The notion of DevOps could become as prevalent as Cloud Computing or Big Data, according to IT process automation company UC4 Software, with IT departments striving to stay agile while still developing and releasing stable code.
DevOps is the practice of aligning an organisation's development environment more closely with its operational environment, so developers will better know what changes to make to an application, based on performance metrics and feedback from administrators.
Randy Clark, chief marketing officer at UC4 Software, explained that, as interactions between businesses and customers increasingly take place online, IT departments are coming under pressure to provide greater web functionality. This means shorter development cycles, more applications, and more environments for those applications to run in.
“The applications are getting more dynamic, and the infrastructure is getting more dynamic with virtualised environments, so you really do need that process stability or backbone to be able to deal with the interdependencies between the two,” said Clark. “That's a real break from the distributed world, where the apps were hard-wired into the hardware.”
Although developers are building applications at an ever-increasing rate, time and cost pressures mean they are no longer able to test each application in every conceivable environment. This means that when an application goes into production it often breaks, causing headaches for the help desk and operations teams.
“Forty to eighty percent of helpdesk tickets are caused by applications that were just released,” said Clark. “The tipping point is when the developers say, we're not going to throw you tens or hundreds of applications, we're going to throw you thousands of applications. Everybody's standing back and saying, we can't triple our operations group or triple our quality assurance, how do we solve it?”
Clark describes DevOps as a “multi-function SWAT team”, with one foot in the development world and one in the operations world. By forcing the two departments to work together and implementing better planning, control and automation, the problems can be vastly reduced, said Clark.
However, implementing a DevOps strategy this does not necessarily mean creating a physical team of people. It could mean using software to align the development and operations teams' strategies, to create a kind of virtual DevOps team.
This is what UC4 aims to do with its Application Release Automation (ARA) software, by enabling IT organisations to plan software releases, track progression and perform automated deployment from a single web-based interface. ARA uses a central planning and control layer to coordinate application releases and minimise failures by identifying unmet dependencies.
“It's saying that we're going to have a plan, we're going to control that plan, and that plan is going to be automated, and through those three things it will make everybody's life easier,” said Clark.
UC4 is not the only company with an application release automation solution. BMC, Nolio, Xebialabs and Serena all offer similar products. Clark believes that this will become an increasingly important area of IT process automation.
DevOps was a key theme of last year's Usenix LISA conference (Large Installation System Administration) in Boston. Speaking at the conference, co-chairman Tom Limoncelli attributed the rise of DevOps to the emergence of large-scale internet services, such as Google, Amazon and Twitter, all of which have embraced the principles behind DevOps.
Such companies are fiercely competitive and so they need to implement new features as rapidly as possible, he said. Such companies also tend not to use prepackaged software from third-party software vendors, and instead rely on open source programmes that their in-house developers and engineers can expand upon and tweak for their own specific environments.
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced plans to incorporate a number of new tools in its next edition of Visual Studio, allowing developers to work more closely with operations personnel. These include a bridge to Microsoft System Center 2012, which allows the operations manager to trace the source of problems, and a live debugging aid called IntelliTrace, which allows a summary of actions to be captured even if Visual Studio is not on the server.
Roy Illsley, principal analyst at Ovum, believes that DevOps will play a significant role in organisations that need to generate applications, deliver services, and do it all in a style that matches the expectations of a demand-led approach.
“The model we've got for operations and development at the moment is broken. Businesses now want more granular cost levels in IT, and having things batched up and done in that old waterfall approach is not going to be sustainable in a truly dynamic cloud-enabled world,” said Illsley.
“You only have to look at the some of the unmitigating failures like the Olympic ticketing fiasco, when the site crashed on the first day. That's the sort of thing that IT's terribly bad at, but DevOps will help them get better.
“DevOps is not a silver bullet, and it's not going to change the world in the next 12 months, but it will be a part of the big transformation to cloud, increased consumerisation and mobile,” he concluded.
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