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It seems the word on the lips of every enterprise going into 2016 is ‘devops’. Early last year, Gartner predicted that in 2016 a quarter of global 2,000 companies will have adopted devops and that it’s set to evolve from “a niche to a mainstream strategy”.

But what exactly is it? Should your organisation be paying attention, and how can its near-buzzword status be unpicked?

As the name suggests, it’s a marriage of ‘development’ and ‘operations’ – but in practice the term is a wide umbrella promoting collaboration, automation, and potentially radical changes to company culture that seek to unify different departments behind common goals.

“At its simplest, devops connects people, processes and tools – people being the key component,” says Gunnar Menzel, vice president and chief architect at Capgemini Infrastructure Services. “It’s crucial to be open to change and have the correct internal environment to allow change to happen.”

“This is not just in IT but throughout the business. This is why it is so important that devops has the correct senior backing and buy-in, otherwise it will fail.”

Devops explained: What are the benefits?

The goal of devops is to deliver software quickly and effectively by fostering collaboration between different departments. This is supported by automation, and by analysing organisation-wide metrics to see what’s going right and what’s going wrong.

A successful devops strategy also enables businesses to pay close attention to customer feedback and testing in real time, which can be responded to with swift deployments and updates. And by automating laborious tasks such as testing, devops lifts a burden from development teams, which are then able to focus on more productive endeavours.

Devops is an entire approach in itself, and so by its nature should not be considered another department. Introducing a devops team, for example, would contradict its core ethos by fencing off staff rather than pressing for collaboration.

It’s not just early pioneers like craft sales website Etsy or Amazon that are proselytising for devops. Large, established organisations are beginning to take notice. Even the British government has an online service manual that explores its fundamentals. See also: DevOps tips: IT managers reveal how to get the best from DevOps

Devops explained: Faster application updates to meet customer demands

Consumer expectations are partly behind the demand for instant updates and deployments, to match the always-on connectedness of the 21st century. Rolling out updates at seemingly arbitrary times is no longer acceptable, and it’s unhelpful for developers to expect code, once finished, to be another team’s problem.

Brett Hofer of application performance management company Dynatrace agrees: “Consumers have become more demanding and industry rivalry has grown more intense, so the ability to introduce and update digital services quickly has become critical to success,” he tells ComputerworldUK. “Many businesses have come to realise that development and operations teams can no longer work in departmental silos [to achieve this].”

Effective communication throughout a company, then, is vital – both in the management of the workforce and in sharing systems. “This cooperation is best fostered through the use of shared systems and processes that bring down walls that previously existed between these silos,” Hofer says.

Another advantage of devops, according to Hofer, is being able to make the most of that often-repeated startup mantra that it is OK to fail, encouraging innovation while building a culture that understands and accepts there will be failure. “The art is in how and when we test, monitor, learn, pinpoint and respond to what is working, isn’t working or could work better.”

Gordon Haff, Devops expert at Red Hat, concurs: “One of the points of devops is to enable better, easier, quicker, experimentation. More or less by definition, though, some experiments fail. If it doesn’t work, move on without repercussions. But fail quickly.”

Devops explained: There is no ‘correct’ approach

So how do you do it? Well, there’s no textbook method – each organisation will have to examine the lay of the land and plot out a course towards where they want to be. That means starting with a business objective, such as reducing the time it takes to develop software, and then defining the end-to-end process required to do so, advises Andre Pino, vice president of marketing at devops specialists CloudBees. It won’t happen overnight. Transforming into a devops-oriented organisation is a “journey that will take time to accomplish”.

But it’s a journey that businesses may have to take.

It’s tough to disagree with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s declaration that every business will become a software business. Devops advocates assert a joint-up philosophy is completely essential – and that if businesses aren’t able to develop continuously then they run the risk of being left behind. Some companies may be guilty of applying the jargon a little liberally, but devops as an ethos looks like it’s here to stay.

“The adoption of devops practices will become more mainstream,” says Georg von Sperling, senior director at CA Technologies. “Eventually, all stakeholders will have a holistic view on the business value of just-in-time, high-quality and analytical applications and services for their market.”

In fact, according to CloudBees’ Andre Pino, the term is likely to fade away completely – as devops “becomes the standard way software is developed and delivered.”