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Embracing Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) in Industrial Control Systems

The Intersection of IT and OT

In the rapidly evolving landscape of industrial automation, the line between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) continues to blur. This convergence is particularly evident in the adoption of Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) practices, which have traditionally been the domain of IT. As systems integrators and OT professionals look to enhance efficiency, scalability, and reliability in industrial control systems and server environments, understanding and implementing IaC tools can be transformative. Here, we explore how tools such as PowerShell, PowerShell DSC, Ansible, Terraform, and GitOps are making significant inroads into the OT space.

What is Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC)?

IaC is a key practice within DevOps wherein infrastructure is provisioned and managed using code, rather than through manual processes. This approach not only automates the setup and maintenance of hardware and software but also ensures consistency and repeatability across environments. By defining infrastructure through code, organizations can streamline deployments, scale systems on-demand, and dramatically reduce configuration errors. In OT, Systems Integrators are often responsible for specifying and configuring the Microsoft Windows Server Environment along with also installing all control system related software. At Malisko, we rely on IaC for this very reason ensuring standardized deployments avoiding the cumbersome setup processes of old which were prone to human error.

Key IaC Tools and Their Applications in OT

1. PowerShell & PowerShell DSC

PowerShell is a task-based command-line shell and scripting language built on .NET. PowerShell DSC (Desired State Configuration) is a management platform in PowerShell that enables you to manage your IT and development infrastructure with configuration as code.

OT Application: PowerShell can automate routine tasks across Windows-based systems in industrial environments, such as updating software, managing configurations, or syncing data across machines. PowerShell DSC can ensure that the configurations of these machines remain consistent as per the predefined templates, thus maintaining the desired state of infrastructure without manual intervention.

2. Ansible

Ansible is an open-source tool that automates software provisioning, configuration management, and application deployment. It uses a simple syntax written in YAML (a human-readable data serialization standard), enabling administrators and developers to describe their infrastructure in a declarative manner.

OT Application: In industrial settings, Ansible can manage both Linux and Windows-based systems efficiently. It can automate the installation of software, deployment of updates and patches to ICS components, ensure configurations are consistent across the board, and even handle complex multi-tier system setups without downtime.

3. Terraform

Terraform is an IaC tool that allows you to build, change, and version infrastructure safely and efficiently. It supports multiple service providers as well as custom in-house solutions. A “provider” in Terraform is a plugin that enables interaction with an API, and there are hundreds of providers available.

OT Application: For OT environments that increasingly rely on hybrid infrastructures, Terraform can manage both cloud and on-premises resources cohesively. Many IT departments use Terraform in their own IaC deployments, and systems integrators can help by providing Terraform imports for provisioning physical machines, virtual machines, network switches, and more through declarative configuration files, which can be versioned and reused.

4. GitOps

Git is a distributed version control system that helps multiple users collaborate on the same software development project without interfering with each other’s work. GitOps is a methodology that uses Git as a single source of truth for declarative infrastructure and applications. Many people may have heard of GitHub, the web-based interface and code hosting platform. GitHub uses Git at the center of code delivery pipelines with every change being verifiable, auditable, and reversible, based on Git pull requests.

OT Application: GitOps can be applied in industrial control systems to manage configuration and application code updates more reliably. It introduces a high degree of accountability and traceability for every change made to the system, crucial in regulated industries. Copia Automation, for instance, is a GitOps tool built for controls and automation engineers and works seamlessly with many of the popular PLC programming environments.

Why IaC Matters for OT

The adoption of IaC in industrial environments offers several benefits:

  • Efficiency: Automation reduces the time spent on manual setups and adjustments.
  • Consistency: Minimizes configuration drift through standardized setups.
  • Scalability: Facilitates easy scaling of infrastructure to meet demand.
  • Recovery: Improves disaster recovery through reliable and repeatable scripts.
  • Security: Enhances security postures by allowing quick responses to vulnerabilities through code updates.

As the industrial sector becomes more intertwined with technological advancements, the role of IaC in bridging the gap between traditional OT environments and modern IT practices will only grow. By embracing these tools, OT professionals can ensure more resilient, responsive, and robust industrial control systems, paving the way for a new era of industrial automation.


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