Many of today’s retail companies are no longer interested in hosting and maintaining their own digital storefronts, preferring instead to focus their resources on innovation that drives a channel-less experience for their end-consumers. This has created a rapidly expanding opportunity for technology implementation companies to provide Managed Services for their customers. In fact, it has virtually become an expectation of retailers that their implementation partner be capable of hosting and maintaining the eCommerce solution that they implement. In an effort to differentiate themselves these organizations have developed proprietary cloud offerings for platforms like SAP Hybris and Oracle Commerce (ATG), the most advanced of which enable auto-scaling and auto-healing at all tiers. While these solutions pose major benefits to retailers the Managed Services organizations often struggle to operate at scale and quickly on-board new customers.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) pioneered a solution to these challenges by introducing the concept of “Infrastructure as Code” and developing their own utility for automating the formation of infrastructure called CloudFormation. This concept is now referred to as “Infrastructure Automation”. Many Managed Services organizations have developed custom Infrastructure Automation solutions using a combination of AWS CloudFormation, the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI), and procedural scripting tools (like Apache Ant or Apache Maven). Their solutions enable the creation of entire environment landscapes and dramatically reduce the time to on-board clients. However, they generally fall short in a few areas:
Thankfully, a couple of Infrastructure Automation utilities have been released that do a great job in solving these shortcomings.
In the past couple years a number of Infrastructure Automation Utilities have been released that serve as an abstraction layer on top of platform-specific infrastructure code. These utilities provide a common language enabling the formation of infrastructure that may span multiple underlying IaaS platforms without concern for any IaaS-specific syntax. While these solutions are still in their infancy, they show incredible promise. We’ve attempted to capture some areas that we think highlight the benefit of these Infrastructure Automation Utilities and some roadblocks that you might encounter if converting to them from a custom solution today. While specific to one of the more mature offerings, Terraform, our hope is that they generally highlight the current maturity of the space.
Infrastructure Automation Utilities, like Terraform, are a great alternative to custom automation solutions and platform-specific automation solutions but still not suitable for maintenance. While in their infancy, they show great promise and are only going to get better. If you’re willing to develop a couple workarounds while the offerings mature, they’re a great solution for anyone’s Infrastructure Automation needs.