The next step for DevOps: 'Hardening' DevOps in the enterprise

In today’s digital age, much of the business innovation is driven by software. To win, serve, and retain their customers, enterprises are being tasked with releasing application updates at an increasingly faster pace. A great idea, killer functionality and a robust technology are all as important as ever – but do not mean much if you can’t get your code to your end users in a fast, predictable manner, and with high quality.

Your 'Pathway to Production' is the path that your code takes from developer check-in all the way to a successful Release. It spans the entire organisation – comprising all the different stakeholders, teams, processes, tools and environments involved in your software delivery. This is, essentially, how your organisation delivers value to the market.

Increasingly, we see that organisations that become better at streamlining and accelerating their Pathway to Production are better equipped to compete and win in today’s economy. The maturity, speed and quality of your software release processes have become a key differentiator and a competitive advantage for businesses today.

DevOps and ARA: Paving a better Pathway to Production

DevOps and Application Release Automation (ARA) have emerged to help organisations become better at delivering software – allowing for greater speed and agility while mitigating the risk of software releases.

DevOps has huge business benefits: statistics show that organisations that practice DevOps outperform the SMP500 over a 3 year period, high-performing IT organisations have 50 per cent higher market cap growth, and so on.

In order to remain competitive and meet consumer demands, enterprises across the board are adopting DevOps to optimise their Pathway to Production. Just as you would invest in designing the right functionality for your product, or defining a winning go-to-market plan, organisations now invest in optimising and (re)designing their Pathway to Production to enable innovation.

The implementation of DevOps in large organisations comes with a unique set of challenges. Enterprises often need to support large volumes of distributed teams and multiple applications/product releases. In addition, regulatory and governance requirements, supporting legacy systems, tool variety, infrastructure management, and complex internal processes further compound these challenges.

I’d like to discuss the evolution of DevOps adoption in the enterprise, and what I see as the next phase of the DevOps revolution.

DevOps in the Enterprise: Starting small, Dev is leading

Agile methodologies, adopted by many software organisations, have been largely focused on development, QA and product management functions, and less on the Pathway to Production once the software has been authored.

As a continuation to Agile, DevOps also started as a very Dev-driven movement (despite the ‘Ops’ in the name). Dev teams were quicker to adopt these practices, as they were eager to find a way to get their code into Production faster. Ops were traditionally more hesitant to adopt DevOps, seeing the increased velocity and speed as possible risks.

The majority of DevOps implementations today still start as grass-roots initiatives in small teams. And that’s OK and is a good way to show early success and then scale. Increasingly, alongside these bottom-up efforts, we’re seeing a shift towards DevOps being a company-wide initiative, championed both at the executive-level, as well as at the team-level.

The next phase: Scaling DevOps, Ops takes centrestage

One of the biggest challenges for large enterprises is the 'silo-ing' of people, processes, and toolsets. Oftentimes, one or more of these silos may be quite adept at understanding and automating their piece of the puzzle, but there is no end-to-end visibility or automation of the entire Pathway. This leads to fragmented processes, manual handoffs, delays, errors, lack of governance, etc.

Since the Pathway to Production spans the entire organisation, enterprises are realising that optimising it is not a disparate set of problems, but requires a system-level approach. The evolution of DevOps is towards scaling adoption across the entire enterprise to cover the end-to-end Pathway to Production. This removes friction by automating all aspects of your delivery pipeline, in the pursuit of creating predictable, repeatable processes that can be run frequently with less and less human intervention. By achieving consistency of processes and deployments (into QA, Staging, Prod.) throughout the entire lifecycle, you’re in fact always ‘practicing’ for game-day, and hardening your DevOps practices as you optimise them.

As part of this process – as DevOps matures and becomes mainstream in enterprises (and as it becomes more critical to their operations), DevOps practices are ‘hardened’ to take into account more ‘Ops’ requirements for releases: mainly around manageability, governance, security and compliance.

Talking about 'enterprise-control' is no longer a bad thing or something that may be viewed as hindering DevOps adoption. DevOps is about enabling speed while ensuring stability. Similar to children maturing, now that we’ve grown and learned to walk (faster), it’s time to learn to be more responsible.

As with the software your organisation is developing, it’s time to 'harden' your DevOps practices to scale adoption throughout your end-to-end process across the organisation. ‘Hardening’ doesn’t mean sacrificing speed or experimentation; it means your DevOps is getting ready for Prime Time!

'Hardening' your DevOps implementation

You want to design your underlying tools and processes along your Pathway to Production in a way can scale across the enterprise. This requires balancing team ownership and collaboration, with supporting the needs of the organisation for checks and balances, standardisation, and system-level visibility and control.

While you would likely still start ‘local’, and gradually roll out across different groups as you optimise – be sure to always think ‘global’. As you analyse and (re)design your Pathway to Production, you need to take a system-wide approach, and always consider 'how do I scale this?' across all teams, applications, releases, environments, and so on.

First, take some time to map your end-to-end Pathway to Production. From my experience, organisations often are not even aware of the entire path their code takes from check-in, through build, testing, deployment across environments, etc. Be sure to interview all the different teams and stakeholder, until you reach a painstakingly detailed documentation of your cross-functional pipeline(s) – including all the tools, technologies, infrastructure and processes involved.

Then, take a look at the bottlenecks – where do your pipelines choke? For example: waiting on VMs, waiting on builds, configuration drifts between environments, failed or flaky tests, bugs making it to Production, failed releases, errors or lags due to manual handoffs between teams or tools, etc.

As you redesign your pipelines to eliminate friction points, here are some things to consider on your journey to ‘harden’ your DevOps practices to support stability and scaling across the organisation:

  • How do I ensure security access controls and approval gates at critical points along the pipeline?
  • How do I guarantee visibility and auditability so we have real-time reporting of the state of each task along the pipeline, and a record of exactly who did what/where/when?
  • What security and compliance test (or other tests) must all processes adhere to in order to move through the pipeline and into Production?
  • How do I standardise as much as possible on toolchain, technology and processes to normalise my pipeline to allow reusability across teams/applications and save on cost?
  • How do I still enable extensibility and flexibility to support different needs from various teams or variants of the application?
  • Can my chosen DevOps solution orchestrate and automate the entire end-to-end pipeline?
  • Can my implementation support Bi-modal IT, enabling traditional release practices and support for legacy apps, as well as more modern container/microservices architectures and CD pipelines?
  • Can I support both simpler, linear, release pipelines, as well as complex releases that require coordination of many inter-dependent applications and components into many environments
  • Is my solution ‘future-ready’ and flexible enough to be able to plug-in any new technology stack, tool or processes as the need arise?
  • As I scale, can my implementation support the velocity and throughout I’m expecting across the organisation – which can include thousands of developers, thousands of Releases, millions of builds and test cases per?
  • Setting up one pipeline for one team/release is easy enough, but how do I onboard thousands of applications?

While optimising your tools and technology to scale DevOps adoption is important, it is only half the battle. Above all, DevOps is a mindset, and cultural shift takes time. Remember that change doesn’t happen in a day, and that you’re in it for the long haul.

As a community, we started with asking why we should even bother doing DevOps. After establishing momentum and proving the ROI of DevOps, the discussion is gradually evolving to how we get DevOps right in large enterprises: what are some of the patterns for success, and how can we effectively scale so that the entire organisation can reap the benefits.

Anders Wallgren at Electric Cloud