DevOps — A Booster or A Brake for Your Business?
DevOps — A Booster or A Brake for Your Business?
This article describes some primary DevOps practices, including collaboration, CI/CD, and infrastructure-as-code, to consider in your DevOps adoption.
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Growing the numbers of software engineers can only get you so far. If all of the internal processes and workflows are manual, the numbers of software developers or Ops engineers become irrelevant, if their productivity is capped by some performance bottleneck or roadblock in form of approval from some executive. This is why many businesses, startups and global enterprises alike decide to undergo a DevOps transformation.
What is DevOps And What Is It Based On?
The DevOps culture of IT operations is a practical implementation of the Agile methodology of software development and infrastructure operations. It is centered on the automation of routine operations to free up the resources and time needed to innovate and improve your business performance. Let’s take a closer look at what DevOps is and what it can do.
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The main difference between the on-prem infrastructures and the cloud is that all of the cloud computing resources are organized in huge pools through virtualization. When a business rents a cloud server, or instance, it gains access to a certain amount of disk space, CPU power, RAM, traffic throughput capacity — and all of these computing resources are provisioned within seconds, not in several hours or days, which can be the case with in-house or dedicated servers.
Besides, when you buy a bare-metal server in-house or rent it in a remote data center, you pay for it 24/7, while it is idle in the night, during weekends and holidays. In the cloud, you pay as you go, so if your workload goes down, you scale the infrastructure down, and when the workload spikes, you scale the infrastructure up very quickly and easily. Thus said, you pay only for the resources actually consumed, so the cloud is much more cost-efficient than running clusters of dedicated servers. On the other hand, if your infrastructure is configured incorrectly it can scale out of control quite easily, which can result in huge bills for excessively provisioned instances.
This is why DevOps is an approach you must take only when you have access to considerable DevOps expertise. In other words, a real-life production environment is not a sandbox. If you want to avoid costly mistakes — hire DevOps specialists before designing and deploying your cloud infrastructure.
DevOps Principles: Collaboration, IaC, CI, CD
There is a popular misconception that to enable DevOps you need to sit Devs, QA and Ops engineers in one open-space room and let them do their magic. It is supposed to say that the Devs will teach the Ops to code and QA will teach Devs to test and Ops will teach Devs to deploy and they all will become a new type of software engineers — DevOps specialists. This idea is widely voiced by pushy “DevOps visionaries”, gurus and other so-called experts.
It has nothing in common with reality, as doing your job while learning something and teaching something at the same time is just impossible. The DevOps engineers do have to be able to code a bit, have a decent understanding of back-end operations at least, as they have to be able to issue hotfixes during deploys or adjust environment settings to ensure application performance.
The real-life DevOps process is a collaboration between these three groups of specialists. This collaboration comes from understanding that the Ops engineers are the bosses, as they have to run your software and infrastructure all the time, while the Devs and the QA toss the responsibility for the code over the wall to the Ops department. Instead, the Devs, the QA, and the DevOps engineers discuss the functionality of future products or features, so they can together choose the most appropriate software architecture, the required cloud infrastructure, and the best workflows to deliver the project results in time. Such collaboration allows the teams to work cohesively and solve issues together, instead of putting the blame on each other.
DevOps workflows aim to ensure your software delivery routine and infrastructure management processes are as error-proof and reliable as possible. It has to be run in the cloud in order to operate efficiently, so for many companies, DevOps transformation actually equals to transition to the cloud to utilize the benefits of virtualization. This result can be achieved by implementing several basic principles:
We have to discuss these principles in some more details.
IaC, or Infrastructure as Code, is the principle of organizing your cloud infrastructure as the code. It is done with Terraform configuration files, also called “manifests.” These are the textual files that contain all your environment settings described in a declarative language. These files can be used as any code — stored at GitHub repositories, versioned in different branches or split into V 1.1, V 1.2, etc. Reconfiguring an environment is as easy as rebooting it using the needed version of the manifest — and any developer can do it without reporting a ticket to the Ops department.
Most importantly, IaC ensures continuity of configuration throughout the software delivery pipeline, as IDE, build, testing, staging, and production environments are all provisioned automatically using the same manifests. This leaves no room for human error or configuration drift, as well as solving that decades-old issue of “it works on my machine,” which was the bane of Waterfall software delivery.
CI, or Continuous Integration, is the methodology of software development and cloud infrastructure management in general when, instead of long software development cycles in separate branches, the code is committed in small batches and integrated into the main project trunk quickly. Thus said, instead of multiple merge conflicts and bugs when a new feature needs to be implemented, you get constant automated testing of new code, cleaner code with fewer bugs, more frequent releases, a more predictable delivery schedule, and so on.
CI is enabled by IaC, so every developer can run automated unit and integrity tests pre-configured by a DevOps engineer. This is done using tools like Jenkins, Ansible, CircleCI, Gitlab CI, SaltStack and alike. This saves a ton of time and effort and speeds up the software development process incredibly, lowering time-to-market for new features by 90% sometimes.
CD, or Continuous Delivery, is the approach to software development and infrastructure operations where a chain of tools is configured in such a way that the output of any operation is automatically used as an input for the next operation. For example, when a developer finishes a new batch of code, he or she launches the preconfigured manifest to deploy the testing environment required to run automated unit and integrity tests against the code. If the tests fail, a report is created and sent to the developer. If the tests are successful, the code is pushed to the staging server for the QA engineer to perform the rest of the tests.
CD provides an immense increase in operational resilience and performance, as well as continuity of operations. Most importantly, due to automation, all the IT operations are performed faster and without costly errors, which reduces overall project budgets by at least 35% and more in some instances. This is achieved by using tools like Kubernetes, Docker, Jenkins, Ansible and others to build seamless and highly-productive CI/CD pipelines.
How to Adopt a DevOps Culture
There are five steps every company can (and must) make before implementing DevOps workflows. They are crucial, as DevOps workflows can be efficient only when they are conducted in a company that embraces the DevOps culture by heart.
Communication is paramount. The motto of DevOps processes is “you built it, you run it,” not “I built it, now handle it as you want.” All the members of your IT department should have a common chat and other means of communication to enable quick root cause analysis and sharing the knowledge. This helps build a collaborative and innovative work environment.
Learn and use the best tools. There is absolutely no point in sticking to certain tools “because it was always done this way.” The latest generation of DevOps tools is open-source, has wide community and ample setup documentation and there are various guides and online courses available. Spare no effort to help your IT specialists to master these instruments, as it will greatly increase your business productivity and competitiveness.
Recognize the value and reward it. DevOps is a method of doing things that were considered straightforward impossible a mere 10 years ago. And even using the awesome capabilities of the cloud, Terraform, Kubernetes and Docker, this requires quite a significant effort. Recognize this and gratify your IT specialists whenever possible to keep them motivated to achieve new heights.
A blameless postmortem is required for innovation. Innovation is experimentation, and some experiments can go awry. Thanks to IaC, CI and CD the material costs of failure are significantly diminished, as the environments are virtual and configured in seconds by launching the manifests. The main point is to bolster experimentation by introducing blameless postmortem, so if a system breaks, it is not someone’s fault, but an indication that there is room for growth.
Write down the expertise to form a knowledgebase. The expertise you own must not be stored solely in the heads of your employees. Write developer documentation and a knowledgebase, describe your infrastructure and workflows, etc. This ensures the information remains even if an expert takes sick leave, goes on vacation or quits the job, and simplifies the onboarding for new team members significantly. This approach allows accumulating the DevOps expertise within the team and making it more competitive.
These steps can be done by any company and they form a solid basis that helps to implement DevOps workflows in your company efficiently and use them to the fullest extent.
Conclusions: How to Benefit From DevOps Most
That said, even if your IT specialists have grasped the basics of working with DevOps tools and implemented the DevOps culture in your business operations, performing a full-scale DevOps transformation requires expertise with successfully accomplished projects of the similar nature. This is why hiring experienced DevOps engineers is the best approach you can take.
Many businesses decide to hire DevOps specialists in-house, subscribe for support from a cloud service platform, or delegate the task to a trustworthy Managed Services Provider like IT Svit. The latter can be the best choice, as we can configure the cloud infrastructure the way you need and offer ready solutions for the most common challenges your project might face. Thus said, the choice is up to you — just make sure your business processes are aligned to DevOps culture, so it becomes the powerful engine of your success!
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