As DevOps becomes more widely adopted by organizations in modern software development, there still lies some confusion about what this term encompasses.
For example, we often hear the phrase ‘culture of DevOps’ but we also see it being referred to as an approach or methodology organizations adopt in their everyday practices. So which one is it or can it mean several things at once?
In this guide, we want to investigate DevOps to understand how it came about and the issues this term is trying to address for modern tech teams and why more and more organizations today are incorporating it as the basis of their workflow.
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In this guide, we will be looking to answer the following questions:
What is DevOps?
How does DevOps work?
Where did this term come from?
What is the difference between DevOps and Agile?
What was life like before DevOps and what pain points is it looking to solve?
What are the benefits?
What type of skills are needed?
DevOps- Bringing developers and IT operations together
As you may have guessed, the term DevOps comes from a combination of ‘development’ and ‘operations’.
In that sense, we may consider DevOps as a philosophy that aims to ensure and promote better communication and collaboration between these teams. By combining development and operations processes allows organizations to keep up with the speed of development.
DevOps is not a technology per se. Instead, it can be thought of as an umbrella term that includes the processes, approach and culture that is meant to shorten the software development lifecycle by increasing the speed at which organizations release new software applications.
Therefore, it encompasses a set of practices and tools that increases an organization’s ability to quickly deliver new software as well as improving and optimizing products otherwise not possible with traditional software development practices.
How does DevOps work?
We may deduce from the above that the main underlying premise of the term DevOps is releasing software frequently in small increments to achieve fast feedback loops that would allow teams to continuously improve and optimize software accordingly.
This enables teams to deliver software at greater speed to allow them to compete in a fast-changing market and to meet the ever-evolving demands of consumers.
Through these feedback loops, teams can quickly incorporate consumer feedback so that they’re confident that they are only releasing high quality products that their consumers actually need.
Therefore, you can best visualize the DevOps process as an infinite loop or a continuous cycle of building, testing, deploying and monitoring software releases then the loop resets through continuous feedback that is received as the software moves through these different stages, as illustrated by the image below.
Below are some of the principles that form the fundamentals of adopting a DevOps approach:
Continuous integration- software development practices in which developers commit to a shared repository frequently.
Continuous delivery- it naturally follows that as code is continuously integrated, code is always in deployable state ready to be released to end-users at regular intervals.
Continuous testing- this strategy involves testing at every stage of the software development life cycle in order to obtain valuable feedback to validate the quality of the software and fix any issues as they arise.
Continuous monitoring- this involve continuous monitoring of the code and the underlying structure that supports it in order to quickly identify any failures and fix them in real time
Cross-team collaboration- as we’ve seen, one of the main goals of DevOps is to facilitate collaboration and sharing of feedback to maintain an efficient DevOps pipeline.
Automation- this is the cornerstone of any DevOps strategy as automation is vital to increase velocity and produce more consistent and reliable software. In other words, implementing DevOps involves utilization of technology, mainly automation tools, to automate repetitive processes to allow teams to focus on higher-level work.
In sum, one of the integral practices of DevOps is releasing frequently in small batches to allow room for constant innovation.
This means that teams operating under the DevOps model deploy releases and updates much faster than under the traditional software development model.
Once upon a time...
The term DevOps began to take shape in 2009 during the first DevOpsDays event in Belgium by Patrick Debois, dubbed by some as the ‘father of the DevOps movement’, who had become frustrated with the separation between IT and Development teams after taking on a project with the government ministry doing a large data center migration.
DevOpsDays has now become a worldwide series of technical conferences that brings together developers and operations professionals to cover a range of topics within modern software development.
The event was inspired by a talk Debois had attended entitled “10+ Deploys per Day: Dev and Ops Cooperation at Flickr” by two Flickr employees, John Allspaw and Paul Hammond. During this presentation, Allspaw and Hammond described how they incorporated continuous integration practices to make frequent deployments possible through improved collaboration between developers and operations.
After the first DevOpsDays event took place, started by Debois himself, DevOps started to gain traction and popularity.
Therefore, the term mainly grew out of frustration from the silos between these two teams and the conflicts that resulted due to this disconnect. This video further explains the history behind DevOps and the image below also gives a great visualization of the history of DevOps and how it evolved over time.
To sum up, DevOps came about as a way to reduce the disconnect between development and operations teams to enhance their productivity and continuously deliver high quality products.
We often hear DevOps and Agile come up in modern software development. Are they actually one and the same or is there a difference between these two terms after all? If you’re thinking the former then you would be correct.
To truly understand DevOps and Agile and how they may differ, it’s important to highlight their overall philosophy.
DevOps, as already mentioned, aims to enhance collaboration between development and operations teams whereas Agile is an iterative approach that focuses on collaboration, customer feedback and small, frequent releases.
Agile was introduced as a way to replace the more traditional Waterfall methodology, which was considered too rigid and inflexible to fulfil the expectations of a fast-paced world of continuous technological development and innovation.
Therefore, the focus of Agile is about adopting and implementing Agile frameworks such as Kanban and Scrum that help to break down projects into manageable phases or sprints. The goal is to bridge the gap between the development team and end-users to realign focus onto the user.
Both of these concepts, though, provide the framework necessary to achieve faster software delivery. Hence, organizations would do well to make use of both of those methodologies as they complement each other.
Think of Agile as a collection of methodologies to help your team organize their work and deliver releases that can respond to fast-changing consumer needs and DevOps as the foundation and culture that drives delivery of faster and more reliable software.
The following represents the four fundamental values that make up Agile software development, extracted from the Agile manifesto established in 2001 that outlines the central values and principles of this concept:
Individuals and interactions
Responding to change
A key takeaway from this section is there is a great deal of overlap between these two concepts as the goals of Agile and DevOps are the same, which is improving the speed and quality of software releases and the software development process in general.
Therefore, it makes little sense to speak of these concepts in isolation as DevOps incorporates Agile principles and practices and takes these further to apply them to operations processes, where the Agile methodology falls short.
Life before DevOps
Before DevOps, organizations relied more on the traditional Waterfall model but with increasing complexity and speed of today’s digital world, this model was no longer capable of meeting customer demands that are constantly changing and evolving.
Therefore, DevOps seeks to address issues and challenges which are often associated with traditional software development practices and techniques.
The table below serves to compare how life was before DevOps and how organizations have transformed with DevOps implementation:
Miscommunications between Development and operations teams
Enhanced collaboration and a unified environment
Slow code execution
Delayed software deployments
Frequent and rapid deliveries
High operational costs
Possibilities of security threats
Better security by implementing security in DevOps (DevSecOps)
Continuous manual monitoring of software performance
Automation within the software development life cycle
High recovery time in case of failure
Faster time to recovery and reduced outages
By releasing frequently in small increments and by introducing automated testing, teams can be confident that their releases have been validated for quality every step of the way before going into a production environment.
Therefore, developers can trust that they’re delivering their best releases to consumers and can be assured that these releases are well-tested and actually meet their consumers’ needs.
Moreover, if teams implement feature flags, they can further mitigate risk by making releases visible to a certain number of users and they can immediately roll back if anything goes wrong thereby minimizing the blast radius or the number of users who would have been negatively impacted by any issue that arises.
Increased collaboration and trust
DevOps is focused on building and promoting a collaborative environment among cross-functional teams.
Therefore, shared responsibility, transparency, collaboration and fast feedback are what make up the DevOps culture and is the basis for teams looking into incorporating DevOps practices.
It seeks primarily to break down the barriers between development and operation teams and to break away from the silos often found among these teams to form a more unified workflow to work towards common organizational goals which will ultimately aid in delivering more value to your organization and customers.
This means that developers and operations work closely together and are able to combine their workflows in order to increase efficiency thereby instilling ownership and accountability between these teams as they now have shared and equal responsibility for success.
DevOps encourages teams to break down releases into smaller pieces allowing developers to work on smaller and more frequent releases which has significantly shortened development cycles which, in turn, allows for the quick gathering of feedback to constantly optimize these releases.
In other words, when teams shift their focus on small and frequent releases, they can release software much more quickly into production environments.
Such rapid delivery will also help organizations maintain competitive advantage.
We’ve also mentioned how a huge focus of DevOps is automation. Introducing end-to-end automation into your software development process ensures that products reach customers much faster as teams are no longer bogged down with manual tasks that would significantly slow down releases.
Not only that but it also gives developers more room for innovation. Automation frees up developers’ time by giving them more time to experiment with additional features or improving existing ones. Generally, DevOps creates an environment flexible enough where teams are no longer restricted to a set of rigid instructions leaving ample room for innovation.
Products with higher quality and security
We already talked about how DevOps incorporates fast feedback loops in order to optimize products and features and fix any issues immediately.
Furthemore, the continuous testing of software throughout its development life cycle means bugs can be detected early on, when it’s less costly to fix, and encourages teams to build reliable software from the onset.
Incorporating practices such as continuous integration and continuous delivery will help ensure that every change is tested and verified before making its way into production.
After all, the goal of continuous testing is to evaluate the quality of the software as it progresses through each stage of its life cycle and the feedback teams receive during the testing processes provide them with the information necessary to address any quality concerns. This ultimately results in better user experiences.
In short, DevOps helps teams release faster but without sacrificing quality. This means teams can scale down their work instead of opting for one big bang release which is harder to manage. Thus, issues can be much more easily determined and fixed so releases can constantly meet the quality expectations of users.
DevOps also gives increased security as the term has extended beyond just developers and operations to also include security teams, which is referred to as DevSecOps. This is where teams integrate security testing throughout the software development and deployment life cycle.
This helps ensure that software and applications are protected against and are less vulnerable to security threats, which in turn gives consumers peace of mind that their data is safe.
As more and more organizations start to recognize the value of DevOps, primarily the ability to drive secure and fast software delivery resulting in reduced time-to-market and increased customer satisfaction, small, medium and large organizations alike are paving their own way to embracing such a culture.
This will require certain DevOps expertise to make a smooth transition.
One such important role within DevOps is a DevOps Engineer. This is someone who possesses deep knowledge of the software development life cycle and the automation tools for developing CI/CD pipelines.
It goes without saying that a DevOps Engineer works closely across various teams, mainly software developers and IT teams to facilitate code releases.
We’ve mentioned that DevOps involves being flexible and moving away from rigid work flows to continuously improve and optimize products to allow for faster innovation.
Consequently, the key to succeeding in a DevOps role is to be flexible and willing to learn new skills to achieve high performance across an entire organization, especially as the required knowledge will depend on the kind of company the DevOps engineer is working for.
However, one thing is clear, which is that this role is in high demand and is, in fact, among the best paying technology jobs right now.
Takeaway: DevOps at the forefront of digital transformation
To sustain competitive advantage, organizations must adopt the culture, tools and skills necessary to keep up with digital transformation.
You can’t just adopt a set of tools and believe you’re well into your DevOps journey. DevOps involves a cultural change that must occur within your organization in order to implement DevOps successfully.
Devops is not merely a set of tools or technology you adopt but a cultural shift and a tactical approach that empowers teams to collaborate more effectively using technology in order to streamline software delivery to meet or exceed their performance goals.
Therefore, we can conclude that the ultimate goal of DevOps is to:
Break down communication barriers through the creation of cross-functional teams
Enhance operational efficiency
Release high quality products faster
Stay tuned for a future post to explain how you can successfully adopt a culture of DevOps within your own organization.
One thing seems to be clear: DevOps is here to stay and for good reason.