Development operations (DevOps) combines best practices, cultural transformation, and tools to improve your organization’s software development and delivery velocity. Teams can employ DevOps regardless of an organization’s size and continuously deliver new software features, updates, and patches to enhance software quality and customer experiences.
However, DevOps comes with some unique challenges. While organizations looking to implement DevOps may primarily focus on the tools, transforming organizational mindsets and development processes should always come first. A misplaced emphasis on adopting the right toolset can make it impossible to implement DevOps successfully, especially across a large organization. Resistance to change is another common challenge when moving to DevOps, including potential pushback from all levels of development and operations teams.
This article describes the role of DevOps for enterprises operating at scale, describing challenges that come with implementing DevOps, and suggesting best practices for overcoming common obstacles and effectively implementing DevOps in the enterprise context.
What is DevOps?
Due to marketing messaging and different interpretations of DevOps among organizations, there is no universal definition of what DevOps is and is not. To achieve buy-in across your organization, it helps to first instill a common understanding of DevOps among all relevant stakeholders.
Coined by Belgian engineer Patrick Debois around 2007, DevOps came in response to growing dysfunction in software development and delivery teams. Concerns arose from software development and IT operations leadership about working in silos and its effect on software delivery scheduling and quality.
The phases of a typical DevOps lifecycle include continuous planning, development, building, testing, deployment, operation, monitoring, and feedback. You can think about these phases as a single continuous motion for software development instead of as a series of independent actions followed by release. Your software traverses through these phases for security scans, security patches or releases, and quality assurance, leading to a faster, more reliable cadence of new versions and major releases during the development cycle.
The “automate everything” mindset is fundamental to DevOps. Automation works to streamline and replace manual tasks that can be time-consuming and invite human error. Automation tooling like continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines can help your organization eliminate time-consuming manual tasks and increase development velocity.
Benefits of DevOps for the enterprise
The advent of DevOps brings both developers and system administrators to the same table during the project lifecycle, breaking down a long-standing silo in the enterprise.
The iterative feature-based approach of DevOps enables you to lower the cost and time of moving a feature from development to production. This is especially critical when a sale might balance customer feature requirements.
DevOps also fundamentally improves change management. Developers are now equipped with the processes and tools to respond to internal and customer-driven change requests by priority rather than during an arbitrarily scheduled development cycle. Speed is particularly of the essence for security patches and updates.
Development cycles become weeks — or sometimes days — with DevOps. Such a rapid pace enables developers to deliver innovative feature enhancements and build up their skills without delaying product development.
Becoming more agile and responsive to customers through DevOps helps your entire organization, especially customer success and sales, respond to implementation challenges and special requests that come with selling enterprise software.
Increasing speed without sacrificing security is a DevOps benefit that more enterprises seek now because resolving security issues in development is less costly than fixing them in production.
Finally, implementing DevOps can significantly improve an organization’s ability to attract and retain top engineering talent. Automation helps teams validate and push more code to production than is possible with manual processes, freeing up developers to spend more time innovating. By eliminating repetitive, monotonous tasks from developers’ workload, you can increase developer happiness and make your organization a more attractive destination for skilled engineers.
How to implement DevOps at scale
The fundamental changes that DevOps brings in delivery speed, agility, and collaboration may seem to undermine some stakeholders. There is also the common fear that automation equates to job loss, when in fact it has been shown to create more opportunities for engineers to grow and acquire cutting-edge skills. Implementing DevOps starts with getting the cultural buy-in and the right people in place. Once you have buy-in, these are some ways to ensure success:
- Start small
- Set goals and track the right metrics
- Focus on the essentials first
- Adopt the right tools
You cannot throw a switch and have your organization’s project portfolio move right to DevOps. It is important to start small by finding one project team that can benefit from DevOps. Prime candidates include groups known as early adopters or projects continuously made ineffective by legacy software development practices.
Starting small enables you to integrate and iterate upon automation practices across a DevOps pipeline. A first DevOps project is the time to experiment with automation practices and learn how they can best add value to your developers’ productivity and software quality.
Set goals and track the right metrics
When looking toward implementing DevOps at scale, set performance goals and decide on the right metrics to track across development projects. Be prepared to reset expectations as DevOps tools can generate a variety of performance metrics in a level of detail teams were not privy to when using legacy development tools and processes.
Metrics tracking options vary based on your DevOps tools and cloud services provider.
Some standard metrics DevOps teams can now capture include:
- Duration, which is the time it takes to complete an automated workflow, such as building, testing, and deploying a container image.
- Throughput, which is the average number of workflow runs per day.
- Success rate, or the ratio of passing workflow runs to the total number of runs for a given period of time.
- Mean time to recovery, which is the time it takes your teams to get your main branch back to a deploy-ready state after a failed build.
- Availability, which measures an application’s uptime and downtime over days, weeks, or months.
Additionally, consider tracking your unit cost as part of your performance metrics by capturing your cost per customer or cost per transaction.
Focus on the essentials first
The true benefit of starting small when beginning with DevOps is the opportunity for your developers to make smaller and more frequent commits to a shared codebase. They also have the opportunity to implement comprehensive tests in environments mirroring production.
Testing in a mirror of your real production environment is especially ideal when scaling DevOps. Take the time to analyze which tests are candidates for automation and which still require participation from a developer or software tester.
Another focus should be resolving broken builds quickly. You can do this through incremental testing in your DevOps lifecycle, enabling you to remediate builds before they hit production.
Adopt the right tools
The process of enterprises adopting new technologies is challenged by entrenched legacy tools, an over-dependence on institutional knowledge, and reluctance to evolve from the way things have always been done.
DevOps allows the full benefits of tools with the right combination of flexibility and manageability without adding unnecessary complexity or overhead to your developers’ workflows.
With a CI/CD platform like CircleCI, you can trigger automated workflows from your version control system (VCS) of choice. You can also build custom workflows to suit your organization’s needs — especially handy as you learn and iterate while you scale DevOps practices across your organization. CircleCI allows you to run jobs in the cloud or behind your firewall, depending on your current and evolving security requirements.
Your teams can share standard configuration files with CircleCI orbs, which are reusable packages of YAML configuration that condenses long sections of config into a single code snippet. Sharing configuration across pipelines allows you to achieve a consistent, repeatable process for building, testing, and deploying your code changes across all your projects, allowing you to more easily identify and respond to bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
CircleCI integrates seamlessly with third-party tools and services such as Slack, LaunchDarkly, and Snyk, enabling you to build out the DevOps toolchain that meets your development teams’ requirements with minimal effort.
DevOps practices are proving crucial in software supply chain security. CircleCI enables your developers to split credentials and secrets into multiple contexts. These can be used individually or combined in a build step. There is also the option to create and use lock files to pin dependency versions and even hashes, preventing bad actors from inserting malicious packages into your supply chain.
Implementing DevOps practices inside enterprises today still has challenges. In addition to logistical and organizational challenges, there are cultural, employee-driven challenges, as you shift your project delivery culture to a new way of doing things through a DevOps lifecycle.
The key to managing these challenges — and to implementing DevOps at scale — is to start with a small DevOps project. It is your chance to experiment with new practices and tools while focusing on the essentials as your organization iterates your DevOps practices through the lessons learned from continuing DevOps projects. You will also want to spend time understanding metrics through continuing analysis and discussions with your teams.
The necessity for DevOps is still growing due to rising costs, the need to speed up time to market, and the need to improve your software’s overall quality — all of which will delight your customers and keep your organization competitive. To learn more about how adopting DevOps practices and a fast, secure continuous integration pipeline can make your software delivery teams more agile and responsive to customer needs, start your free trial of CircleCI today.