Sensing the growing interest in DevOps, Microsoft will incorporate a number of new tools in its next edition of Visual Studio that will allow developers to work more closely with operations personnel.
Microsoft introduced the new features in a webcast of the company's IDE (Integrated Developer Environment), Visual Studio 2011. The company will release a beta of Visual Studio 11 on February 29, along with a beta of version 4.5 of the .Net framework.
"If you are working in a team environment, we will provide you with a set of tools to work in a highly productive and agile way," said Soma Somasegar, Microsoft corporate vice president of the development division.
Historically, developers have had problems getting "actionable feedback" from operations staff about the programs that the developers created, said Jason Zander, Microsoft corporate vice president for Visual Studio, during the presentation. DevOps aims to solve this communication problem. It is an organisational philosophy and a set of customs for getting the two groups to work more closely together, so software can be rolled out more quickly and with fewer bugs.
An arbitrary wall "exists between the development community and the operations community in any enterprise," Somasegar said, noting that this divide has grown over the last 30 years.
"The development team takes the requirements and builds the application. Once they are finished, they throw it over the wall for the operations community to deploy. That's fine if everything goes well, but if there is a problem operations staff is stuck," Somasegar said.
The developers often have to re-create the problem on their own, often using only vague information from the operations staff. Very few tools exist that allow operators to communicate issues to the developers in a way that the developers find useful. Microsoft has developed a number of new features and extensions for Visual Studio 2011 that will help the two parties work more closely together, Somasegar said.
One feature is a bridge to Microsoft System Center 2012, a management tool used by operators or system administrators. When a program crashes, System Center's Operation Manager collects a set of diagnostic information, such as a stack trace, that can be used by the developer to pinpoint the bug. With a click of a mouse from within System Center, the administrator can pipe that information directly over to the developer.
"That allows the operations person to work in the tool they know, which is System Center, and allows the developer to work in the tool they know, which is Visual Studio. The ops person doesn't have to figure out what a call stack is or how the software was written," Zander said.
Another new DevOps tool is a new version of Visual Studio's IntelliTrace for operations. IntelliTrace is a live debugging aid introduced in the Ultimate edition of Visual Studio 2010. Previously, IntelliTrace could only be used from within Visual Studio. This version of Visual Studio, however, includes IntelliTrace agents that can be planted with the operational program itself. So when a program crashes on a production server, a summary of actions leading up to that crash can be captured even if Visual Studio is not on the server, Somasegar said.
Such agents would be particularly useful in debugging hard-to-find problems, ones that could cause a program to crash only after working fine for days, weeks or months. After a crash, an administrator can use Microsoft PowerShell to start IntelliTrace, which then can generate a trace log around the program crash. The resulting file then can be analysed by developers in Visual Studio.
In addition to espousing the DevOps philosophy, Microsoft itself has been using DevOps techniques itself to help build Visual Studio itself, Somasegar said. For the past year, about 3,000 Microsoft developers have been using Visual Studio 2011 as the IDE to finish their work on Visual Studio 2011. This allows developers to understand on a first-hand basis what features and performance improvements that the IDE still needs.
"Our own people are some of our harshest critics. They make it very clear when something is not working. That feedback is helpful in prioritising issues," Somasegar said.
Along with the beta release of Visual Studio 2011, Microsoft also announced that it will be releasing a free Express edition of Team Foundation Server, Microsoft's code management software. The express edition is designed for small development teams of around five participants or so.
Microsoft did not divulge the final release date for Visual Studio 2011, though it is widely expected to occur sometime this year. The new version will feature a simpler user interface, as well as support for building Windows 8 Metro applications.
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