What is the Difference between Configuration Management and Infrastructure as Code (IaC)?

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) and Configuration Management (aka ConfigMgmt or Configuration as Code) reflect two sides of the software development coin. IaC automates the creation of a software environment, and Configuration Management automates the state in which software functions. While some functionality and capabilities overlap, these two types of automation tools have strengths that make them more appropriate for a particular use case or in combination.

Today’s development approaches–like DevOps, CD/DI, and containerization—need flexibility with consistency and automation to keep up the speed of business and operations. IaC and ConfigMgmt provide many benefits to IT teams that seek effortless and effective software development automation.

What is Infrastructure as Code (IaC)?

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) uses software code to automatically create a software environment in the cloud, via Kubernetes, or on a virtual server. IaC creates services, systems, and platforms without manual effort. Typically written in a provisioning language like JSON or YAML, IaC is a DevOps method that expedites app deployment and go-to-market.

Configuration files are created with all infrastructure specifications, ensuring consistency by always provisioning the same environment. IaC aids Configuration Management by avoiding undocumented or ad-hoc configuration changes and enables the division of modular infrastructure. Execute a script and the infrastructure is at the ready.

Coded rules and structures govern the code that manages the infrastructure environment, eliminating the need for making configuration changes manually or using ad-hoc scripts. Iac helps DevOps teams stay flexible while maintaining consistent environments that can be provisioned automatically.

What is Configuration Management?

If IaC mainly creates the software environment, ConfigMgmt automatically maintains a consistent, desired state for the environment and the software stored or containerized there. Configuration Management defines the system’s desired state, providing ongoing assessment and analysis to avoid unauthorized or undocumented changes, errors, or configuration drift.

ConfigMgmt tools record code specs on servers, operating systems, and software versions, thereby tracking assets and comparing them against the desired state. With this analysis complete, the tool identifies needed updates, patches, or reconfigurations.

Keeping the environment’s state consistent can prevent misconfigurations, which are the leading cause of security incidents among containerized or Kubernetes-orchestrated environments, as well as the major cause of poor performance and non-compliance.

What are the main differences between IaC and Configuration Management?

While there is some overlap between IaC and Configuration Management functionality, there are distinctions. Infrastructure as Code is used to deploy environment resources like networks, servers, or storage along with their needed resources or permissions. Once the environment is deployed, Configuration Management delivers and configures operating systems and applications that leverage the environment.

What use cases call for IaC, CaC/ConfigMgmt, or both?

Seeing the similarities or overlaps and their differences may lead to questions about when to incorporate Infrastructure-as-Code versus Configuration Management. There are instances when one approach may be needed more than the other. But, there are times when both play a role.

A DevOps’ current environment dictates which types of tools could be most valuable.

For example, if a team primarily uses serverless or containerized technologies to deploy apps, they probably don’t require ConfigMgmt tools. An IaC tool can automate serverless services or container creation instead.

Conversely, if a team focuses on provisioning and configuring hardware, a Configuration Management tool could be more appropriate. In this scenario, the use case is a server running on a virtualized machine with configuration dependencies.

Some teams use both tools together. An IaC tool would be deployed to oversee the “hardware” aspects of the environment, while a Configuration Management tool is used to deploy and configure the “software” side, including operating systems and applications. For appropriate use cases, these two approaches support a consistent system and state.

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