Guest: Rob Hirschfeld (LinkedIn)
Company: RackN (Twitter)
Show: T3M

For RackN, Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is all about building the foundations of infrastructure to reduce toil, improve collaboration, and manage complexity. RackN CEO Rob Hirschfeld believes that IaC is very much a RackN phenomenon where they consider it as more of a process than tools. Their idea is that the operations team wants to be more like a development team in how they approach management and automation of their infrastructure through strong APIs. There are high degrees of reuse to end the reinvention of custom stuff all the time.

“Those are the things that really drive IaC processes and practices, not where a lot of people get stuck, which is can I describe my infrastructure in YAML and then submit it…That to me is so low on the hierarchy of IaC, it’s almost laughable,” says Hirschfeld in this episode of TFiR: T3M.

Here are the key takeaways from this discussion:

On IaC:

  • IaC is much more about a repeatable, integrated process than it is about tools.
  • The idea is to have the operations team be more like the development team in terms of its approach to the management and automation of their infrastructure.
  • This includes having dev and test environments, a high degree of reuse, modularity, and strong APIs.
  • Infrastructure is not just one thing. It’s actually a connected series of different components, different services, and different capabilities.
  • RackN promotes the concept of an “infrastructure pipeline” connecting all the pieces that are necessary to run your infrastructure.
  • For an enterprise, especially on premises, bringing systems online and operating them usually means orchestrating 10 to 15 different systems. That’s where the pipeline comes into play.
  • If you’re using cloud, the Terraform plan is actually a mini orchestration that’s connecting all of the cloud services for you.

On Generative AI:

  • In the IaC space, large language models (LLMs) are best for 1) helping you find examples of scripts that already exist, 2) using those existing scripts to help you understand, interpret, extend, and add to the code that you have, and then 3) collaborating with the people who own the original code.
  • If we’re not careful, it’s very easy to have the LLM generate a significant amount of technical debt. Code that is generated for one use and is not maintained by a person means that it will not be reused.
  • If LLMs magnify that effect and create more bespoke automation, there is the risk of having an explosion of unmaintainable infrastructure.

Current trends in the market:

  • It’s still common within organizations to have each team as an automation silo. They have trouble sharing automation between their teams, even if they’re doing similar things with similar infrastructure.
  • People are very enthusiastic about IaC tools. They usually take something like Terraform, then wrap it in an orchestrator, and then bolt in Ansible or some other automation configuration, or Bash scripts into that system.
  • It’s common to see enterprise platform teams with thousands of Terraform scripts and they are trying to figure out how to consolidate that work.
  • Financial operators in the financial services area mentioned having too much automation.
  • This automation sprawl ultimately becomes a challenge and a security issue.

How RackN helps companies with IaC:

  • For RackN, IaC means the ability to have immutable artifacts, Git processes, dev, test, prod, plus the ability to share and reuse components.
  • Digital Rebar is built with composable modularity in mind, so that when people build automation, they’re able to leverage the existing infrastructure pipelines that RackN has in place, the processes, the methodologies.
  • Customers have the ability to have a very concrete dev process. Once in production, all automation is immutable and locked down. There is no variation or uncontrolled code in their production environments.
  • They know exactly what’s deployed in which places and have ways to manage it, describe it, and collect the information.
  • For RackN customers, the ROI is quite significant: Their operators are much more productive. Their infrastructure is more reliable and more robust. They’re able to create compliance reports and actually tell people what they’re doing. They can respond to security issues much more quickly. They can rebuild their whole infrastructure from scratch in an hour or two.
  • RackN has seen dramatic turnarounds on how much and how quickly organizations can get things done, especially in highly regulated industries.

This summary was written by Camille Gregory.

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