Why Does DevOps Matter?
by Kris Buytaert
People often ask, why does DevOps matter?
The honest answer to that question is...because having the development and operations team work together is the only way IT is successful.
Over the past few decades I've worked in different environments that include: small web start ups, big pharmaceutical companies, hardware engineering shops and large software companies and banks. All were trying different approaches to deliver quality software to their end users, customers, but most of them were failing badly.
Operations people were being pulled in at the last minute. A marketing campaign needed to go live at 5 p.m. because that's when the first radio commercial was scheduled to be broadcasted. At 11 a.m., the operations people still didn't know the campaign existed.
It was always the other person’s fault. Waterfall projects and large PID documents were the solution to all the problems. But people learned; they figured out that we can't expect humans to predict how long it would take to implement something they have never done before. Unfortunately, even today, only a small set of people understand the value of being agile and that we cannot break a project down to its granular details without factoring in the “unpredictable.” The key element here is the “uncertainty” of the many project pieces.
So on came the agile movement and software development became much smoother.
People agreed on time boxing a reasonable set of work that would result in delivering useful functionality in frequent batches. Yet, on the day of deployment, all hell breaks loose because someone forgot to loop in the Ops team.
This is where my personal experience differs from a lot of others, because I was part of a development team building a product where the developers were sitting right next to the system administration team. Within sprints, our DevOps team was building both system features and application features, making the application highly available was a story on the board next to an actual end user feature.
In the old days, a new feature that was scheduled for Friday couldn't be brought online for a couple of days because it couldn't be deployed to production. In the new setup, deploying to production was a no brainer as we had already tested the automated deployment to the acceptance platform.
This brings us to the first benefit : Actually being able to go live.
The next problem came on a Wednesday evening. A major security issue had popped up in Drupal and an upgrade needed to be performed, however nobody dared to perform the upgrade as they were afraid of breaking the site. Some people had made changes, they hadn't put their config back in code base, and thus the site didn't get updated. This is the typical state of the majority of any type of website where people build something, deploy it and never look back. This is the case until disaster strikes and it hits the evening news.
Teams then learn that not only do they need to implement features and put their config changes in code, but also do continuous integration testing on their sites.
From doing continuous integration, they go to continuous delivery and continuous deployment, where an upgrade isn't a risk anymore but a normal event which happens automatically when all the tests are green. By implementing infrastructure as code, they now have achieved 2 goals. By implementing tests, we build the confidence that the code was working, but also made sure that the number of defects in that code base went down so the number of times people needed to dig back into old code to fix issue also came down.
By delivering better software in a much more regular way, it enables the security issues to be fixed faster, but also brings new features to market faster. With faster, we often mean that there is an change from releasing software on a bi-yearly basis to a release each sprint, to a release whenever a commit has passed a number of test criteria.
Because they started to involve other stakeholders, the value of their application grew as they had faster feedback and better usage statistics. The faster feedback meant that they weren't spending as much time on features nobody used, but focusing their efforts on things that mattered.
Having other stakeholders like systems and security teams involved with early metrics and taking in the non functional requirements into the backlog planning meant that the stability of the platform was growing. Rather than people spending hours and nights fixing production problems, Potential issues are now being tackled upfront because of the
communication between devs and ops. Also, scale and high availability have been built into the application upfront, rather than afterwards -- when it is too late.
So, in the end it comes down to the most important part, which is that devops creates more happiness. It creates more happy customers, developers, operations teams, managers, and investors and for a lot of people it improves not only application quality, but also their life quality.