Making DevOps Work for the Enterprise

Arthur Cole


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DevOps may be the hot new trend in enterprise circles these days, but the fact remains that it is not likely to completely transform IT any time soon.

Certainly at the outset, DevOps will affect only a small portion of the overall enterprise workload, primarily the piece that supports emerging mobile and IoT operations. The vast majority of enterprise activity will remain on traditional infrastructure and be subject to current development and operations processes – again, at least for a little while.

That leaves enterprise executives with a challenge: what to convert to DevOps right now and what to leave as is. To make that call, however, organizations will have to delve deeply into their current line-up of products and services, as well as their management practices and the myriad ways in which IT and line-of-business teams already communicate and collaborate.

Quick and Easy

On the applications side, demand for highly flexible services and applications pretty much rules out the long, static development processes that have long frustrated data users. When switching apps on a mobile phone is as easy as trading blue socks for red ones, the need to push new features and fixes quickly and at low cost is paramount.

But according to Ian Buchanan, developer advocate at software firm Atlassian, this may change in the near future.

“One of the reasons DevOps has taken off this year is that organizations are hitting on the idea of what it means to scale DevOps,” he said. “Initially, it started with the projects that were the easiest to do, such as cloud services, deploying into AWS or Azure, where the APIs already exist for high levels of automation. But back-office applications are usually the most critical to the enterprise, so there also needs to be a change in the business model to get into backend systems.”

Unfortunately, few organizations have the capability to make this happen which, fortunately, is something that can be addressed with, well, DevOps.

“How can (DevOps) be applied to on-premises infrastructure or a mainframe?” Buchanan asks. “It certainly is much harder because there is usually not the same degree of off-the-shelf tooling that allows you to run with it. DevOps offers a lens to view and analyze how releases work – Are they fast? Is it high quality? How easy is it to make improvements? – so many organizations are working to build their own tools for that.”

Change at the Top

Ultimately, success in DevOps comes down to effective leadership. According to the most recent State of DevOps report issued by Puppet Labs, transformational leadership is the key to establishing highly trusted cultural norms within an organization, even as it supports an environment of team experimentation and innovation that cuts across traditional workflow silos and produces better strategic alignment between teams and projects.

But before any of the nuts and bolts of DevOps implementation can take place, enterprise leaders need to get on board with the transition. To that end, some basic statistics might help. The Puppet Labs study reports that high performing DevOps teams produce:

  • 46 times more frequent code deployments
  • 440 times faster lead time from commit to deploy
  • 96 times faster mean time to recover from downtime
  • 5 times lower change failure rate (changes are 1/5 as likely to fail)

With stark improvements like that, leaders who embrace the transformation are in the best position to make the necessary budgetary and staffing changes, implement the proper incentives, lay out the goals and objectives of the new DevOps environment and track progress, or lack thereof, using carefully defined metrics.

But what exactly are those metrics? With such a radical shift in the way both IT and business processes function, how is the enterprise supposed to know what is working and what isn’t?

Conor Delanbanque, associate director and head of DevOps USA at digital recruiting firm Salt, says there are a number of ways to measure DevOps success, some of which involve hard data and are subject to rigid analysis and some that require a more nuanced view.

On the hard data front, metrics like time to deployment, change failure rate and meantime to repair are most likely to provide visibility into DevOps processes.

“If we can measure these things, we can see how quickly we are going from building code to live production, and how successful (the product is) when it gets there,” he said. “This works best when we define what we want to achieve with DevOps from the start.”

Team Players

When it comes to evaluating the team, however, managers will need to adopt a more personal approach.

“Do people talk? Do they collaborate? Do they understand the roles and responsibilities of others and the struggles they face when their team members are not doing their jobs properly?” he asked. “This requires more of a focus on the people and the process, as well as the choice of tools that have been implemented to facilitate change.”

Atlassian’s Buchanan also warns that DevOps is not just about making processes faster, but making them better.

“One of the things we’ve seen in the last two State of DevOps reports is that low-performing teams are closing the gap on speed metrics, such as time to deploy, lead time to production, and yet they are getting that speed at the expense of quality,” he said. “When products are deployed, there are more rollbacks and it is taking longer to recover from failure.”

At this stage of the transition, there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to DevOps. Organizations that find success transforming core, revenue-generating applications right away may struggle with less critical functions, and vice versa.

At the end of the day, DevOps should be about empowerment – helping both knowledge workers and data users leverage technology in more meaningful and productive ways. As long as those goals can be clearly defined, the enterprise should be able to chart a successful course to a more streamlined development and operations environment.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.


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