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In today's rapidly evolving technological landscape, businesses are quickly adopting a cloud-native approach. Embracing cloud-native solutions has become a pivotal step in their journey to digital transformation, enabling them to gain a competitive edge and cater to the ever-changing demands of modern consumers. As businesses move towards a cloud-native approach, the importance of maintaining a consistent infrastructure cannot be overstated.
To keep pace with this fast-moving digital race, organizations must adhere to the mantra of "build fast and ship even faster." Swift software development cycles and accelerated deployment timelines are imperative to seize market opportunities, launch innovative products, and respond swiftly to customer feedback.
However, with a continuous focus on build and scale faster, the best practices for managing infrastructure are usually put on a back-burner, eventually leading to a phenomenon commonly known as “infrastructure drift”.
Infrastructure drift is when the configuration of different environments within the infrastructure deviates from its intended purpose or the one documented. Let’s consider an example of updating an application with a new feature:
Developer Alex is tasked with developing a new feature for a web application. In his local environment, he is using v5.7 of a particular database that the application depends on. Now the team understands that v5.7 is used across development, staging, and production environments.
Alex successfully develops the new feature by using a function that’s only available in v5.7 of the database. This new feature works perfectly in his local environment, and he happily commits the code.
Now the code is pushed to staging where the team expects the same database v5.7 to be running. However, unbeknownst to Alex and other developers, an Ops engineer downgraded the staging and production environment to v5.5 as he was fixing an urgent issue.
Alex’s new feature fails in the staging environment since the function he used during development with v5.7 is not available in v5.5. The team now spends hours diagnosing the issue, thinking that it must be a problem in the code.
Finally, after spending hours, the team realizes that Infrastructure Drift (version mismatch) is the root cause of this issue. Post this, there are delays, frustrations, and potential conflicts between the teams as they decide on whether to update the staging environment or refactor the code.
In an ideal world, infrastructure drift should not happen, but we aren't living in one. Several factors contribute to infrastructure drift, and understanding these causes is crucial to implementing effective prevention strategies:
Manual Intervention: When manual changes are made to the infrastructure outside of the automated processes, it can lead to discrepancies across environments.
Human Error: Mistakes made by team members during configuration updates, development, and when spinning up or deploying new environments can introduce inconsistencies and drift.
Lack of Automation: Inadequate or partial automation in infrastructure management can result in manual changes and deviations from the desired state.
Inconsistent Changes Across Environments: Without a standardized process, different environments might undergo separate updates, leading to drift over time.
Workarounds: In urgent situations, developers might implement temporary workarounds that don't align with the standard configuration, causing drift.
A well-known tech fact: If there's a workaround to a solution, expect it to be used and eventually abused, and workarounds in cloud-native applications and environments could eventually result in the same - abuse!
Just like a couple on a tandem bicycle, every environment in your infrastructure should work in tandem and be in sync with each other. Now imagine if one of them does not operate as intended, the bicycle will not operate smoothly and may eventually lead to a crash.
Similarly, infrastructure drift can result in organization-wide delays in development and deployment goals, especially for the Ops teams, who play a pivotal role in managing and maintaining the infrastructure. It is critical to gain insights about the root causes and consequences of infrastructure drift. These insights could aid in preventing drift by proactively implementing effective strategies.
Though quite obvious, here are some of the key negative impacts of infrastructure drift:
Operational Inefficiencies: Infrastructure drift can lead to operational inefficiencies, as teams spend precious time troubleshooting and rectifying inconsistencies. Instead of focusing on innovation and improvements, Ops teams may find themselves dealing with repetitive issues caused by drift.
Delayed Deployment: Drift-related issues can cause delays in software deployment. Deployments that worked flawlessly in one environment may fail in another due to discrepancies, necessitating thorough investigations and modifications.
Increased Downtime: When drift-related problems surface in production environments, they can result in unplanned downtime. Service disruptions have a direct impact on user experience and can be costly for the organization in terms of lost revenue and credibility.
Escalating Support Costs: Addressing drift-related issues can lead to escalating support costs. Ops teams may need to invest extra resources, including personnel and tools, to troubleshoot and mitigate the consequences of configuration discrepancies.
Security Vulnerabilities: Inconsistent configurations can inadvertently introduce security vulnerabilities. For example, a forgotten update in one environment may leave a system exposed to potential threats, creating security risks.
Cloud Resource Wastage: Infrastructure drift can cause cloud resources to be misaligned or underutilized. Misconfigured instances or redundant resources lead to unnecessary cloud costs, impacting the organization's overall budget.
Compliance and Audit Concerns: In regulated industries, infrastructure drift may raise compliance and audit concerns. Non-compliance with standards and regulations can lead to penalties and damage the organization's reputation.
Difficulty in Scaling: Inconsistent configurations across environments make it challenging to scale the infrastructure efficiently. As organizations grow and demand increases, infrastructure drift becomes a significant obstacle in achieving seamless scalability.
Resource Intensive Remediation: Rectifying infrastructure drift can be resource-intensive, requiring extensive manual effort and rework. This diverts valuable resources from more strategic initiatives and slows down development cycles.
Infrastructure as Code (IaC) - IaC is a go-to option for organizations looking to mitigate infra drift, but still, most of them struggle to handle it efficiently. This is because IaC, when not done right, does not help. Even when IaC is implemented, there is still an option to use workarounds, which can again be abused - leaving behind a long trail of damage control to be done.
Continuous Configuration Management - Implementing a continuous configuration automation tool like Ansible enables companies to consistently manage configurations across the infrastructure. The tools are designed to continuously monitor consistency across the infrastructure and send out alerts if any discrepancies are found. However, this approach feels a bit outdated in the Kubernetes Era..
The above approaches may work for some companies. However, there’s more to be done to consistently maintain a drift-free infrastructure.
By embracing the Single Source of Truth (SSOT) as a core tenet of infrastructure management, organizations can build a robust foundation for a drift-free and stable cloud-native environment. The central platform empowers Ops teams with the tools they need to navigate the complexities of infrastructure management while staying ahead of the digital transformation curve with confidence and precision.
Let's see how a single source of truth can help organizations attain a drift-free infrastructure and other tangible benefits in the long term.
With the above setup in place, the person deploying an application does not have access to make any changes to the infrastructure. If changes need to be made, they have to be done at the source level - which is your single source of truth - imagine it to be a blueprint of your infrastructure.
Automation plays a critical role in maintaining guardrails in infrastructure management. It ensures that all environments are standardized with the intended conditions. Although some flexibility is allowed, any changes must be made only to the source, without bypassing the automated process. The single source of truth helps developers by providing audit trails, transparency, and guardrails within which changes are facilitated.
The goal of having these guardrails is to make developers' lives easier, not just in the present but also in the future. Along with automation, there should be flexibility allowing developers to make changes. Here is how automation should function:
Flexibility with liability means that the developers have the flexibility to make changes to the environment, but within the guardrails. And making these changes also comes with a liability to do so. Frequent synchronization ensures that any changes to the source are audited and rectified promptly.
The single source should have a historical record of changes made to the infrastructure configurations. If a drift is detected, it should be easy to rollback to the previous states. Additionally, the auditability can also provide insights into who made the change, and when it was made. Enabling teams with better accountability and traceability.
With the central source of truth, the infrastructure is treated as immutable. Any new changes and updates are then made to the single source that reflects a ‘Blueprint’ of the infrastructure. This also discourages deviating away from the single source, reducing the likelihood of drift.
Single source ensures that there’s continuous sync happening across the environments. Any new changes introduced at the sources are propagated to the relevant environments by an automated process. This ensures that every environment is consistent with the latest configurations.
Developers can have transparency across the complete infrastructure instead of just being concerned about their own environments.’
If not managed promptly and proactively, infrastructure drift can become a significant obstacle for companies to achieve their business goals. A single source of truth is the key to achieve consistent and drift-free infrastructure. Embracing a centralized solution with right strategies will enable organizations to meet the demands of cloud-native environments and excel in the tech-driven landscape.
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