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Comparing Infrastructure-as-Code and GitOps for Platform Teams


Kubernetes offers many benefits for platform teams looking for ways to accelerate the development pipeline. But as Kubernetes becomes more dynamic and complex, it can lead to several challenges, including the frequency of code deployments, the need to scale clusters on a continuous basis to keep up with new applications and features, and other complexities that come with operating multiple clusters across development, testing and production.

Cliff Malmborg

Cliff is a senior product marketing manager at Rafay Systems, a dynamic product marketing leader with more than 15 years of experience. He is passionate about telling stories and bringing complex products to life, and has a history of successful industry-disrupting go-to-market launches.

Doing this manually is a difficult, if not impossible, task requiring large platform and development teams putting in hundreds of hours of work. Opportunities for human error increases as Kubernetes scales, and opportunities for cyberattacks and other security issues can become increasingly prevalent.

Trying to manually manage infrastructure configuration needs can be a recipe for disaster, requiring significant admin time and introducing configuration errors that are laborious to troubleshoot. Even more concerning, misconfigurations can result in security vulnerabilities that invite cyberattacks.

The best way to reduce this manual workload and decrease the risk for errors and security concerns? Automation. Automation is one of the most effective ways to ensure Kubernetes works for platform teams by reducing manual intervention processes and making development more secure and effective.

In this article, we will look at how the idea of Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) works as a response to scaling challenges in Kubernetes and discuss the differences between IaC and GitOps.

Infrastructure-as-Code 101

With IaC, configuration files are set up so that they contain infrastructure specifications, which means that configuration files automate the provisioning and management of initial infrastructure, a critical step in creating stable and secure applications.

With IaC, every time code runs, it specifies the exact infrastructure configuration every time with the exact same results. This means that the creation of every environment — development, production and test — is easily versioned, tested and repeated.

The popularity of this approach has led to the creation of a host of tools and platforms to help support IaC. Chef, Puppet, Ansible and Terraform are a few tools commonly used.

So what are the benefits platform teams realize when taking an IaC approach? The first is acceleration of processes. By creating infrastructure through automation, production time decreases while simultaneously reducing the potential for errors. Platform teams that implement IaC also enjoy increased reusability as the IaC configuration file can act as a playbook for future needs. IaC also offers more consistency through stable and predictable results. As a result, configurations are more easily tracked and audited, which helps create increased institutional knowledge. Finally, platform teams that implement IaC are better prepared when the unexpected happens. When a crashed or failed environment occurs, IaC allows teams to quickly and effectively get up and running faster and more efficiently.

Exploring GitOps

GitOps and IaC are not competing ideas. In fact, GitOps simply builds upon the idea of IaC by incorporating functionalities like git repositories, merge requests and continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) to help bring together development and infrastructure in one cohesive process.

By leveraging both GitOps and IaC, platform teams can use the same approach for their infrastructure configuration as well as software code. The result? More effective collaboration across the board. GitOps also positions git as the focal point for both infrastructure and applications — and because GitOps serves as a single point of truth, it enhances standardization, security and production capabilities.

How Platform Teams Can Implement GitOps 

This is an example of how platform teams can leverage GitOps:

First, write a YAML file that will outline the infrastructure configuration and store it in the right git repository. Doing so will help keep track of versions as well as enhance team collaboration.

Second, execute a pull/merge request to make sure any required collaboration and/or approvals take place. At this stage, any reviews and testing should happen prior to deploying to production.

Step three can be approached one of two ways. In this step, initiate a deployment through a CI/CD pipeline. Use a push deployment that will use the CI/CD pipeline to trigger the job either through a git action or manual triggering. As a second option, a pull deployment will take advantage of agents on the source infrastructure to monitor the state in the git repository and make sure changes are accurately applied. When it comes to GitOps, pull-based deployments are often preferred as they are more secure and proactive.

Conclusion

GitOps and IaC are two approaches that, when used together, create a powerful end-to-end solution for leveraging automation in the development pipeline and can be particularly effective for use in Kubernetes. As Kubernetes scales, platform teams face increased complexity. Adopting IaC and GitOps can reduce errors, increase security and help deliver better applications.

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