Feb 22 2024

What Is Policy as Code and How Can It Help Businesses?

The approach is crucial for DevOps and platform engineering teams looking to automate organizational rules, security and compliance standards.

“By 2026, 80 percent of large software organizations will establish platform engineering teams as internal providers,” according to Gartner. But just adopting platform engineering isn’t sufficient. Businesses need their DevOps teams to manage and automate operational workflows so that security, policy and regulatory standards are always upheld. That’s where Policy as Code (PaC) comes in.

PaC is an important part of the DevOps process, and it’s foundational to platform engineering. Here’s how PaC can accelerate an organization’s DevOps journey.

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What Is Policy as Code?

Policy as Code refers to the practice of managing and enforcing organizational policies through code rather than through manual processes. This approach enables automatic and consistent application of rules across an organization's infrastructure, applications and workflows, using software to ensure compliance, security and operational efficiency.

With PaC, DevOps teams can define any type of “rule, condition or instruction that governs IT operations or processes,” according to Palo Alto Networks.

Teams can write out policies, or “rules,” using Python, YAML, Rego or another programming language, and once read by the computer they can be automated. And unlike Security as Code or Infrastructure as Code (IaC), PaC is tailored to compliance checks within the DevOps pipeline.

FIND OUT: Infrastructure as Code is evolving platform engineering.

What Are the Benefits of Policy as Code?

Every business is different, so the specific benefits an enterprise may experience with PaC can vary. But here are a few of the core benefits IT leaders can expect:

  • Easier adoption of software development best practices: Turning policies into automated code enables businesses to apply software development best practices across environments. This is particularly useful when operating in multicloud or hybrid cloud.
  • Automated tests for PaC: Policies written in code are easier to test and validate with automated auditing tools.
  • Simpler enforcement of style guides and security rules: Since PaC essentially automates the compliance process, there’s less need for manual intervention. This means that compliance checks run frequently and without human error.
  • Improved tracking of compliance: PaC enables teams to monitor policy enforcement across access points in real time, making it easy to fix compliance violations right away.
  • More efficient management of policy rules: PaC allows for all policies to be centrally managed, which makes the review process simpler and more convenient.

PaC turns an otherwise manual, error-prone process into a policy management system that is streamlined and simplified. That’s why 94 percent of IT decision-makers say that it has a positive impact on business.

Source: Styra, “2023 State of Policy as Code Report,” November 2023

How Is PaC Integrated into DevOps and Platform Engineering?

When it comes to integrating PaC into DevOps and platform engineering, it’s really about adopting a codified approach to policy management. 

To get started, IT leaders must first define the policies that they want in place, select a compatible PaC tool and integrate that with the DevOps pipeline. According to Spectral, a Check Point company, this may “involve configuring your CI/CD pipeline to validate policies at build time, integrating policy checks into your testing process, or using PaC tools to monitor and enforce policies at runtime in production.” The effectiveness of these policies largely depends on the choice and implementation of the right tools.

LEARN MORE: CDW bridges the gap to DevOps.

What Are Policy as Code Tools?

PaC tools can take the form of an open-source policy engine or a third-party managed service, as long as they are designed to help organizations set up and enforce PaC systems. Here are some examples of recommended tools:

  • AWS Config: This Amazon Web Services-managed solution provides a detailed view of configuration with AWS resources and helps ensure compliance with an organization’s policies. It provides predefined rules that can be used to evaluate resource configurations against industry standards.
  • CrowdStrike Falcon: This CrowdStrike tool supports the automation of policies for various security solutions, including threat detection and incident response. It is also able to monitor and report on policy violations and to ingest the policies rolled out by continuous integration/continuous delivery pipelines, effectively enabling the implementation of PaC.
  • Prisma Cloud: Now integrated with Open Policy Agent, this tool from Palo Alto Networks offers PaC to provide controls built into code that can be replicated, version-controlled and tested against live code repositories. This tool comes with built-in coded policies that work with cloud resources and IaC templates.

To find the right PaC tool for your organization, consider factors such as compatibility with your current stack, the level of automation and integration your organization requires, and ease of use.

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What Is the Future of Policy as Code?

According to Deloitte, “policy as code is transforming the way organizations approach governance by providing a powerful and flexible way to define, manage and enforce the policies.” In the coming years, organizations will see PaC becoming more integrated into security and governance, particularly in cybersecurity and DevSecOps. This will allow for the automated enforcement of security policies throughout the software development lifecycle.

IT leaders can also expect to see wider adoption of PaC across industries, as it’s a simple way to manage complex compliance regulations and ensure that applications are secure from the start. PaC is also expected to grow in its capabilities as it is used with artificial intelligence and machine learning.

As PaC matures, there will likely be more efforts to standardize policy languages and frameworks, making it easier for businesses of all sizes to adopt the approach. Training programs that can educate employees on PaC best practices are also an essential step toward widespread adoption.

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