Building Software Better, Cheaper, and Faster with DevOps

Organizations that manage to leverage DevOps successfully get more done in less time—with a
single, cross-functional team working collaboratively to deliver high-quality, innovative products—fast.

Still, it’s essential to understand that DevOps is a philosophy, not a magic bullet. Companies must create the culture and environment to support DevOps efforts and invest in the right tools for the job. Learn more about how to best implement DevOps in software engineering to ensure your team always gets awesome results.

What is DevOps in Software Engineering and Why Does it Matter?

DevOps describes an IT culture that accelerates the development cycle, increases product quality, and provides continuous delivery. It brings development and operations together as a single, unified team and uses Agile and Lean practices to systematically deliver the desired results.

The philosophy emphasizes people and culture and aims to improve collaboration between development teams, operations, and other stakeholders.

At the same time, DevOps now depends on innovative technologies like AI-enabled automation and tools that allow users to virtualize and manage infrastructure as code.

DevOps plays a critical role in any software project, regardless of architecture, platform, or purpose. It allows organizations to streamline operations, leverage cloud technologies to better serve their customers, and by extension, improve quality, reduce costs, and get to market faster.

That said, it’s critical to understand that DevOps is an expansive practice with a ton of variation between organizations. What tools they use, which processes they choose to automate, how they structure workflows, or make improvements, etc., are important aspects to consider.

As Tiempo Software Engineer Paul Estrada explains, “DevOps is so vast and so broad. Investing in this strategy—and executing it well—will improve deployment frequency, shorten lead time between fixes, speed up mean time to recovery, and help maintain releases.”

That said, there are some general best practices organizations should follow in order to make the most of their DevOps investment and start reaping its game-changing rewards.

Below, we’ll walk you through the four pillars of DevOps (often referred to as “CAMS”), then discuss some considerations for building a DevOps toolchain.

Culture

DevOps impacts everything: company structure, tools, and process, requiring a major mindset shift in order for it to work.

Centralizing development and operations processes and teams shorten the amount of time it takes to adopt new best practices and share knowledge and resources, particularly in large enterprises, where there’s little communication between different departments and functions.

However, unification efforts will come up short without a culture that can support the strategy.
A DevOps culture is:

  • Collaborative
  • Customer-centric
  • Built on mutual trust
  • Open and transparent
  • Designed to help teams learn from their mistakes
  • About sharing responsibility. All teams are responsible for successes and failures at every stage in the development cycle

Automation

Automation saves organizations a significant amount of time, energy, and, of course, money.

But, it’s critical to understand that, much like culture, automation is more about supporting people and processes than it is about specific tools and innovative applications of AI and machine learning.

By streamlining tasks that are repetitive, time-consuming, or prone to human error, you can create a straightforward process requiring far less attention from developers who can use that time to create additional value for your company.

Make sure that your strategy and manual processes are effective before adding algorithms into the fold. Otherwise, you’re automating processes driven by false or incomplete data or just plain bad “best practices.”

According to Tiempo’s Javier Trevino, you’ll want to implement and automate pipelines that “take code from a defined repository branch and pass it through a series of steps including static analysis, QA tests like regression, integration, stress/load, UI testing, and sending notifications to relevant stakeholders when a process is complete or issues occur.”

He adds, “when implemented correctly, automation enables the development team to automatically test and deploy code in a stable and secure environment, while also detecting bugs, keeping issues and security vulnerabilities to a minimum, thanks to static scans.”

The benefits offered by a strong DevOps culture and clearly-defined processes are amplified by successfully implementing infrastructure as code (IaC) tools and CI/CD pipelines.

In other words, automation enhances the benefits of DevOps—but only if the “analog” elements are already in place.

Measurement

Ensure you track metrics that can tell you whether you’re reaping the benefits of DevOps in software engineering or heading in the wrong direction.

DevOps practices encourage you to look at the big picture rather than the sum of its parts.

In other words, look at things like revenue, costs, sales, mean time to recovery, and employee satisfaction rates.

Per DORA’s 2019 State of DevOps report, the following metrics help teams benchmark the progress of their DevOps transformation, too:

  • Lead time for changes. How long does it take to successfully bring committed code into production?
  • Deployment frequency. How often is your team releasing code to production environments/end-consumers?
  • Change failure rate. What percentage of changes fail after being released to production or end-users and require interventions like patches or rollbacks?
  • Time to restore service. How long does it take to restore service after an outage or interruption that impacts end-users?

Sharing

DevOps relies on a high degree of openness and transparency.

It means that knowledge sharing needs to be a top priority. You’ll want to shorten feedback loops, make sure that everyone works from a single source of truth, and that everyone understands what they’re responsible for and what they’re trying to achieve.

Sharing is really a direct extension of culture—it’s about eliminating information silos and creating a collective intelligence—that gathers insights from everyone and provides context to every stakeholder.

Building the DevOps Toolchain

Choosing the right tools is crucial to unlocking the benefits of DevOps in software engineering.

Multiple tools out there are designed to address the DevOps transformation and automate manual tasks.

Jorge Gaona recommends that organizations start thinking in “toolchain” terms. He says, “it’s more about putting together the right tool combination rather than focusing on the individual value of specific tools.”

If you’re piecing together your toolchain one “world-class technology” at a time without any consideration about how they work together, which features overlap, or if there are significant gaps in functionality, you’re going to run into trouble. It’s also worth pointing out that you’re essentially creating inefficiencies—and that runs counter to what the DevOps philosophy is all about.

So, the DevOps toolchain is based on the idea that tools are grouped based on the needs present at every stage in the development lifecycle. You’ll need to address each of the following capabilities:

  • Collaboration. One of the greatest advantages of DevOps is that it creates this culture of collaboration between development, operations, testing, and product teams—faster communication means faster deployments. Collaboration tools like Slack, Campfire, and Zoom enable teams to collaborate and communicate across locations and time zones—helping them coordinate and automate workflows throughout the development lifecycle.
  • Planning. Look for a planning tool that provides transparency between various stakeholder groups—developers, QA, business leaders, clients, among others—and makes it easy to work toward common goals. Examples include Jira, Clarizen, Confluence, Asana, and Clarizen.
  • Source Control. Source control provides a single source of truth for development teams—which plays a critical role in facilitating collaboration and accelerating time to release. Source control management (SCM) tools provide a complete record of every change made to the code and enable multiple people to work from the same codebase regardless of location. These tools made allow teams to commit and merge code without conflict. Examples include Git, ClearCase, Subversion, and Mercurial.
  • Issue Tracking. Issue tracking tools allow you to keep track of changes that occur in your CI/CD pipelines. Examples include RedMine, Trello, Backlog, ZenDesk, and Jira.
  • Configuration Management/IaC. Configuration management tools help teams manage their infrastructure as code (a concept known as IaC). IaC enables organizations to manage and provision their entire tech stack using code or software. Configuration has traditionally been a complex, manual process that often had ops teams working from outdated documentation. IaC tools allow teams to quickly deploy new releases—at-scale and without error, improve the change management process, and shorten feedback loops. Tools include Puppet, Chef, Ansible, and Terraform.
  • Continuous Integration. Continuous integration (CI) involves uploading code to a central repository multiple times a day and running tests each time—with the goal of automatically detecting errors early so that you can fix them when it’s easy and inexpensive to address. This early detection aspect of DevOps enables you to deploy updates and new features faster and more frequently. Look for CI tools that can automatically apply your tests to development branches, with the option to push to master when branch builds are successful and incorporate real-time feedback from team members by integrating with your collaboration/communication tools. CI tools include Vagrant, Selenium, Unit, Codeception, and BlazeMeter.
  • Binary Repositories. Binary repository managers store software artifacts, metadata, and code and ensure that servers, clients, and package managers can retrieve and use binaries during the development lifecycle. Examples of tools include JFrog, Nexus, and Maven.
  • Monitoring. DevOps success hinges on tracking, identifying, and fixing problems as they happen—throughout the entire software development lifecycle. Monitoring tools play a central role in ensuring service uptime and optimal performance and getting ahead of small issues before they become big, expensive problems that take a long time to fix. Look for tools that monitor the performance and security of all systems, networks, applications, and infrastructure in real-time. Examples include Sensu, BigPanda, New Relic, Splunk, Kibana, and SPM.
  • Automated Testing. A core element in any DevOps practice is running automated tests early and often. Test automation is the practice of automatically reviewing and validating software to ensure that it meets the predefined quality standards for code style, user experience, and business logic.
  • Deployment. Done right, DevOps enables frequent deployment—which means you’ll be able to release products to market faster. Deployment tools help teams schedule, coordinate, and automate the process of releasing products into the production environment. Examples of tools include Kubernetes, Docker, Jira, OpenStack, and Jenkins.
  • Database. Finally, you’ll need to figure out how you handle your data. Without database management tools, databases can fall out of sync—creating a lack of alignment between development and release, which will cause the deployment to fail. Database management tools allow you to ensure that the latest code changes are reflected across the entire system—creating a more efficient release process and enabling better resource management. Tools include Cassandra, MySQL, MongoDB, RazorSQL, PostgreSQL, and Hbase.

Final Thoughts

A successful DevOps transformation offers a far-reaching set of benefits from happier customers, higher employee retention rates, and a big boost to the bottom line.

Still, many organizations struggle to implement DevOps-—whether they’re failing on the cultural front, selecting the wrong tools, or pre-maturely automating processes.

Tiempo experts understand these challenges and have years of experience helping clients with their DevOps transformations from multiple angles. This includes helping them establish a mature practice as well as building applications that make it easier to capture the benefits of DevOps in software engineering. Contact us today to learn more about our services.