What is DevOps? and how does it relate to Agile methods?

Along with myself there were several other full-time summer IT interns at work over the summer, including one that was in the DevOps. When I heard he was working in that team I wondered what is DevOps?

Like I said in my previous research journal I am going to investigate what DevOps is, but I also want to see how (if at all) it relates to Agile methods.

What is DevOps?

devops.jpg

(Vashishtha, n.d.)

The above image illustrates the key idea of DevOps beautifully. Put simply DevOps is the increase in communication, collaboration and automation in and between the development and production environments.

What is the current software deployment model?

To understand DevOps I wanted to understand where we are with traditional systems deployment and what the issues are that DevOps attempts to solve.

Software development companies are generally structured in teams (I know from my experience this is an important concept in modern development organizations).

The work of two teams in particular affects the profitability of the companies software, these teams are:

  • Development team – They actually build the software in the development environment
  • Operations team – They deploy the software to the production environment which they maintain.

Now in traditional software development companies (I am referring to companies that have not implemented the use of DevOps) there is on a level of mistrust due to the major issue:

  • The development environment (that developers work in) and production environments (that operations maintain) are configured differently meaning when code is deployed into the production environment it takes time for the operations team to get it working successfully slowing down the whole software deployment process

Now I would have thought it was common sense for the development and production environments to be as identical as possible so systems/features built in the development environment could be seamlessly deployed to the production environment but this has not been the case.

The sorts of problems having dissimilar environments are the production environment is less forgiving to software exceptions than the development environment, and so an exception that causes no observable error or warning in the development environment can crash the system in the production environment. Not good when trying to deploy software on a tight deadline.

It is the operations team that have to fix up the code for the production environment before it can be released to the customer and because this just adds another job to their tasklist this is why there is a level of mistrust between the development and production environments.

The development team, meanwhile gets a level of annoyance at the operations team because the time it takes to deploy the code they write holds up the development team from deploying new systems/features.

This gridlock slows down the whole software development deployment which has a business cost, because remember IT is just there to help businesses and organizations. The detrimental business cost is that competitive advantage of meeting a customers needs or filling a business niche may be taken by a faster deploying competitor.

How can DevOps help?

I look at DevOps as a metaphorical combination of a communication course and the equivalent of an industrial revolution in software deployment.

What? Let me explain with several points:

  1. DevOps attempts to increase the collaboration of the development and operations teams  thereby speeding up the time it takes to deploy software to the customer. This collaboration is like a communication course of sorts as it is making the two teams communicate more so their systems can become more alike.

2. DevOps attempts to free up more time for both teams by automating the software deployment process as much as possible. This means automating the testing, deploying, and monitoring of software in both the development and production environments using a set of tools.

Therefore I view DevOps as the industrial revolution of IT systems development, because like with the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries DevOps tries to automate as many tasks as possible allowing the workers to work on what can’t be automated.

Another change that DevOps does is it attempts to change the mindset of both teams because instead of working on big new features for existing systems, it promotes the development of small code releases that can be quickly tested, deployed and monitored in the production environment by automated tools.

The benefit of getting small chunks of software out to the customer quickly, rather than big chunks of software more slowly is that the company can gain the competitive advantage by filling a business niche with its quickly evolving system as opposed to missing out to faster competitors.

What are the tools that DevOps use to implement these 4 points?

To be able to build small chunks of code and automate the testing of them the organization will need to implement a tool like Jenkins (https://jenkins.io/) (Rackspace, 2013).

They will also need a source control tool such as Git (Rackspace, 2013).

Tools that allow them to configure their environments, and automate the deployment of code to servers in the production environments  will be tools like Puppet (https://puppet.com/) (Rackspace, 2013).

The tools they use for application monitoring will be monitoring the system logs, these tools will be things like New Relic. The benefits of this tool is that it can monitor the system logs of thousands of servers and inform both teams of any issues of the new code  in the production environment (Rackspace, 2013).

Basically tools like New Relic make sense of vast quantities of data in much the same way (obviously on a much smaller scale and without the machine learning aspect) as systems like IBM Watson which trawl through vast quantities of data finding patterns and presenting insights (Rackspace, 2013).

How do the principles and values of DevOps and the Agile methods work together?

So Agile methods as I discussed in a a previous research journal entry are a set of values and principles to help development teams make decisions in the development of a product for a user.

This interesting YouTube video describes that the relationship between Agile and DevOps is that an Agile mindset exists from the:

  • User to the development team
  • and DevOps is from the Development team to the Operations team.

In other words they do not exists at the same time, this view is further backed up by this article in Information Week (http://www.informationweek.com/devops/agile-vs-devops-10-ways-theyre-different/d/d-id/1326121?image_number=11).

Now having looked at these resources my own opinion is even though there are minor differences in the way these two concepts are implemented, for example documentation is not viewed as highly as working software in Agile methods, whereas in DevOps documentation is required because the development team is handing the product to a new team (the operations team to deploy); the operations team has not worked on the product and so they require documentation to understand the system; something anyone who has worked on developing for an existing system they didn’t build will understand.

However, despite these minor differences I am amazed at the similarity in many ways of DevOps to Agile methods. DevOps changes the mindset of a software development organization so that it deploys software faster, which allows the development and production environments to use a more Agile methods approach to developing and deploying the small releases which happen more frequently than before DevOps was implemented.

So I believe that yes Agile and DevOps cover different parts of the systems development life cycle, with Agile methods covering the initial development of the product whilst DevOps covering the deployment of the product however the common fundamental concepts of smaller more frequent releases/deployment of software over one huge release, and increased communication between and within teams link these concepts together.

Interesting DevOps resources:

http://www.agilebuddha.com/agile/x-htm/

Bibliography:

Vashishtha, S. (n.d.). Demystifying DevOps : Difference between Agile and DevOps. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from http://www.agilebuddha.com/agile/x-htm/

Rackspace. (2013, December 12). What is DevOps? – In Simple English – YouTube. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I94-tJlovg

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