Some Agile methods are simple enough to define but much harder to execute, and DevOps is one of them. The term DevOps comes from development and operations. The function of DevOps is to reconcile the work of the developers with the operational functions of a project. In the early years, most companies adopted DevOps to become more competitive. In today’s environment, DevOps has almost become a survival tool.
How does adopting the DevOps model actually enable success. The model leads to the development of five important faculties that every company needs to survive. These include:
- Learning & Improving
Companies that have ignored these have often fallen by the wayside and lost their market leadership to more competitive players. Video rental company Blockbuster is a great example. It once dominated the market before it gave way to competitors like Netflix and eventually filed for bankruptcy. Blockbuster is a company that could not Sense customer needs (validated by proper data of course). As a result, it could not Modify its business model fast enough to Adapt to the new environment and simply didn’t give itself the chance to Learn & Improve. As a result, Blockbuster no longer exists today while its one-time competitor Netflix is a global behemoth valued at $155 billion.
Apart from crazy growth and global success, companies like Amazon, Etsy, Netflix, and Walmart have something else in common. They all use the DevOps methodology to increase efficiency, improve products, and shorten development cycles. DevOps as a methodology is now in its 10th year and according to Gartner, more than 70% of IT companies have adopted DevOps. In this article, we’ll talk about what DevOps is all about and how it can benefit an organization. We’ll also talk about how you should go about adopting a DevOps model.
What is DevOps?
In today’s day and age, time to market is often the difference between being a market leader and a me-too product. In order to keep pace with frenetic market demands, companies need to build, deploy, test and release software in faster cycles.
DevOps is a methodology that fosters a culture of collaboration between all the areas of the company (development, operations, and quality assurance teams). This prevents product development from happening in independent silos. As a result, development cycles are a lot shorter, the product incorporates customer feedback more seamlessly, and bug-fixes are done throughout product development. Adopting a DevOps model can become a savior for IT teams, especially when collaboration between teams has been an obstacle in the past.
Why You Should be Adopting a DevOps Culture?
Let’s take a small example to illustrate why DevOps really matters and why it has found such a strong foothold in the tech industry. Let’s say there’s an HRtech company that is working on creating cutting-edge Employee Wellness software. The development team works for 7 months to build an AI-enabled tool that gauges employees’ physical and mental health and then provides personalized recommendations. They test the product in a controlled dev environment and everything works smoothly. They are happy with a job well done and hand over the tool to the Operations team.
As the Operations team releases the product to a few existing clients, things start going wrong. Many employees find the questions invasive, some recommendations are completely off-the-mark, and there are 404 errors everywhere. Clients start hounding the Operations team. The Operations team accuses the development team of shipping out a half-baked product. Developers, on the other hand, feel that the product worked just fine in the testing environment and things probably went wrong during execution. Even worse, they’re still not exactly sure what the problems are and how to fix them.
The result? A sub-par product that took ages to develop and will now take even more time to fix. Two excellent teams that now blame each other instead of collaborating. And a slow, inefficient organization that will most likely be beaten to market by a competitor.
If the company had adopted a DevOps methodology, the development and operations teams would have collaborated from Day 1. Quality assurance and real-world testing would have started during the development phase. The MVP (Minimum Viable Product) would be released in the shortest possible time and customer feedback would be incorporated in future iterations of the product. The result? A product that would have taken less time to develop, reached the market much faster and got great customer feedback. Even better, the development, QA, and operations teams would have worked closely with one another, fostering a sense of purpose and ownership across the board.
As the example above proves, DevOps can have a drastic impact on both the efficiency and the spirit of your company. Companies need to cultivate a culture of collaboration and experimentation for DevOps to be able to thrive. The key to developing a DevOps culture is shifting employee mindset towards a more experimental and collaborative approach. This involves moving away from a risk-averse mindset to one that is more open to experimentation and even failure. Adopting a DevOps culture is the foundation for a smooth transition to DevOps.
The Main Benefits of DevOps
More and more companies across the world are adopting the DevOps methodology because, in the last 10 years, it has driven some of the tech industry’s biggest success stories. Here are some of the major benefits of DevOps.
Speed is the major driving force behind DevOps adoption. Since DevOps fosters collaboration between teams, customer feedback can be incorporated quicker, testing can be done during the development cycle, and changesets are smaller. All of this results in a much shorter development cycle and lesser time to market. Important Devops practices like microservices and continuous delivery, continuous integration and continuous deployment allow teams to take ownership of products and ship updates much faster. Companies that respond to changing customer needs quickly will eventually become market leaders. DevOps allows organizations to release updates more frequently. This means new features can be released even before customers realize they need them and bugs can be fixed before they become a major issue.
Ideally, teams should be organised based on decoupled software services. These should either support a business function or be a group of features that go together. Each team should function like a small independent software organisation and design, develop, test, and deploy their own software. This means that each small team needs to have developers, QA members, and operations support. Without an integrated DevOps approach, this can be very difficult.
Many times, companies end up paying a steep price for rapid software delivery. Faster software delivery almost always comes at the cost of quality and reliability. DevOps helps manage this trade-off successfully by ensuring that the quality of updates and infrastructure changes is maintained even as software releases become faster. DevOps practices like continuous integration and continuous delivery to make sure that every change is reliable and functional before it is shipped. In addition, the DevOps practice of monitoring and logging ensures that you are able to keep an eye on the performance in real-time. This allows you to detect performance problems within seconds and take action accordingly.
A major reason why DevOps catapulted to fame was that companies like Google and Amazon found it extremely hard to manage their rapid growth until they adopted DevOps. DevOps tools and practices are designed to manage both tech infrastructure and internal workflows at scale. Most DevOps tools like Jenkins, Docker, and Amazon EC2 enable automation at different stages of the development cycle. This allows you to manage systems efficiently even as you scale rapidly. Similarly, the DevOps practice of infrastructure as code enables you to manage different environments (development, testing, and production) more efficiently.
DevOps doesn’t aim to eliminate the differences between your development and operations teams. Rather, it aims to build a bridge between the two teams so that the differences can be recognized and worked with to achieve common goals. In a DevOps environment, the two teams combine workflows, share responsibilities, but also take ownership and accountability. As a result, everyone comes together as one team, the handover time between development and operations reduces and the development environment becomes more seamless. Both teams needs to collaborate with each other to understand the requirements better, and then design them using code/automation/scripts. This makes each deployment much simpler than if the teams were working in isolation.
Security is another thing that often gets compromised in the rush to market. Weeks says, “If you are doing continuous delivery, then you are making hundreds of changes to your environment every day. The old process does not work. If you are trying to check all components at the end of the development lifecycle, you are in for a lot of rework.”
With DevOps, you can use configuration management techniques, automated compliance policies, and detailed controls to maintain high levels of security even as you prioritize speed and rapid delivery. Using DevOps practices like policy as code, and infrastructure as code, you can define and track compliance at scale, allowing you to manage security concerns even as development cycles become shorter.
Enhanced job satisfaction
DevOps enables the organization to focus more on performance vis-a-vis hierarchy. Since teams collaborate more, they end up sharing both risks and rewards. This fosters a culture of ownership and teamwork and every employee understands how they’re contributing to the bigger picture. As a result, employees are more driven and productive which improves organizational efficiency by leaps and bounds.
How to adopt a DevOps Model
We’ve already discussed how DevOps has the potential to transform outcomes for many tech businesses. There is a big difference between deciding to adopt the DevOps approach and actually integrating it successfully throughout the organization. Here’s what you need to keep in mind while adopting a DevOps model.
Adopting the DevOps Mindset
One of the biggest reasons why most companies fail to adopt DevOps successfully is because they prioritize tools over mindset. In other words, senior management simply decides to adopt DevOps and then introduces DevOps automation tools into the company. However, automation is simply a facilitator of DevOps, it is not the essence.
The essence of DevOps is a collaborative mindset that runs through the organization, enabling shared responsibilities and a willingness to strive towards a common goal. Which is why inculcating this mindset is the key to successful DevOps adoption. Before adopting the DevOps methodology, it’s important to communicate with the different teams (development, QA, operations, etc) to bring home the need for DevOps. You can only hope to succeed at DevOps implementation if everyone on your team understands why it’s important.
Many companies also use the outside-in approach with DevOps adoption. In other words, they first bring in the DevOps tools and then apply them to different parts of their workflow. A better way to go about adopting DevOps is the inside-out approach. Examine your workflow from development to testing and deployment and understand where things are slow and inefficient. Then work towards improving those parts of the workflow with DevOps automation. This will also bring employee buy-in because they will see their most important problems getting solved.
What are your specific needs?
With the number of DevOps tools out there, it’s easy to look at DevOps as a one-size-fits-all kind of solution. The fact of the matter is that not all elements of DevOps suit all businesses. Or are even required.
For instance, one of the benefits of DevOps is the rapid delivery of new features and bug-fixes. But getting 15-20 product updates a day might actually be counterproductive for your customers. So maybe rapid delivery is not something you need to focus on as an organization. On the other hand, you may be growing very quickly and scalability might be a real concern with your product. In that case, you need to align your DevOps goals towards the goal of scalability.
For DevOps to work for you, it’s important to first understand where your organization lags behind and what are the goals you need to achieve through DevOps implementation.
Select the right metrics
The key to successful DevOps implementation is being able to measure the results of our efforts. In high-growth tech companies, there is a tendency to celebrate successes but hide weaknesses and failures. However, unless we’re able to measure critical weaknesses they will never improve and can even lead to the death of the organization in the future. Which is why it’s important to measure those metrics that reflect real outcomes vis-a-vis vanity metrics that look good but don’t matter much. Metrics provide insights into what’s happening at all stages of the DevOps pipeline — from design to development to deployment.
Some effective DevOps metrics that can help you measure progress over a period of time include:
Mean time to recover
This indicates how long it takes an application to recover from a failure on average.
This reflects how fast you can deploy the new version of a website or application to a particular environment.
Mean time to production
This measures the time it takes to deploy new code into production after it has been committed to a repository.
Production failure rate
This measures the number of times a product fails while it’s in production. It’s measured over a fixed period of time say a week, a month, or a year.