What is DevOps?

DevOps, a combination of ‘development and operations’, is a mix of practices, tools and cultural philosophies that enable an organization to quickly deliver applications and services. It also helps products go from the drawing board to market at a faster pace than traditional software development because operations and development engineers work closely together in the entire lifecycle, from design through the development process to production support. In fact, operations staff and developers often use many of the same tools in tandem making the work go that much smoother and faster.

DevOps encompasses the culture and people within an organization, aiming to improve collaboration between the development team and operations. The merging of the two terms is representative of the merging of work of these two previously disparate teams. “Dev” in DevOps refers to developers in particular, but it also means everyone involved in developing the software including QA, Product teams, etc. “Ops” refers to the systems engineers, system administrators, operations staff, release engineers, DBAs, network engineers, security professionals, and other subdisciplines and job titles. Ops are those that generally are charged with the deployment of the software that the developers created. Before DevOps, the two teams worked in very separate environments, one waiting for the other to complete their task. Now, with DevOps, the two teams work more in tandem, catching any flaws and being more agile in changing design direction.

Generally, DevOps represents a change in the culture of IT from one of separateness to one of working as a team. It’s about creating rapid service delivery using Agile, lean practices in a system-oriented approach. DevOps also aims to use technology, especially automation tools, to leverage highly programmable and dynamic infrastructure.

Etymologically, the term DevOps was created by Patrick Debois in 2009, who was one of the system’s strongest proponents. The term brings together ‘development’ and ‘operations’, which is the baseline for the understanding of DevOps. It is a broad term that encompasses processes, cultures, and mindsets that work towards shortening the life cycle of software development, with fast feedback loops that are employed to deliver features, fixes, and updates rapidly and on a regular basis.

What was the need for DevOps?

Developers and system administrators are two essential departments that businesses need to work in tandem to ensure smooth functioning of the organization. The demand from any business will include new features, services, and revenue streams that can be added at a rapid pace. All this has to be executed on a reliable infrastructure. Developers can send out new software all the time, but its implementation, handled by the operations department, often cannot be rapid fire for the sake of stability. And this is where developers and operations tend to be at odds.

Here’s an example of a situation that DevOps can effectively address:

A company is working on artificial intelligence (AI) powered cleaning robots. There is a team of developers working on the code, and a team in operations working on the robot and its infrastructure in real world environments.

The developers have spent close to a year developing a code where the robot will recognize its owners, take commands from smart devices, and have a range of cleaning abilities. The operations team has created the robot that will execute all of this.

Now when the two teams merge their work, it turns out that the robot has several flaws—it takes instructions from only one voice; it can’t get to higher shelves for cleaning and other functional flaws. The two teams are now frustrated because months of work have not given them a viable product, even though in each of their test environments everything seemed perfect. The timeline to go to market effectively increases.

As technology advances, the pitfalls of having operations and software development work in isolated silos becomes more apparent. DevOps came about to try and resolve this issue by bringing everyone related to development and operations on to a single, well automated workflow. This workflow is created to focus sharply on ensuring new software meets all necessary operations requirements for infrastructure stability.

It works on a common set of principles that cuts across all traditional boundaries and roles. These principles are, among others:

  • Setting priorities and end results along with the fundamental beliefs needed to achieve them.
  • Collaboration both inter and intra-teams for problem solving.
  • Automation of repetitive processes to enable more man-hours for higher-level work.
  • Integration of feedback into work with parameters to measure anything going into production.
  • Sharing of data with all necessary individuals and across skill sets and specialized knowledge to achieve the task.

Where did DevOps come from?

The forerunners to DevOps included a range of systems and methodology that contributed to make modern DevOps, creatinga more robust, flexible and effective system.

Enterprise Systems Management (ESM): These operations experts / system administrators brought their ideal best practices to DevOps which included configuration management and system monitoring as well as automated provisioning along with the toolchain approach.

Agile Development: Agile software works on the basis of a close collaboration between customers, product management as well as developers and quality assurance too, to reduce the time taken in the creation of a better product. Viewed from this perspective, DevOps can be seen as an extension of Agile principles going past the confines of code.

The tools of DevOps

Source code repository

This repository is where developers check in and make changes to code. The repository manages all the iterations of the code checked in, ensuring developers don’t overwrite someone else’s work.

Build server

This is an automation tool which compiles code into the source code repository and then into an executable code base.

Configuration management

This defines the configuration of a server and its environment.

Virtual infrastructure

Virtual infrastructure is available from cloud vendors selling infrastructure or platform as a service (PaaS). These have Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) with which to create new machines through programming and with configuration management tools.

Test automation

With test automation you can have automated testing within the build pipeline. This ensures that when you have a deployable build, you can implement it.

Pipeline orchestration

This is a system, much like a factory assembly line that connects completed code to its deployment in production or the last stages of pre-production.

How does DevOps work?

DevOps has several variations to its central system of functioning, however, there are certain capabilities that remain the same for all DevOps cultures. These are:

  • Collaboration: The coming together and working of teams and individuals in collaboration.
  • Automation: The reliance on automation is heavy;DevOps depends on toolchains for its automation needs of every kind.
  • Continuous integration and delivery: A natural aspect of DevOps since it originated from Agile processes. Continuous integration and delivery allow for faster development and delivery of the end software result.
  • Continuous testing: This allows creation of a central system of decision making which helps assess business risks associated with each application that is finalized.
  • Continuous monitoring: With this, teams can evaluate performance of software during the course of development to ensure stability, ensuring quicker go-to-market times.

Benefits of DevOps

With this understanding of how DevOps works, there is a huge range of benefits that an organization stands to gain with correct implementation of procedures and processes.

Product delivery

As a business, with DevOps, you can move forward with high velocity, in terms of innovating in response to customers, adapting to market changes, and enhancing the bottom line of your business. The smooth interaction between operations and development facilitates this.

Rapid delivery

With an increased pace at delivering a viable product for the market, the frequency of releases increases and you can innovate on your product/service faster. The faster you are in releasing features and correcting bugs, the faster you rise in the ranks of being a reliable brand. It builds a competitive edge for the business. Continuous integration and delivery are systems that offer complete automation to the system from build to deploy.

Reliability

With DevOps you can be assured of the quality of updates and infrastructure changes being implemented. This confidence allows you to deliver at a rapid pace. Practices such as continuous integration and delivery are key to ensuring every change is functionally smooth and poses no danger to the infrastructure. Monitoring and logging practices keeps you abreast of performance in real time.

Scale

You can operate and handle infrastructural and development processes at scale. This is possible with the consistency that automation offers to handle complex and evolving systems smoothly and with reduced risk.

Improved collaboration

Better interactivity between teams ensures that there is better ownership and accountability. Close collaborations ensure a sharing of responsibilities and combining of workflows. Inefficiencies are reduced and time is saved in taking a product from development to implementation.

Security

Since DevOps works on automated compliance policies, several complex controls, and configuration management techniques, security is ensured even as you are scaling up.

Challenges and solutions of DevOps

As with any system of work, there are challenges to the implementation of DevOps as well. But these potential solutions help a business start off on the right foot with DevOps, which can provide immense opportunity for any organization. Here is a look at what possible challenges to adopting DevOps and potential solutions.

Bringing development and operations together

Both these departments have different work cultures and attempting to merge them can have its share of problems. Asking each group of people to stop working the way they normally would and learn a whole new way can be a big ask.

The solution is to focus attention on common goals. When both teams work towards the same end, it’s easier to achieve. Accepting the new rules of the game to achieve these goals then becomes simpler. Open communication channels are key, and each member of each side should know they can have a say. Having a team member from development and operations work in the other department can go a long way in smoothing the relationship.

Integrating DevOps tools from different domains

The key in any process of creation is development, followed by testing and then deployment. These have to be running continuously and in a repetitive loop. However, with each department using a different approach to these three steps, it can be difficult to get them and the processes onto a single page. This results in different approaches being used, repetitiveness and a reduction in productivity. Bringing them together will result in departments having to give up some of their processes, causing confusion.

The solution to this is to make use of a single automated system for development and operations. Automation brings down time spent in repetitive tasks of data entry, analyses, product research as well as marketing. Consolidating varied departmental processes streamlines the production processes and improves communication. Both teams should be given the choice of opting for a cloud-based or open-source solution as this helps in the transition period.

Dealing with outdated systems

In order to maintain a rhythmic loop of development, testing and deployment, you need to be working with updated systems. Often this is not the case and you have outdated legacy systems to contend with. This can cause some serious trouble with performance issues and stability.

The solution for this is to use Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) to ensure you have the latest versions of hardware, server, and data storage. Also, making use of microservices will make it easier and faster to build an application and scale it.

Increasing complexity and security needs

There are several new technologies that are being used in businesses today—from artificial intelligence to machine learning, virtual reality as well as augmented reality. Security remains a foremost concern.

Bringing on board experienced developers to ensure you have better security protocols will help ensure that they keep abreast and keep up with the latest in technology to ensure seamless functioning. Providing customers with strong security options can swing a decision in your way. These investments may seem high, but they are well worth it.

Consistency in a DevOps environment

There can be multiple approaches within a DevOps environment, and this can slow down production and increase bugs, particularly when you have different developers working on different aspects.

To deal with this, it is necessary to develop a system of collaboration and transparency. This requires a certain amount of unlearning and relearning of the traditional techniques of software development and deployment. Members of the teams should be encouraged to communicate and know what each team member is doing. This can be achieved with a range of communication tools, including daily stand-up/check-in meetings.

DevOps can be successful when there is a clear focus and a pathway created to achievement, all based on teamwork.

The adoption of DevOps is based on automation practices for optimization and this is achieved through selecting the most appropriate technology. But the important part is that it is all related to the culture the organization develops and the people who are a part of the ecosystem. It is as much driven by humans as it is by technology. Committing to a DevOps culture is to commit to creating an environment for teams to be high-functioning and constantly evolving.