Wednesday, 16 July 2014 16:53

DevOps best practice relies on Agile


If you haven't already adopted Agile, you should.

Pantha specialises in assisting IT and digital transformation, and according to co-founder and managing director Bjoern Schliebitz (pictured) achieving best practice in DevOps means adopting the Agile methodology.

But he warns that success requires sponsorship from the business and technical sides of the organisation, and that parallel cultural and process changes are needed - it's just not feasible to produce a 20-page document to support every rollout when you're iterating rapidly.

Mr Schliebitz is not suggesting organisations should throw caution to the wind: risk can be minimised if the development team adopts best practices, allowing improvements to be delivered to customers (or internal users) more rapidly and without sacrificing reliability.

Once developers can prove they understand what they are offering for deployment, monthly or even weekly releases are feasible.

The needs of users do have to be taken into account. Organisations where formal retraining is required or expected may choose a quarterly release cycle to reduce the disruption, but there is an argument that staff find it easier to keep up with smaller but more frequent changes.

As much as people like new features in the applications they use, Mr Schliebitz suggests that when it comes to changes in core processes, smaller is generally better. For example, it's one thing to do A/B testing to investigate the effect of changing a button's colour - and we know that such seemingly trivial changes can have a surprising impact - it's quite another to change the position of the button.

"Smart organisations are more conservative" in this respect, he observed.

The point is that an organisation needs to be capable of making changes to its IT systems with the rapidity required from the business perspective.

Pantha business development manager Stephen Schwalger pointed to one of the company's clients which previously shoehorned even the smallest changes into a six-month release cycle, where its competitors were able to respond in days or even hours. Improving DevOps capabilities means organisations gain the flexibility to make business (not technical) decisions about when changes and new features are implemented.

The continuous delivery model makes it possible to test changes on real users (and then change direction if necessary) and to make "smaller, less risky" changes, according to Mr Schliebitz. "Rapid changes are difficult for the human brain," he observed.

Testing is a crucial part of this process. Some organisations aren't aware of problems until their customers point them out, Mr Schliebitz observed, suggesting that a good testing regime will, among other things, see developers creating unit tests before they start coding.

"A proven quality level delivered by testing... [allows] much faster ROI," said Mr Schwalger.

So which Australian organisations have notably good DevOps practices?

"We probably only know about our customers," said Mr Schwalger, but suggested there are some good examples such as Atlassian and certain banks.

Mr Schliebitz argued that relatively new organisations are usually very good at DevOps, as they have started with a clean slate and were therefore able to start with contemporary best practices, whereas established organisations have to live with systems created over decades. Pantha has a way of moving the latter group onto best practices, but it can be a time-consuming process.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.





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