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DevOps: What It Is and Why It Matters

What is DevOps

Most organizations with separate development and operations teams have experienced the frustrations that come with it. Both teams have their own methodologies and procedures, and occasionally these teams clash during design and change control requests. DevOps brings several benefits to large organizations including automation, more rapid code testing and deployments, and the benefit of combining operations with developers to streamline the entire change control and promotion process. If you’ve explored the possibility of a DevOps team, here are some reasons why the upfront investment is worth the effort.

What is DevOps?

In a traditional IT environment, operations handled all infrastructure setup including installation of new hardware, managing configurations, and assigning permissions to users. Developers handled all code-based projects including database programming, design of software, and code change and deployments. The two teams never interact except when developers need changes to infrastructure configurations to make software run or they need new infrastructure for development.

With DevOps, the two teams are combined and work together usually under the Agile methodology of code delivery and integration. The key difference with DevOps versus traditional IT is that much of code testing and deployment is automated. Some human interaction and testing are still needed, but organizations with several developers and code changes can more rapidly test and deploy using automation tools rather than wait for scheduled updates, which usually occur monthly. Organizations can reduce testing and deployment times to just a few hours with the right DevOps team and automation tools.

DevOps is more than just procedural changes. DevOps is a mindset and cultural change within an organization. Instead of siloed operations versus development teams, DevOps brings the two together and creates one team that works towards more efficient and rapid code deployment. 

Advantages of Building a DevOps Team

Before getting into what makes a good DevOps team, most organizations want to know the benefits of changing current practices. Building DevOps and changing IT culture requires an enormous amount of planning and designing new procedures to replace current ones.

There are several reasons why DevOps gives organizations advantages over old-style IT siloed departments. Some benefits and advantages organizations get with DevOps include:

  • Better collaboration. In a traditional environment, operations and development worked together to release software, but it often required collaboration and agreement on the way it would be handled and scheduling a time with both departments had time to deploy. This added delays to the process, which cost organizations money and caused frustration across teams. With both teams working together, collaboration on all projects is more streamlined and easier for all involved.
  • Scalability. Infrastructure and software should be built on scalable options as the business grows. Operations must provision new resources and developers must add software features that support additional customers. These two scalability requirements can be managed better when both departments are working together.
  • Flexibility. Many organizations have seen the value of microservices and containership in development. Cloud resources are usually provisioned and configured by operations. With DevOps, many of these steps can be automated to give developers and operations people more flexibility in the way deployments are performed.
  • Reliability. By working together, DevOps teams can build a more reliable platform. For instance, operations no longer provisions infrastructure without knowing the way developers will work with it. If resources are provisioned and aren’t sufficient for the software, another round of change control and provisioning would be needed. This adds delays and frustrations to everyone involved, but DevOps provisioning as a team will ensure that resources are sufficient for software performance.
  • Speed. Not only are infrastructure resources built for software performance, but DevOps confers more rapid testing and deployment. Automation is key to rapid development, and DevOps main goal is to automate as much of the development lifecycle as possible.

Common DevOps Procedures and Resources

As we said, DevOps is a cultural change and many of the tools used to manage development are different than traditional solutions in operations and software programming. Whether the organization decides to build a DevOps team from existing employees or hire new resources, the automation process will be introduced into existing procedures. Automation will take a lot of overhead away from both teams and free up resources so that they can be used for other tasks. Using automation, developers have more time to code and operations staff have more time to deal with other network issues.

When building a DevOps team, expect to have the following solutions added to the development pipeline:

  1. Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) tools. These tools are a big change that greatly reduce the time it takes to test and deploy new code. It’s also one of the changes that change the way developers test and deploy their code, so it’s a culture change for developers. These tools build codebase changes after developers check code and report any errors found before being introduced to a testing team or production. This gives developers faster feedback on any updates and changes to avoid finding errors later in the life cycle.
  2. Cloud provisioning automation. Traditionally, when developers needed infrastructure changes, they put in a request to IT and waited for approval and then for the provisioning. With a collaborated DevOps team, developers no longer need to wait and IT no longer needs to manually provision resources. Most cloud providers have tools that scale up or down depending on resource usage, and provisioned resources can be added to automation scripts.
  3. Microservices. The way code is developed is changing, and microservices turn a monolithic codebase into separate moving parts that work independently but in collaboration with each other. Containers run components of a monolithic code base so that they can be managed separately instead of updating the entire application when code changes and possibly causing the entire environment to fail when errors are introduced. Orchestration tools such as Kubernetes can be used to automate provisioning of containers as code changes within each application component.
  4. Configuration management. Similar to cloud provisioning automation, changes to configurations can be automated rather than requiring human intervention. For instance, if a new environment variable is needed with software deployment, it can be changed using automation tools.
  5. Monitoring and logging. Monitoring is necessary for numerous reasons including cybersecurity and exploit detection, error logging and remediation, compliance regulations, and resource usage analysis reporting. If the organization doesn’t have heavy monitoring on an application now, it will be needed when automation is incorporated into deployment and testing. Monitoring lets developers know what could be wrong with the application so that it can be more quickly remediated, especially if the errors are critical to application functionality.

Misconceptions about DevOps and What It Can Do

As anyone should guess, DevOps is not a magic cure that will solve all problems across the environment. The success of a DevOps team is dependent on the people who comprise the team, the procedures put in place to organize and manage solutions, and the automation tools used to test and deploy. DevOps does not take over all responsibility within development, but it solves many of the human errors introduced by manual deployments and testing.

  • DevOps is one role. A DevOps team is a collaboration effort from several roles to ensure better stability, reliability, and performance of the entire software development lifecycle. The DevOps team might work as one, but each person on the team has their own role and responsibilities.
  • DevOps is only for large enterprise companies. As a matter of fact, the automation and reduction of staff overhead is great for smaller organizations that don’t have the resources to have dedicated people for code deployment and testing. Automation tools are not expensive, and some are open-source software. DevOps can streamline and save any organization of any size money in development, testing and deployment.
  • DevOps only works one way. Best practices should be followed when working with DevOps teams, but processes and the way the team manages deployment can be customized based on business requirements and staff preferences. 
  • DevOps is simply automation tools. In fact, DevOps is a mindset and IT culture that facilitates transparency and efficiency during software development and its lifecycle. Automation is a big part of the process, but it’s not the only component. DevOps aims to eliminate many of the traditional struggles in software development that delayed updates and created frustration between developers and operations.

Where DevOps Helps the Most

Most developers are used to the daily grind of design, code, test, deployment to staging, quality assurance (QA) testing, and promotion to production. DevOps automation tools specifically improve testing and deployment to both staging and production.

The ways DevOps helps the most in any organization with software development:

  • Detection: The monitoring and logging tools included in automation detect any anomalies or errors and alert the responsible party. The codebase is built automatically and tested against benchmarks. By detecting errors earlier, developers are aware of their mistakes and can remediate them early in the life cycle rather than deploying buggy code that could cause production issues.
  • Incident response: When errors crash the application or interfere with the user experience, developers must remediate the issue quickly or it could cost the organization thousands in lost revenue. Although DevOps helps with testing, there are still times when developers must respond to critical issues. DevOps shortens the incident response times by monitoring and detecting issues early to reduce response times.
  • Remediation: No developer wants to deploy buggy code, but mistakes happen. By using automation during the testing process, developers can more quickly remediate any issue in staging and production.
  • Analysis: The automation tools available to DevOps provide analysis of all factors in the testing and deployment process so that the team can optimize the entire lifecycle.
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