Behaviorally Speaking: DevOps Development
by Bob Aiello

DevOps puts the focus on developing the same build, package and release procedures to support deployment throughout the entire application lifecycle. This is a big change for many companies where developers traditionally did their own deployments and operations joined the party late in the process, usually when the application was being prepared to be promoted to production. In fact, I have seen organizations who put a tremendous amount of work into their production deployments, but failed miserably simply because they started too late in the development lifecycle. DevOps puts the focus on creating an automated application lifecycle management (ALM) to support development test, integration, QA, UAT and Production. But how exactly do you develop DevOps itself and how do you know when you have achieved success?

DevOps is not new; like many other Agile and Lean practices, DevOps makes use of principles that have been around for a long time. But, also like Agile and Lean, DevOps clarifies and highlights industry best practices in a way that is particularly compelling. Traditionally, developers have demanded free reign in being able to build, package and deploy their own work. As a group, developers, by and large, are known to be smart and hardworking folks. Unfortunately, seasoned professionals also know that many IT problems and systems outages are caused by a smart person accidentally missing an essential step. Creating repeatable processes and ensuring uninterrupted services is primaily about creating procedures that are simple, clear and reliable. DevOps teaches us that we need to begin this journey early in the process. Instead of just automating the build and deploy to QA, UAT and Production – we shift our focus upstream and begin automating the processes for development. too.

Continuous integration has been made popular by industry expert Martin Fowler who strongly advocated deploying to a test environment even for a development build. Creating seamless and reliable fully-automated deployment procedures is not an easy task. There are many dependencies that are often difficult to understand – much less automate. Developers spend their time learning new technologies and building their technical knowledge, skills and abilities. DevOps encourages improved communication between Development, QA and Operations. The most important part of this effort is to transfer knowledge earlier in the process – reducing risk by creating a learning organization. DevOps helps to improve both QA’s and Ops focus by enabling them each to get involved early in the development cycle and also by creating automated procedures to reliably build, package and deploy the application. If you want to be successful, then you should also strive to be agile.

DevOps was made popular by a number of agile technology experts, including those involved with what has become known as agile systems administration and agile operations. It is essential to remember that the journey to Devops must also follow agile principles. This means that creating your automated build, package and deployment procedures should be handled in an agile iterative way. This has been exactly how I have always handled this effort. Usually, I get called in to deal with a failed application build and release process. I often have to start by performing many tasks manually. Over time, I am able to automate each of the tasks, but this is an iterative effort with many decisions made at the last responsible moment. Source code management is also an essential starting point.

Developers need to be trained to successfully use version control tools to secure the source code and reliably create milestones – including version labels or tags. Just as DevOps starts at the beginning of the lifecycle – DevOps also needs to focus on the seminal competencies of excellent source code management. Automated application build is next, with each configuration item embedding a unique and immutable version ID. Release packages are created with embedded manifests containing a complete list of every included configuration item, whether it be a derived binary, text based configuration file or a word document containing essential release notes. Good release management means that you can identify all of the code that is about to be deployed and also provide a procedure to verify that the correct code was in fact deployed (known as a physical configuration audit). It is equally essential to provide a mechanism to ensure that a release package has not been modified by an unauthorized individual.

What makes these practices “DevOps” is the focus on developing these procedures from the beginning of the lifecycle and taking an agile iterative approach as they are developed. There is also an intentional effort to share knowledge equally between development, QA and operations. Development often knows the technology best, but operations understands the real world challenges that will result in developers being roused from their slumber in the middle of the night. QA contributes by developing the procedures to ensure that bugs are never found a second time in any release.

Devops is all about the synergy of productivity and quality with the real world focus on sharing knowledge and building competencies!