Compliance / Contributed

Real-Time Policy Enforcement with Governance as Code

17 Feb 2022 10:00am, by
Travis Stanfield
Travis Stanfield is co-founder and CEO of Stacklet. Travis is a seasoned technology executive bringing more than two decades of experience in leading teams toward achieving business and technical goals. He began his career as an engineer at Microsoft Corp and was a leader for a successful startup venture, DealerTrack Technologies, that ultimately grew to nearly $4 billion in valuation.

As organizational reliance on diverse, dynamic cloud and multicloud environments has emerged as the norm, senior decision-makers continue to face a stark reality. Fundamentally, they’ve had to choose between two highly unappealing scenarios:

  • No governance. Organizations can give developers free reign to determine which cloud providers, services and technologies they use. While this affords development teams with maximum flexibility to innovate for the business, it runs the potential of exposing the business to a range of disastrous consequences, including runaway costs, security breaches, non-compliance penalties and suboptimal service levels.
  • No innovation. To establish the required control and oversight of cloud usage, leaders can choose to enact stringent, organization-wide restrictions around the types of cloud services and technologies that can be used. They can also place limits on how and when they can be used. While this can enable the consistent enforcement of operational, security, cost and compliance policies, it can also severely diminish the development team’s ability to deliver the digital innovations that are needed to advance critical business objectives.

Fortunately, an alternative has emerged that enables teams to avoid these types of can’t win, either/or propositions. Today, teams can leverage cloud governance-as-code, an approach that enables the dynamic, programmatic application of policies in fast-changing cloud environments. In this way, teams can apply the governance policies they need without impeding developer innovation.

Cloud governance-as-code enables organizations to use code to manage and automate various aspects of governance, including cost, operations, security and compliance. Through automation, teams can reduce their maintenance burden while increasing their cross-environment visibility and control.

By shifting to a governance-as-code model, teams can establish real-time policy enforcement across all clouds, employing capabilities for detection, notification and remediation.

Cloud Governance as Code: 4 Key Principles

To maximize their success with cloud governance as code, teams need to harness platforms that are aligned with the following four principles.

1. Simple Declarative Language for Policy Definition

To maximize the power and flexibility of cloud governance as code, individuals from across the organization should be able to define policies. To realize this objective, it’s important that policy definition is done via a simple declarative language. In effect, a declarative language takes the approach of instructing what should be done, rather than how it should be done.

In this way, teams should be able to express any policy their organization may require. Further, by employing an understandable, consistent language, it is easier for different teams and individuals to get started and to collaborate and gain alignment on key objectives and approaches. Different stakeholders — including developers, cloud engineers, financial operations staff, security teams and more — can contribute to the establishment and ongoing refinement of policies.

Finally, it is also critical that this language is independent of any specific programming languages that developers may use for applications and can be applied not only across multiple applications but multiple clouds.

2. Deployment via CI/CD Methodologies

Inherently, it is essential that governance as code keep pace with dynamic cloud environments. Therefore, it is vital that policies are deployed in a manner consistent with continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) approaches. This includes deployment via git, a leading open source version control system. Through this approach, teams can apply policies in a manner consistent with their software development and delivery lifecycles.

By codifying governance in this way, controls can be enforced as part of the CI/CD process — and enable teams to avoid complex manual processes, managing tickets, and so on. Further, this approach means, just as application code, governance code can be traced through various state changes and rolled back if needed.

3. Real-Time Alerting and Automated Enforcement

True governance means more than just alerting. Governance as code must, in addition to notification, empower actions. Policy violations need to be effectively communicated within the organization, including the generation of notifications as well as escalations when required. In addition, remediation efforts should be automated.

4. Continuous Collaboration and Communication

Cloud governance as code encourages collaboration and promotes agility. Through this approach, development, operation, security and finance teams can gain visibility into policies, and they can collaborate more effectively on policy definition and enforcement. Teams can quickly and efficiently modify policies and create new policies, and changes can be implemented in much the same way teams modify application code or underlying infrastructure in today’s agile, DevOps environments. As a result, teams can work to continuously improve development velocity, strengthen security, meet regulatory requirements and optimize cloud spending.

Governance as code is emerging as a foundational requirement for organizations scaling operations in the cloud. It champions automated management of the complex cloud ecosystem via a human-readable, declarative, high-level language. Infrastructure and security engineering teams can adopt governance as code to enforce policies in an agile, flexible and efficient manner while reducing developer friction.

With governance as code, developers can avoid the obstacles that often hinder or discourage cloud adoption altogether, allowing for greater automation of and visibility into an organization’s cloud infrastructure, unifying teams in their greater mission to achieve success.

The New Stack is a wholly owned subsidiary of Insight Partners, an investor in the following companies mentioned in this article: Real.

Feature image via Pixabay.