Infrastructure as Code (IaC) in Azure: A Practical Guide

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) in Azure: A Practical Guide 

Azure, one of the world’s leading cloud service providers, supports a computing paradigm called Infrastructure as Code (IaC). Infrastructure as Code (IaC) allows developers to manage and provision computing resources using machine-readable definition files, instead of physical hardware configurations or interactive configuration tools. This method provides a standard, high-level language for describing and provisioning infrastructure.

IaC in Azure allows you to define and deploy your cloud infrastructure using code. This includes all the necessary components such as networks, virtual machines, load balancers, connection topology, etc. Essentially, IaC transforms the manual process of configuring cloud-based or on-premises hardware into an automated process that can be version-controlled and repeated as many times as needed.

There are several tools and services you can use to implement IaC on Azure, including Azure Resource Manager (ARM), Azure DevOps, and Azure Automation.

In this article:

Significance of IaC in the Modern Cloud Environment 

Physically configuring hardware or manually setting up virtual machines and networks is not only time-consuming but also prone to errors, and is becoming a thing of the past. IaC is revolutionizing the way we set up and manage IT infrastructure. There are three key benefits of IaC for organizations managing cloud computing environments:

  • Speed of deployment: With IaC, you can create and launch hundreds of machines in minutes, instead of the days or weeks it would take with manual configuration. This ability to quickly provision and deprovision resources means your business can respond faster to changing requirements, improving agility and customer satisfaction.
  • Improved consistency: Since the infrastructure is defined in code, it can be version-controlled and tested just like any other software. This means that you can have consistent setups across all your environments, and any changes can be tracked and rolled back if necessary.
  • Improved reliability: Utilizing IaC ensures that infrastructure deployment follows a set of standardized processes. Because everything is defined in code and automated, there’s a lower chance of human error. If a failure occurs, it is possible to easily roll back changes or recreate the environment.

Azure IaC Tools and Services 

Azure offers a variety of tools and services to help you implement Infrastructure as Code, including:

Azure Resource Manager (ARM) Templates

Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates are one of the primary tools for implementing IaC in Azure. These are JSON files that define the resources you need to deploy for your solution. With ARM templates, you can deploy, update, or delete all the resources for your solution in a single, coordinated operation.

ARM templates are idempotent, meaning you can run the same template many times and get the same result. This makes them perfect for automation and consistency. Moreover, ARM templates support declarative syntax, which means you describe your intended deployment without having to write the sequence of programming commands to create it.

Azure DevOps Services

Azure DevOps is a suite of development tools, services, and features that can help make your IaC journey smoother. It offers services like Azure Repos for version control, Azure Pipelines for CI/CD, Azure Boards for planning, and Azure Test Plans for testing your applications and infrastructure.

With Azure Pipelines, you can automate the deployment and testing of your ARM templates, making your IaC setup more robust and reliable. You can also use Azure Repos to store and version control your IaC templates, ensuring consistency and traceability of changes.

Azure Automation

Azure Automation allows you to automate the process of configuring and managing your cloud resources. With Azure Automation, you can create runbooks (scripts) that are run in Azure and manage your resources by using PowerShell or Python.

Azure Automation also offers Desired State Configuration (DSC), a management platform in PowerShell that enables you to manage your IT and development infrastructure with configuration as code.

Learn more in our detailed guide to Azure automation tools (coming soon)

Azure IaC Workflow 

While there are multiple tools and approaches to using IaC on Azure, here is a typical process for IaC in Azure.

Writing and Testing IaC Scripts/Templates

The first step in the IaC workflow is writing your infrastructure code. This is where you define what your infrastructure should look like using Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates or other Azure IaC tools.

Once your templates are ready, the next step is to test them. This involves deploying your infrastructure using the templates and validating that everything works as expected. Azure provides several tools and services, such as Azure DevOps, to help you automate this testing process.

Storing IaC Configurations in Repositories

After writing and testing your IaC templates, the next step is to store them in a version control repository. This could be Azure Repos or any other version control system you prefer. 

Storing your configurations in a repository allows you to track changes, manage versions, and rollback to previous configurations if necessary. It also enables you to share your configurations with other teams and reuse them across multiple environments.

Automating Deployment with Azure DevOps

Azure DevOps is a powerful tool to automate the deployment of infrastructure using IaC templates. Azure DevOps provides a complete set of DevOps tools that allow developers to automate the build and release process, making it possible to deliver applications and infrastructure rapidly, reliably, and at scale.

Azure DevOps also provides a visual interface for managing your deployments, allowing you to track the progress of your deployments in real-time. This gives you the ability to spot potential issues before they become problems and ensure that your deployments are running smoothly.

Ensuring Infrastructure Health and Desired State

Ensuring the health and desired state of your infrastructure is another critical aspect of the Azure IaC workflow. Azure provides two useful tools that can help achieve this:

  • Azure Policy allows you to define policies that govern the properties and configurations of your resources, ensuring that they comply with your organization’s standards and best practices. If a resource does not comply with a policy, Azure Policy can automatically remediate the issue or raise an alert.
  • Azure Monitor provides a comprehensive solution for collecting, analyzing, and acting on telemetry from your cloud and on-premises environments. It allows you to track the performance and availability of your applications and infrastructure, identify issues, and troubleshoot problems before they impact your users.

Best Practices for IaC in Azure 

Maintain Modular and Reusable Code

Just like in software development, when managing infrastructure with IaC, modularity and reusability are key to maintaining clean, maintainable, and efficient code.

Modularity in IaC means breaking down your infrastructure into smaller, independent components that can be managed separately. This not only makes your infrastructure easier to manage but also allows you to reuse these components in different environments or projects.

Reusability means writing your IaC scripts in a way that they can be used in different scenarios without modification. This can be achieved by using parameters and variables in your scripts, allowing you to customize the behavior of your scripts without having to rewrite them.

Provide Thorough Documentation

Documentation provides a clear understanding of what your infrastructure does, how it works, and how to use it. Without proper documentation, your team may struggle to understand and maintain your infrastructure, leading to errors and inefficiencies.

Your documentation should include details about the architecture of your infrastructure, the purpose of each component, and how they interact with each other. It should also include instructions on how to use your IaC scripts and any special considerations or requirements.

Use Version Control Rigorously

Version control allows you to track changes to your IaC scripts, making it easier to identify and fix issues. It also provides a historical record of your infrastructure, allowing you to roll back changes if something goes wrong.

Azure DevOps includes a built-in version control system that supports both Git and Team Foundation Version Control (TFVC). This allows you to choose the version control system that best fits your team’s needs and workflows.

Automate Validation and Testing of IaC Templates

Validation ensures that your IaC scripts are syntactically correct and adhere to your organization’s standards and best practices. Testing ensures that your IaC scripts work as expected and deliver the desired infrastructure.

Azure provides several tools for automating the validation and testing of IaC templates. For example, you can use Azure Resource Manager (ARM) Templates to define your infrastructure as code and validate your templates using the ARM Template Toolkit. You can also use Azure Test Plans to plan, track, and manage your testing activities.

Integrate Security Checks within the IaC Lifecycle

Integrating security checks within the IaC lifecycle is a crucial best practice for IaC in Azure. Security is a critical aspect of any infrastructure, and it should be considered from the beginning of the IaC lifecycle.

Azure provides several tools for integrating security checks within the IaC lifecycle. For example, you can use Azure Security Center to continuously assess the security of your resources and identify potential vulnerabilities. You can also use Azure Policy to enforce your organization’s security policies and ensure compliance.

Another aspect of security is that IaC templates themselves could contain vulnerabilities or might be tampered with by malicious parties. In other cases, IaC templates could have hard-coded secrets like passwords or connection strings, which could be damaging if exposed to attackers. There are multiple tools available that can automatically scan IaC templates for vulnerabilities and alert operators.

Managing IaC in Azure with Spot by NetApp

Spot by NetApp provides everything you need to optimize and automate your Azure infrastructure to deliver cloud apps at scale. Spot by NetApp’s automation for Azure helps teams reduce complexity and overhead with solutions that automate infrastructure provisioning deployment, and resource management. 

Learn more about Spot’s solutions for Azure infrastructure.