If you work in the IT space, DevOps is something you’ll have heard plenty about over the last few years. An increasingly popular way of developing and deploying software, DevOps has gained traction because of its potential to facilitate the faster and smoother development of applications.
Want to see what the DevOps approach can bring to your business? Given that DevOps is interchangeably described using lofty (and decidedly non-technical) terms like ‘culture’ and ‘philosophy’, you might be wondering where to start.
So let’s talk about the fundamentals of DevOps, and how to start adopting DevOps principles in your organisation.
What is DevOps exactly?
Asking for a friend? No problem. Even when you’ve heard a lot about it, DevOps can be hard to define. So let’s take a quick crack at the what before we get into the how and the why.
DevOps is simply a way of working that brings together Development and Operations teams, allowing them to integrate their work and to deliver high-quality software and services more quickly. The primary goal of DevOps is to smooth out the process of architecting, updating, and maintaining software applications; thereby helping businesses be more agile and competitive in an increasingly fast-paced market.
The DevOps approach is made up of a number of philosophies, practices, and tools that when combined create a faster and more agile workflow.
The concept of DevOps isn’t completely nailed down, meaning each DevOps team might operate a little differently, picking and choosing which aspects of the DevOps philosophy to focus on based on their organisation’s specific needs.
There are many subgenres and variations of DevOps (like Lean and Agile) that can be adopted depending on operational goals and requirements.
But broadly speaking, DevOps is built on a foundation of core practices, all centred around continuous improvement of products and the automation of traditional development processes. These principles are the theoretical touchstones of DevOps; the pillars that all other granular, practical aspects like pipelines and best practices are built on.
Core DevOps Principles
- Automation: Getting things done faster and more efficiently is a big part of DevOps, and this goal is achieved largely through automating where appropriate, like deploying environments and testing.
- Continuous Improvement: Continuous improvement is the process of making small, iterative changes constantly throughout the SDLC, as opposed to waiting to make updates at a predetermined stage.
- Collaboration and Shared Responsibility: The clue is in the name: DevOps is all about the integration of Development and Operations workflows through improved collaboration, communication, and feedback sharing.
- Customer Centricity: DevOps is designed to make everything faster, giving you the agility to innovate and pivot when necessary. This means teams can react to the demands of the market and deliver the solutions customers want quickly.
- Focusing on the End Result: Ultimately, the purpose of streamlining development is to deliver better-quality software. Throughout the whole DevOps lifecycle, the end goal should always be top-of-mind so nothing is lost in the process.
Based on these core principles, there are a range of best practices that DevOps teams tend to follow. Understanding these concepts and methods of working will help you build your own DevOps lifecycle, and get the most out of the DevOps approach.
Key DevOps Best Practices
|Continuous integration |
The DevOps method of development involves frequently uploading code changes into a shared repository, continuously integrating and building code rather than merging changes all at once.
Rather than waiting until the final stages of the SDLC to test code and check for bugs, DevOps teams run continuous automated tests every time code changes are made, allowing them to detect and fix any bugs as early as possible.
|Continuous delivery |
An extension of CI, continuous delivery automates the process of getting tested and approved software to the pre-production stage where it can be rubber-stamped by a developer before deployment.
Taking CI/CD a step further, continuous deployment is the final stage of the DevOps pipeline, and automates the last step of releasing code changes into the real world (provided necessary automated tests have been passed).
DevOps teams keep applications up and running by constantly observing and monitoring performance, so that any issues can be solved quickly.
Agile development involves working in small sprints that allow developers to adapt to changes and evolve more easily.
|Infrastructure as code|
Managing cloud infrastructure using code means standardised environments can be easily and reliably provisioned, facilitating easier resource management and faster testing.
It’s much easier to make continuous, iterative changes to smaller components than it is to amend a monolithic codebase. That’s why DevOps teams use microservices such as containers to innovate and scale applications faster.
There are tonnes of tools out there to help optimise your DevOps practice. Your toolchain can be built to suit your specific lifecycle needs, but will typically contain platforms to manage tasks like version control, testing, and container orchestration.
Top benefits of using a DevOps approach
Faster time to market
Every facet of the DevOps philosophy, from continuous improvement to widespread automation, is about speed. And of course, being able to ship products and updates faster while maintaining a high level of quality is a massive competitive advantage for any business.
Higher quality products
The DevOps practice of continuous integration and testing of code helps reduce errors, getting software production-ready more quickly and cutting the amount of work needed to maintain and debug products further down the line.
In DevOps, code is integrated into a shared repository and tested continuously—a far more efficient way to screen for errors than testing all in one go at the very last hurdle. Thanks to this nonstop feedback loop, bugs can be caught and rectified early in the process, before they have a chance to compound and cause any further issues.
More cohesion between teams
It’s a given that everything goes smoother when there’s better communication between teams. DevOps’ cohesive approach to development and operations removes barriers between teams that were previously siloed, bringing together valuable knowledge, promoting shared responsibility, and facilitating faster problem-solving.
A DevOps culture fosters trust and enables everyone to get on the same page so they can achieve their common goal faster and more effectively.
Better reliability and stability
Continuous monitoring allows DevOps teams to catch any issues with in-production applications quickly so they can be solved as soon as possible.
Having access to this super-fast feedback means teams can jump on issues, deal with bottlenecks, and minimise downtime before they can have a significant impact on customer satisfaction. With DevOps, time-to-resolution is reduced substantially.
Plus, practices like continuous delivery and deployment can help push out updates and fixes instantly, so users always have access to the most recent, bug-free version of a product.
So central to DevOps is security, that an offshoot methodology has emerged over the past few years, focusing on embedding proactive and agile security measures into the DevOps lifecycle.
DevSecOps is an approach that seeks to entrench security into every stage of the development process, right from the start. With DevSecOps, applications are designed with security in mind, not as an afterthought. Like its parent philosophy, DevSecOps utilises automation to test a product throughout its lifecycle, flagging vulnerabilities before they get into a real-world environment and therefore reducing risk.
Automating chunks of the development and ongoing operations processes makes scaling up your development capacity far easier. And using practices like infrastructure as code to make processes reliable and repeatable means that DevOps teams can do more with less effort.
How to get started with DevOps
Because DevOps is based around methodologies and cultural changes, rather than any particular technology, the barrier to entry is relatively low. You can get started with DevOps fairly quickly—so long as you properly manage what can be quite a big shift in the way you work.
The best way to introduce DevOps to your development and operations teams is to start small. Remember, DevOps is an amalgamation of many principles and practices; you don’t have to adopt them all at once.
Make a plan
Decide which aspect(s) of DevOps you’re going to adopt—or which element of your development/operations lifecycle you want to apply DevOps principles to first. You can always roll out more practices and tools, or apply the philosophy to other stages of your SDLC in the future, but it’s often best to go in gradually with big cultural changes.
You can introduce DevOps by automating certain tasks, like software testing or deployment. Alternatively, bring in something like application monitoring so your team can get to grips with continuous improvement, and develop the habit of constantly looking out for and fixing issues throughout the cycle.
DevOps can be disruptive at first, as it breaks down existing siloes and introduces new ways of working. Delivering a clear roadmap on what will be changing, when, how it will benefit your teams, and how they’ll be supported will deliver clarity and reduce friction throughout the transitional process.
Think about your DevOps infrastructure
When you expand your DevOps practice into other areas, and build out a full DevOps pipeline, you’ll need to have certain foundational tools in place to facilitate the CI/CD process.
One of these pillars is a shared code repository in which your team can store code. These platforms give developers a secure space to collaborate on, manage, and version control their code. There are many to choose from; some of the most popular include Azure DevOps, Cloud Repo, AWS CodeArtifact, GitHub, and GitLab.
Something else to consider is how you’ll utilise containers. Containerisation is an essential DevOps practice. Containers offer great building blocks for your pipeline, so it’s worth looking into container orchestration options at the beginning of your journey to DevOps excellence as part of your DevOps roadmap.
Look into the various container services on offer and decide which one best suits your needs. There might be services provided by your CSP, or there are popular independent options like Docker and Kubernetes.
Select your tools
When you’ve decided which items from the DevOps buffet you’re going for first, it’s time to choose the tools to help you execute those practices.
Outline your new DevOps pipeline and plot which tools you’re going to implement first based on which practices you’re starting with.
Building the right toolchain for your new DevOps (or DevOps-adjacent) team will depend on the needs of your SDLC, your budget, and other considerations like integration with your cloud solution provider.
For operating your CI/CD functions, Jenkins is one of the popular options, for example, while ELK is a top choice for monitoring and logging. When it comes to managing infrastructure as code, Ansible is often recommended for those new to DevOps due to its powerful functionality and usability.
Provide training and explain the benefits
Like any other tool, platform, or methodology in IT, user adoption is key to the success of DevOps. You’re not only implementing new processes, but a new culture, and your team need to fully understand it and accept it for it to stick.
Provide plenty of training (in whichever form works best for your team) on DevOps, its concepts and practices, and on the tools you choose to implement. And most importantly, showcase the benefits that this change will bring to the team.
Set and document expectations
Continuous improvement isn’t just a goal for your deliverables, but also for your team. To really benefit from the DevOps approach, your team must be open to the idea that there is no status quo and there is no finish line.
Debriefing at the end of a project is no longer the way you do things: lessons need to be learned constantly and quickly.
Feedback sharing is critical in DevOps, so make sure your team understands that being ready to learn and willing to change the way you do things is the new norm.
Capture all of this new internal process information and make it available, alongside your DevOps adoption roadmap, so that people can refer back to it when they need to. In the true spirit of DevOps, these documents should be constantly evolving to reflect new plans and new learnings, so opt for an easily updatable platform on which to host them.