What is DevOps? Definition, Benefits, and Getting Started
Gone are the days of the quarterly software release. Traditionally, software development involved a series of independent stages. Project managers and designers pass instructions to developers, who pass code updates to quality assurance. They then pass releases to the operations teams, who deploy and maintain the system. When issues or new change requests arised, a ticket would be filed and the process would restart.
Agile and modern software development techniques turn this idea on its head by introducing a more iterative and collaborative approach to development. However, this still leaves the development and operations teams siloed, which fails to meet the challenge posed by the large and complex software systems that power our everyday lives.
DevOps breaks these discrete silos down by making the full development lifecycle a comprehensive and automated system, where developers and IT operators alike are involved throughout the software lifecycle.
What is DevOps?
DevOps is the set of systems and practices used to merge the development and operations portions of software development into a single comprehensive lifecycle. DevOps attempts to bridge the gap between software developers and the IT personnel that deploy and manage the infrastructure.
By using tools to automate the development, testing, deployment, and monitoring of software, DevOps speeds up deployment while maintaining high levels of security and reliability. DevOps involves numerous techniques, including continuous integration, continuous delivery, and infrastructure as code. With DevOps, developers can deploy frequent code and infrastructure updates that get automatically tested, deployed, and monitored to ensure fast and reliable service to end users.
A Brief History of DevOps
Deploying software through frequent and iterative updates has a long history. For instance, the first reference to scrum was all the way back in 1986 and agile was popularized in 2001. Despite these pushes for an iterative software development approach, however, most teams still had independent — and often siloed — development and operations teams. This would lead to poor communication, limited collaboration, and misaligned incentives.
Around 2008, some notable IT professionals began raising concerns about the dysfunction in the industry and proposed ways that the industry should evolve to overcome them. Since this time, more and more businesses and organizations around the world have started adopting DevOps practices to merge their software development and operations teams.
The Benefits of DevOps
The iterative and automated approach of DevOps affords a number of unique benefits.
The automation that comes with continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) allows for quick, iterative software deployments. Without DevOps, frequent incremental updates would be an undue strain on the operations team, as they would have to manually go through the testing and building process to ensure a quality release. In a DevOps environment, all these systems are tightly integrated so that a small incremental update triggers the necessary test and build systems to ensure a quality release.
As teams are no longer siloed in a DevOps environment, they can easily collaborate on both the application itself and the relevant infrastructure. This minimizes conflicts of interest or ownership and helps align software development with organizational goals. Developers are more likely to think about infrastructure and testing when building out new features, for example, rather than assuming an operations member will manage it all.
A DevOps environment can often be more reliable than the alternative despite the increase in complexity that comes with frequent incremental updates to code. DevOps automates the testing and oversight processes so that the system can scale to essentially any frequency of deployment. Rather than relying on human quality assurance teams to check off on a new large release, these systems will automatically test all code changes and can even flag specific code commits that are likely causes of bugs or other issues.
DevOps isn’t just about the testing and deployment process. It also involves 24/7 monitoring of systems to understand how updates affect performance, quality, and user experience. This gives stakeholders deep insight into how their applications are running and how they’re affected by code changes. Alerting systems can even automatically notify these stakeholders when components fail and need attention to minimize downtime and errors.
DevOps also helps automate the security management process. Rather than exclusively delegating security access to IT management, access controls and other security configurations can be managed like other software development practices by utilizing infrastructure as code processes. This makes management more transparent, minimizes inappropriate access to systems, and helps ensure the quality of changes to security practices.
DevOps, Waterfall, Agile, and SRE
DevOps is often compared to waterfall, agile, and site reliability engineering (SRE). Let’s take a look at how these practices relate to each other and to DevOps.
Waterfall is a traditional approach to software engineering. Using waterfall, the lifecycle of a release goes through specific stages: requirements, design, implementation, verification, and maintenance. Oftentimes the individuals performing these different stages of the process are in different teams and have limited collaboration with one another. This leads to larger software releases that contain many different changes in them. As you might guess, waterfall has a difficult time handling the demands of modern, iterative software development.
Agile attempts to break up the discrete flow of the waterfall approach by encouraging iterative development, cross-team collaboration, and communication with end customers. Rather than performing large releases with many changes in them, agile encourages fast and incremental changes with constant feedback from end users to understand how these changes are impacting the product so that it can be continuously improved. Agile shares some goals with DevOps, and it can be used in tandem with it to good effect.
SRE is the practice of applying software engineering to infrastructure and operations with the specific goal of improving reliability and performance. It’s essentially a subset of DevOps where the practice of integrating software engineering with operations is applied more narrowly to maximizing system reliability. For example, when following an SRE approach, an engineer may work to automate the failover of different systems so that an isolated error does not cause a broader outage.
How DevOps Works
At its core, DevOps is about automating and integrating the development, deployment, and monitoring of software. This involves a few key practices.
Continuous integration (CI) is the practice of automatically merging all development changes into a central repository. When code is merged, the system can automatically trigger various actions such as building deployment artifacts and running automated tests. This process ensures that all code changes are reliable and makes it easy to deploy the software into production when ready.
Continuous delivery (CD) is the practice of automatically building releases, deploying them to a test environment, and ultimately deploying them to production. CD systems often integrate within a broader CI pipeline so that iterative changes to the code can be seamlessly deployed for both testing and production when they’ve been approved. Similar to CI, the CD process ensures quality and consistency of releases and minimizes human error by automating the process.
The microservices architecture breaks up monolithic applications into more discrete and specific software components. Each of these components runs its own application that is often managed by a specific team, and the different microservices applications communicate with one another using common protocols such as HTTPS. This allows for quick iteration on specific components of the entire system without having to redeploy each application for each change. It also allows developers to specialize in a specific component and abstracts away the complexity of the system’s inner workings, so developers from other teams can easily plug into them using the common communication protocols and standards.
Infrastructure as Code
Infrastructure as code is when application and infrastructure configurations are managed using software development practices like CI and CD. This allows developers to use existing systems to build, test, and deploy changes to infrastructure so that it’s as scalable and robust as the underlying code. It automates the process of managing IT resources and deploying changes to application configurations so that these changes are scalable and reliable.
How To Adopt DevOps
Adopting DevOps comes down to modularizing systems into discrete components like microservice applications and testing environments, and then automating the management of these systems. The goal is to bring together everything from initial design to final deployment and beyond so that the whole process can be continuously iterated on to ensure a high quality customer experience.
For example, when a developer pushes a Git commit to a centralized repository, this should trigger an automated job to test the change to ensure that it does what it’s supposed to and doesn’t introduce any unexpected bugs. Once this change has been approved, the system should use its internal build systems to automatically create build artifacts so that the changes can be deployed when the team is ready.
Tools for DevOps
Adopting DevOps isn’t possible without the software tools needed to build out the necessary CI and CD pipelines. For example, you’ll need a code management system to track and manage changes to repositories over time and between teams, as well as an orchestration tool to manage the testing and deployment of these changes. You’ll also want a case or ticket management system for triaging and resolving issues in addition to a monitoring and alerting system for overseeing ongoing operations.
Start Practicing DevOps Today
DevOps is a great way to speed up the development process while keeping it reliable and maintaining security. But successfully implementing DevOps requires powerful tools to manage and automate the CI and CD pipelines. You also need tools to monitor the ongoing activity of the system after a new build is deployed to ensure a consistent, quality user experience.
If you’re struggling with deploying web-based software, look no further than Contegix’s BlackMesh hosting platform and CI/CD platform Cascade. With the help of Contegix’s team of experts, you’ll have all the tools needed to build out a robust and scalable DevOps environment. Contact Contegix today to see how DevOps can help your organization scale and streamline its online software development.