The Role of DevOps in Building Cloud Applications

In collaboration with Microsoft. 

Why do so many software projects overrun their budgets and timelines, or even fail altogether? While there are many possible causes, from the technical to the cultural, the most common include inadequate communication, lack of collaboration and difficulty adapting to the specific skills and demands of cloud computing.

For example, imagine a system administrator who has been overseeing an on-prem application, which is now in the process of being moved into Microsoft Azure. At each stage of the app lifecycle, from initial lift-and-shift through modernization, new skills will be needed to navigate the transition and meet all the project requirements. 

Some traditional competencies, applying patches for instance, are no longer as relevant as cloud service providers handle them. But  without a solid DevOps practice in place, a lot can go wrong, including:

  • Departmental silos that result in miscommunications and time-consuming rework or duplication of effort.
  • Software releases that fall behind schedule or suffer from lower quality even when completed.
  • In fact, the 2019 Accelerated State of DevOps Report found that DevOps made a major difference in an organization’s ability to deploy code fast, minimize lead times, avoid change failures and recover services.

DevOps helps solve some of the central problems with cloud application development and management. But what is DevOps, exactly, and how can teams get the most value from it?

Defining DevOps: A movement for better coordination and collaboration

DevOps can seem like a Rorschach Test. Every person who examines it will provide a different definition of what it is. Despite varying perceptions, there are some generally accepted principles of DevOps, as shown in definitions of the term from cloud service providers like Microsoft Azure.

DevOps encompasses:

  • An overarching cultural commitment to unifying development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops) for superior collaboration between these teams and the elimination of silos. This component requires effective leadership to bring once-siloed departments together.
  • The widespread implementation of automation, as well as of practices such as continuous integration and continuous delivery (along with native security measures), infrastructure-as-code and Agile methodology.
  • Specific tools that support the more collaborative and continuous workflows in DevOps, including CI/CD platforms and Azure templates for automated deployment, provisioning and configuration of infrastructure.
  • Ongoing measurement of everything (for instance, the KPIs identified in the Accelerate State of DevOps Report, such as deployment frequency and average lead time) to ensure visibility into and refinement of processes. 

Through these principles, DevOps offers substantial value to any organization working its way through the cloud application lifecycle. The main benefits range from more consistent software quality and fewer defects to lower costs and faster time to market.

Greater consistency

Automation is a key tenet of DevOps, and for good reason: It helps remove many of the manual workflows that create bottlenecks during development, deployment and operations. Instead of relying on siloed workflows that are prone to human error, teams can instead automate activities like testing and deployment. Moreover, these workflows can be scaled and managed much more efficiently than before. 

The same infrastructure can be automatically deployed across multiple environments for development, quality assurance and more, plus governance is simplified by DevOps tools for tracking versions and changes. DevOps companies enjoy greater reliability of their IT operations even as they take on ambitious new projects.

Lower costs

DevOps boost agility, enabling teams to respond more quickly to changes in their markets and seize opportunities as they arise. Under a traditional ops model, shepherding just one app through its lifecycle from start to finish can take so long that it’s no longer relevant by the time it’s completed. 

The numerous delays and duplicated work associated with app development. For example, not having a clear picture of  requirements and specifications creates the need to navigate disparate documents. The cost of these inefficiencies adds up as the pace and quality of the project erode. DevOps offers a better blueprint for success.

Superior customer experience

Now that public cloud is an integral part of so much consumer and B2B software, customers have higher expectations for application and user experience. After all, public clouds can deliver many more resources on-demand faster than on-prem infrastructure. This supports use cases like audio/video streaming and conferencing, online backup and more sophisticated web apps.

In this context, it’s crucial for DevOps teams to evaluate KPIs related to customer experience on a regular basis. With the right implementation and tools, DevOps can help greatly with hitting metrics for website load times, conversation rates, dwell time and others relevant to a wide range of industries. Internally, DevOps can also provide a much improved experience for teams that once had to rely on disparate data sources and error-prone manual work to get almost anything done.

Getting more from DevOps in Azure 

Although DevOps can in theory be implemented to support any type of software project, it provides the most ROI in the cloud. Azure provides the infrastructure and tools to maximize the value of DevOps automation.

More specifically, Azure offers (among many other features):

Templates

Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates that can be pulled from the Azure Marketplace or from GitHub repositories. These resources allow for more efficient application provisioning, as well as the deployment of numerous services along with their dependencies. 

For example, virtual machines, databases, and various connections can all be configured with specific input/output parameters within ARM templates. Overall, Azure templates simplify deployment and rollback while providing convenient support for cross-configurations and updates.

ASR/DRaaS

Azure Site Recovery helps ensure that even complex applications in DevOps environments can have their critical workloads recovered with just one click. It’s simple to deploy from the Azure portal, receives automatic updates, eases regulatory compliance and reduces infrastructure costs compared to an on-prem DR solution.

Getting started with ASR can be as simple as replicating a VM(s) to a different Azure region. By using ASR, it’s possible to support high availability via secondary instances of key applications and also make accurate backups of critical data, in addition to having reliable DRaaS during a failure.

Serverless computing

Azure’s serverless offerings come with availability and fault tolerance built in and nothing that needs to be provisioned or managed in a traditional way. As a result, DevOps teams can move more quickly, taking advantage of Azure APIs and using a fully managed platform to build applications for edge, hybrid and cloud environments. 

Where to go next with Azure and DevOps

Microsoft has recognized Softchoice as an Azure Expert Managed Service Provider (MSP) for the delivery of high-fidelity managed services. We offer our Public Cloud Technology Review, which is a planning assessment that answers questions about which workloads to move into Azure, the costs and configurations necessary for running these targets on Azure and the specifics of Azure migrations.

Softchoice Managed Cloud services will also help with Azure cost management, operations, mentorship and support. Set up a conversation with an expert today to get started with our Azure offerings in your DevOps organization.

Why DevOps is the perfect use case for automation

One of the biggest buzzwords in the IT world today is infrastructure automation (IA).

With solutions like VMware vRealize Automation, organizations see IA as the missing link in the era of cloud, where the goal is to “ruthlessly automate everything.”

Nowhere is IA’s appeal more obvious than when it’s combined with another, related strategy: DevOps.

DevOps is the perfect use-case for infrastructure automation

Coined nearly 10 years ago, the term DevOps is the methodology by which software development and IT operations teams work collaboratively to achieve rapid, continuous delivery of applications.

Automation is nothing new for Dev teams. Dev teams have always looked to add efficiency, speed, and reliability to their coding processes using automation and programmable tools. But only recently, with the growth of virtualization and IA technologies such as vRealize, has it been possible to achieve that same speed provisioning the bare metal infrastructure and hardware layers supporting their apps.

It’s no surprise then that DevOps is the killer app when it comes to infrastructure automation. And with it, businesses obtain three major advantages: speed to market; security and compliance; and winning the war for talent.

DevOps and the need for speed

The CIO of Alaska Airlines put it nicely: “We’re no longer an airline. We’re a software company with wings.”

In today’s climate, where Amazon and Uber are defining customer expectations, apps are the new gold. And DevOps is perhaps the most powerful solution to quickly and effectively mine that golden value.

How fast can you get your new investment banking app to market? How do you add new features to your eCommerce site, like drop shipping, before your competitor does? How do you give your employees the best possible workplace experience, right now?

Businesses looking to implement IA have these kinds of questions top of mind. They see a modern DevOps, where both hardware and code are automated, as the answer. IA allows powerful, one-click provisioning of validated infrastructure “blueprints,” without requiring weeks of waiting for operations teams to give DevOps the compute or networking resources they need to deliver. For any business seeking the speed gains of DevOps, doing so at both the software and hardware levels makes the most sense.

DevOps and the demand for security and compliance

Businesses are also aware of rising cyber-security threats, something that becomes more pronounced as they adopt rapid application development. In fact, roughly 30 percent of all breaches are the result of a vulnerability at the application layer. Meanwhile, failures at the infrastructure layer are equally pervasive, and lead to the same catastrophic losses and risk if configured or deployed incorrectly.

In other words, to do DevOps safely, organizations must adopt more mature, reliable and secure practices at both the software and hardware levels, spanning network, compute, server and applications.

With IA, organizations can attain peace of mind, knowing that core infrastructure “blueprints” are automatically configured to meet required compliance and security policies. For example, when vulnerabilities are identified, IA tools can automatically patch or identify risk in your own environment and make it easy for admins to address the issue.

DevOps and the war for talent

If you want the best team, you need the best tools. From giving software devs what they need to provide a unique and challenging new opportunity to your operations, DevOps is a powerful value prop in the war for talent.

On the dev side, rapid application development isn’t just a strategy for today’s best and brightest coders. It’s a philosophy, a way of life. Sitting around weeks, waiting for an environment to be spun up, is not in their vocabulary. They’d much prefer to borrow the company credit card for a quick visit to spin up resources in AWS. Or, failing that, take their talents to a business more amenable to their need for speed.
On the operations side, it’s a similar story. While some IT veterans fear to automate traditional three-tiered infrastructure risks putting them out of a job, in our experience this is the wrong way to look at it. Embracing DevOps and IA has enormous appeal to today’s aspiring IT professionals. They would much rather learn new tools and manage a full, open stack deployment than perfect their skills swapping storage boxes for another few decades.

The bottom line: automation isn’t a job killer. It’s a strategy for giving your team the tools they need to grow their skills as professionals and truly dig into today’s most cutting-edge, innovative practices.

Conclusion

 If you are looking for a reason to automate the infrastructure powering your business, then DevOps might be the perfect use case. From unlocking a strategic edge in the golden era of apps, to ensuring security and attracting the best talent, there is no shortage of compelling reasons to start with DevOps on your journey to modernizing your infrastructure.

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