to development and production environments.

Configuration management also allows organizations to keep their different environments consistent. This way they can ensure that, for example, the state of the stage environment is consistent with production, which helps mitigate the introduction of bugs into software created by differences in running environment.

Additionally, configuration management eases the process of patching, implementing configuration changes, hardening systems. Also, it can help maintain the state of a machine and/or files in real-time.

Take aways

When operating in a cloud environment, you need to take advantage of automationfor a few reasons. First, more often than not, you need to maintain more that one identical environment. Both knowing the current state and keeping the environments consistent is important for operational stability. IaC and configuration management tools can ease the process.

Being able to quickly and efficiently roll out configuration changes or security patches is also a key benefit. Cloud misconfigurations has been a major factor behind the majority of the data breaches over the last 2 years. Patching is a task that is often critical to security of a system or network. However, patching typically happens later than a vulnerability is identified due to the effort required without automation. Automating the patching process can ease operational workload and expedite the process allow for a better overall security posture.