What is DevOps?
But what exactly is the DevOps framework and what are the founding principles?
The term designates an approach that facilitates collaboration between cross-functional Developers (Dev) teams and IT Operations (Ops) staff. The key goal is to standardize, speed up, automate and optimize the activities related to the application release phase, improving the quality of the code and the security of the software. In addition to promoting a strong cultural change in terms of collaboration and operations, the model uses process automation tools, as well as precepts borrowed from the Lean Management logic.
Although the prescribed approach is not unique, some shared rules and best practices can be identified including:
- organization into small multidisciplinary groups that collaborate on projects;
- automation and repeatability of test and deployment processes;
- constant verification of the quality of the code;
- the collection of feedback from users to ensure a better alignment between application and desired state.
The 4 pillars of the DevOps pipeline
Hence the four pillars that characterize the DevOps approach:
- Continuous integration e testing
- Continuous delivery e deployment
- Continuous operations
- Continuous assessment
These phases involve both developers and Operations personnel, in order to cover the entire software life cycle: build construction, release into production, maintenance during operation, monitoring of operation, evaluation of defects and enhancements.
Continuous integration e testing
Continuous integration (CI) is a method that allows developers to frequently – even several times a day– integrate the changes made to the source code within a single repository. The changes are subjected to automatic tests carried out in a continuous cycle to immediately identify any eventual operating errors. Before working on any new changes, developers make use of a copy of the current code, stored and validated within the shared repository.
Continuous delivery e deployment
Continuous Delivery (CD) is aimed at accelerating the release of software. It makes it possible to create executable and production-ready builds starting from the common codebase, validated through CI processes. Continuous deployment is the extreme and final step of the CD process, enabling the deployment of every single code change that has passed the tests to the production environment.
FIND OUT MORE: CI/CD best practices
The concept of Continuous operations refers to the availability of applications for the end user and to service continuity. Any changes made to the software (such as a functional or security patch) or to infrastructure (such as server maintenance) must be transparent to the user, so it does not in any way result in an interruption of service or operations.
Continuous assessment refers to the monitoring phase of applications in production (availability, performance, defects, etc.), carried out at a very high frequency. Thanks to the feedback collected from users, developers receive valuable information on eventual corrections or improvements to be made. Subsequently, the interventions are carried out according to priority criteria, based on urgency and on the required investments.
DevOps techniques, platforms and tools
Conducting projects in DevOps mode requires not only a change of pace at the cultural level, but also the support of a series of techniques, platforms and tools that can facilitate the efficient implementation of the methodology.
Cloud-native development architectures, for example, can simplify the adoption of DevOps practices. A design approach based on the use of microservices and containers is particularly well-suited for the organization of work based on the collaboration of cross-functional teams and geared towards accelerating release times.
In fact, applications are conceived as a structured set of independent functional units (microservices), which can be modified by small groups of specialized developers, without altering the overall behavior of the software. The ability to intervene on the single application functionality and in a transparent way for users, allows developers to operate simultaneously and in a continuous cycle. Each change to the code is immediately received, tested, released and evaluated by users, who can provide developers with valuable feedback.
Containerization techniques, on the other hand, insert the microservices or applications inside complete runtime systems (the so-called “container"), which guarantee the operation of the software regardless of the underlying hardware infrastructure. Orchestration solutions such as Kubernetes enable the dynamic administration of container management, deployment and portability across different environments, following the automation processes prescribed by the DevOps model.
Reviewing the technologies supporting DevOps practices, we then find a series of tools created to perform specific tasks related to the different phases of the software design and management pipeline. From planning and collaboration tools such as Kanban Tool and Jira, to configuration management solutions such as Terraform and Packer, without forgetting the monitoring phase supported by tools such as Grafana, Prometheus and Datadog. Finally, tools such as GitLab and GitHub offer concrete and constant help during all phases of the application life cycle.
DevOps strategy: steps and tips for its creation
Having clarified the principles and technologies supporting the DevOps model, how can the framework be correctly implemented within a structured and effective strategy?
Developing a clear and shared roadmap is a key step for optimizing the design, release and monitoring processes according to the DevOps logic. First of all, because it provides developers and Operations staff with a granular view of the processes, ensuring alignment and synergy on the activities in progress. The availability of a detailed work plan makes it possible to more quickly and efficiently identify the priorities and the interdependence relationships between the different processes and work groups. The sequence of interventions can therefore also be rationalized in the medium to long term, facilitating an optimal coordination of activities carried out by developers and Operations personnel.
The recommendations for defining an effective roadmap basically follow the best practices for planning and implementing any complex project.
1. Identify the overall objectives
It is essential to start with clear ideas, in other words clearly defining the end objectives. Why do you want to implement a DevOps strategy? Some examples of answers could be: to coordinate and optimize the activities of the development and operations teams; to standardize and accelerate development and release processes; or to offer developers a shared and reliable codebase for the realization of application projects.
2. Define short-term goals
Once you have defined the “North Star” that guides the strategic direction, the next step is to break down the DevOps roadmap into practical and achievable short-term goals. It is recommended to consider a time horizon of between two and six months (90 days could, for example, be a plausible window) that makes it possible to define different goals for both teams, without the risk of losing focus and being too vague.
3. Use a visual approach
Projects often fail or are not approved because the roadmap is described only in text form, without the use of a visual planning and communication tool. To identify priorities and dependencies at a glance, in other words to have clear objectives and actions, on the other hand, necessitates resorting to diagrams, colors and different graphics. The visual representation of the roadmap serves not only as a support tool for organizing the work, but also as a tool for promoting the project to stakeholders and sponsors.
4. Share the roadmap between Dev and Ops
The success of a project goes hand in hand with the commitment of the subjects involved, who must always be up to date on the progress of the plan and on next steps. It is therefore essential for the DevOps roadmap to be shared with all the teams involved, allowing developers and Operations managers to have clear deadlines, interdependencies, priorities and tasks to work towards.
5. Keep your roadmap up to date
Needless to say, a successful roadmap must be constantly updated to align it with the ongoing goals and to the current state of the company as far as developers and the operations team are concerned. A strategy that does not reflect the evolution of the business and the actual needs of the organization is inevitably destined to fail.
DevOps benefits and challenges
Before embarking on a journey towards DevOps, however, companies must thoroughly analyze the benefits and challenges deriving from such a radical choice.
Looking at the advantages of adopting the model, we can mention:
- Time to market acceleration - The collaboration between teams and automation tools dramatically simplify and help speed up application integration, release, deployment and monitoring;
- Superior Code Quality - Test automation helps detect errors early, preventing them from making their way into production. Even subsequently, the communication between Dev, Ops and users allows a quick identification and resolution of bugs;
- Alignment with the desired state - The monitoring and collection of feedback makes it possible to create applications that meet the real needs of users;
- Improved flexibility and support - Typically, applications developed in DevOps mode take advantage of modern Cloud Native techniques, so they are typically easier to scale and maintain;
- Increased team efficiency - By sharing goals and having visibility into processes, the Dev and Ops teams are able to ensure greater levels of commitment and coordination of the work.
- Reduction of costs - Team efficiency, release acceleration and minimization of risks ultimately leads to a cost reduction for software management activities.
While there are many advantages to the DevOps methodology, a number of challenges must also be taken into consideration when deciding to tackle the change of pace towards the new paradigm.
Some of the aspects that deserve greater attention include:
- Change management - Transforming procedures and work habits requires not only the acquisition of new skills and technologies, but above embracing a cultural change. Company employees are not always prepared;
- Lack of skills and resources - The transition to DevOps necessitates a corpus of methodological knowledge (on the practices and principles related to the model) and technological expertise (for example on Cloud Native techniques and management/automation tools), which may be difficult to find inside the company and therefore must be built or acquired externally;
- Choice of tools - The market offers a very wide range of technologies to support the DevOps methodology. Given the diversity and range of the solutions, it can often be difficult to navigate the offer and make the right choice;
- Relatively high investments - Despite the returns and benefits, the barrier of entry for the DevOps model can be quite scary. Companies, in fact, must act on several fronts (organizational, cultural, technological, operational) and therefore must be willing – at least during the initial phase – to commit themselves economically and in terms of resources.
Does it make sense for your Company to adopt DevOps?
Finally, weighing the different pros and cons, it is necessary to understand if the DevOps model is convenient for your organization, analyzing all the characteristics of the specific case.
For the majority of companies, positive factors clearly outweigh potential challenges, but you must keep in mind that improvisation and a “do-it-yourself” approach are not ideal in such complex projects. As highlighted, the DevOps transformation requires careful consideration and expertise in multiple domains: change management, knowledge of Cloud Native architectures and software management, familiarity with best practices, to name just a few.
To implement a successful DevOps strategy, it is therefore critical to have the support of an experienced and proven partner, who can transfer the necessary technological and methodological know-how to the company. Ultimately, the maximum benefits from DevOps – overcoming the various obstacles – will only be reaped by those with competent guidance on their side.