The infrastructure-as-code vs. configuration management article will help you understand which is better between IaC and ConfigMgmt for effortless and effective software development automation. 

With DevOps automation, your team just writes a code and sends it to online platforms that offer services like configuration management and infrastructure-as-code and deploy software faster. 

However, you need to know about IaC and ConfigMgmt and their differences to figure out the right approach for DevOps automation. Let’s dig in!     

Infrastructure-As-Code (IaC)

Infrastructure-as-Code

Infrastructure-as-code is a DevOps method of provisioning IT infrastructure to software development teams for faster deployment of applications. Hence, a lesser time to market than those who do not use IaC tools. It essentially utilizes a high-level descriptive programming language to furnish IT infrastructure automatically. 

Hence, developers do not need to manually manage servers, database connections, operating systems, testing software, feedback systems, storage, etc. Additionally, tools eliminate the need for setting up and conditioning IT infrastructure each time a new project starts.

In a nutshell, IaC is the answer to rapidly changing IT infrastructure requirements in the software development industry. 

Elements of Infrastructure-as-Code

Declarative-IaC-1

Immutable IaC

When developers can not change the initially provisioned infrastructure elements of an IaC system, that is popularly known as immutable IaC. It helps development teams sustain a consistent coding and infrastructure configuration until the application’s final release. 

You must provide new infrastructure if you need to modify the immutable IaC. This is faster and more logical in terms of IaC. 

Mutable IaC

When developers can change the state of the IaC after provisioning, it is known as a mutable infrastructure. It empowers the development team to become more flexible. 

If there is any sudden change in the software product, the team can perform quick customizations of the deployment infrastructure. It is also easier to respond to security threats when using a mutable IaC. However, code consistency tracking becomes complex in such IaC elements. 

Declarative IaC

The functional or declarative element of IaC helps you to declare the required final stage of the IT infrastructure for software development and test deployment.

Once you state your requirements, the IaC platform will spin up containers or virtual machines (VMs), install the necessary software, configure software, resolve software and system interdependencies, and version control.  

Imperative IaC

Procedural or imperative elements of IaC lets you create an in-house automation script. Then, the script provisions infrastructure one step at a time. Thus, your existing system administrative staff can configure and run the automation.   

Benefits of Infrastructure-as-Code

Infrastructure-as-Codes

Get Apps to Market Faster

Since cloud computing and virtualization systems provision an appropriate state of the system for software coding, testing, debugging, and production, you save on production time. Thus, your apps go to market faster than your competitors. 

Fewer Configuration Changes

When developers work on a rigid and automatically updating IT infrastructure, there are almost no possibilities of ad hoc configuration changes. Hence, software code consistency increases and requires less debugging

Improved Consistency

You can automatically provision IT infrastructure for app development that meets regulatory compliance requirements. Also, there are fewer possibilities for code and procedural changes. Hence, the overall consistency of the end product increases. 

Efficient Development Cycles

Efficient Development Cycles

IaC tools eliminate many manual phases from the pathway of development, debugging, CI/CD, quality assurance (QA), and operations. Hence, the entire software building cycle becomes faster, error-proof, and efficient.  

Churn Protection

IaC helps you avoid development downtime when one or more employees related to infrastructure provisioning exit the business. You just configure your IaC tool once, and the provisioning intelligence will always remain in your company. 

Lower Production Costs

Software production cost reduces drastically since you do not need to buy your own IT infrastructure, hire specialized IT administrators, etc. You simply provision infrastructure on demand from managed service providers (MSP) at an affordable cost. 

Challenges for Infrastructure-as-Code

  • The primary challenge for IaC workflow is configuration drift. Such issues are bound to happen in the long run. It is irrespective of how frequently and consistently you configure the IaC workflow.
  • Some parts of the development process are still manual, like coding. When an error occurs and the code passes through an IaC workflow, numerous errors arise due to unchecked automation.
  • For small development projects, IaC may still prove to be costly. Because fewer service providers create a monopoly of IaC tool pricing.       

Infrastructure-as-Code Products in the Market

Ansible

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Ansible is a configuration and orchestration tool from Red Hat. The IaC tool focuses on automation and simplicity. It has a library of various ready-to-use default configurations, and you can start deploying apps without any manual setup in the beginning.

Terraform

Terraform is the leader of IaCs in the current market scenario. Because the standard tool features are available for free. However, if you want managed services for enterprise needs, you can get paid subscriptions too. It supports most cloud platforms like GCP, Azure, and AWS.  

AWS CloudFormation

You get this IaC service for free when you utilize other AWS services. AWS CloudFormation is only compatible with AWS and does not support third-party infrastructures.  

Google Cloud Deployment Manager

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It is the primary infrastructure provisioning service for the GCP environment. The platform uses a declarative language for automatic creation, configuration, provision, and management of GCP resources. 

Azure Resource Manager

This IaC is from the Microsoft brand and dedicated to IT infrastructure provisioning inside the Azure cloud development environment. Azure Resource Manager comes with ARM templates for automatically handling infrastructure and dependencies.  

Pulumi

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The IaC tool Pulumi offers greater flexibility compared to its competitors. It is compatible with various programming languages like JavaScript, Go, TypeScript, C#, Python, etc. Hence, many development projects find Pulumi useful.  

Configuration Management (ConfigMgmt)

Configuration-Management1

Configuration management is essentially the practice of tracking and storing the metadata of an IT company’s technology assets, software, and hardware.

In software development, it is the regular practice of recording code version information, app deployment server specifications, operating systems, software versions, etc.

Most configuration management workflow utilizes advanced automation and tracking software for efficiency and affordability. Automation in configuration management also reduces human error, while it is easier to roll out checks and redundancies for ConfigMgmt.

Everything related to information technology and digital systems comes under the purview of ConfigMgmt. For example, the followings are the regularly tracked assets for ConfigMgmt:

  • Cloud storages
  • Physical storage devices
  • Databases
  • Operating systems
  • Debugging tools
  • Application deployment servers
  • Developed and published apps
  • Apps in the pipeline
  • Networking
  • Virtual and bare metal computing devices   

Elements of Configuration Management

Discovery of Physical and Virtual IT Assets

This ConfigMgmt element focuses on inventorying existing IT assets. You should track all the assets relevant to your IT operations and application development environment. Then, the metadata of these systems should be stored in one central ConfigMgmt repository. 

Benchmarking the IT Assets

You can now benchmark the apps, tools, and physical assets according to functional needs. For applications in the pipeline, benchmarking is done by running them in their test environment. 

Version Control of Codes and Apps

Version Control of Codes and Apps

Version control is the primary element of configuration management workflow. You can use any system like Git to track specification data of apps, tools, software, and physical assets. The pipeline version control system software helps roll back to the previously known exemplary configuration if an update causes any issues. 

Review and Security

Review element lets you audit any code and software version information, historical changes, and footprints. Should there be any security breaches, you can quickly identify those. 

You can also access the code and its version information history from the same Git, making monitoring super convenient.

Finally, you can provide role-based access to the software code base to secure your intellectual property.    

Benefits of Configuration Management

Configuration-Management

Centralized Knowledge Base

ConfigMgmt helps you to create a central repository of specifications for physical and virtual assets. Thus, API keys, code versions, ad-hoc changes, server specifications, etc., become readily available and reduce stress. 

Increases Accountability

The development, operations, and AQ team become more accountable for their work. Because, with ConfigMgmt, managers can trace back to the original user who might have caused an issue.

Match Software Environment

Configuration management workflows help the DevOps team to match the software environment for testing with production. Hence, the end product becomes more consistent and error-proof.

Disaster Recovery

If the software being developed suffers from any disastrous malfunction, your team can quickly restore the last known good configuration from the version control Git.   

Challenges for Configuration Management

challenges
  • The primary threat to configuration management is flexibility within the development process for ad hoc software code changes without prior approval.
  • A medium to large IT company accumulates terabytes of data for systems configurations. It is truly challenging to separate critical configurations from non-critical ones.
  • Approving change validation requests can also be troublesome since it takes a lot of time to check the entire software, codebase, and dependencies.
  • When you outsource your development work to vendors and contractors of different time zones, ConfigMgmt becomes a challenging task.     

Configuration Management Products in Market

Salt Project

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Salt Project is one of the leading ConfigMgmt tools widely used because of its open-source licensing. The tool is primarily based on the Python language and development framework. But developers can easily customize its module to fit other programming languages. 

Rudder

Besides being an IT infrastructure automation tool, Rudder is a robust configuration management platform. It offers you a central dashboard to control the specifications and configurations of OSs, servers, virtual machines, deployment environments, etc. 

CFEngine

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CFEngine works as a central tool for servers, network assets, and codes. You can use its dashboard to visualize the company assets’ status and current version. Moreover, the app is truly lightweight and requires minimal system resources.  

Puppet

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Puppet comes with a proprietary declarative language to explain the system and IT asset configurations. Trainees and new developers can easily operate this tool since it calls for limited coding knowledge. 

Auvik

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Auvik is a robust paid tool for ConfigMgmt. It comes with modern DevOps functionalities like IT asset management, performance monitoring, configuration backup, integrations, security, sandbox, and NetFlow analysis. 

Infrastructure-As-Code Vs. Configuration Management

IaC and ConfigMgmt serve the same cause: the automation of software development workflow to reduce cost, time to market, and increase return on investment (ROI). However, they are fundamentally different in functionality, purpose, and components.

These differences are also visible in several IaC and ConfigMgmt tools available in the market. IaCs mainly serve in the software development workflow phases of initial infrastructure setup, infrastructure management, and application setup.

On the contrary, configuration management tools help you with software development automation, like managing infrastructure, initial application setup, and managing applications.      

IaC vs. ConfigMgmt: Key Differences

FeaturesInfrastructure-as-CodeConfiguration Management
Use CasesProvisioning IT infrastructure resources for app developmentStoring IT asset specs and config records
IT AssetsIaC mainly deals with IT assets like bare metal servers, virtual machines, and cloud computing resources. Etc.ConfigMgmt deals with all IT hardware and software assets of an IT or technology business
Working PrincipleA system administrator dictates the final stage of IT infrastructure, and an automated system does all the setup tasks.It usually utilizes version control systems like Gits to store software version files and change history alongside the codebase.
Solution to ProblemsIT infrastructure set up, management, and handlingVersion control of apps, tools, software, history of changes, change approval, etc. 
Flexibility to Ad Hoc Modifications1. Mutable IaC allows modifications after set up

2. Immutable IaCs do not allow any modifications
ConfigMgmt systems come with stringent rules for ad hoc changes
Cloud/On-SiteBoth on-site and cloud IT infrastructure automation is availableMainly depend on cloud storage and computing instances

Final Words

You must have developed a clear, concise idea of infrastructure-as-code and configuration management. Furthermore, the differences between these software development automation technologies should also answer the numerous and popular searches of infrastructure-as-code vs. configuration management.

Now, depending on your software development environment, you can choose an IaC or ConfigMgmt, or both. Mostly, serverless DevOps teams will just need an IaC. 

On the flip side, if your organization needs to work on many bare metal systems and virtual computing environments and deploys many iterations of the app, you need configuration management.

You may also be interested in this curated list of DevOps tools for automated and streamlined software development.