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Cloud-Based DevOps

Innovating at the Speed of the Market

I have a confession. I am Shadow IT. I am the guilty party operations and security love to hate because I expense tens of thousands of dollars in cloud services...every month. Truth be told, my team and I couldn't afford to wait in line for IT to provision the resources we needed to begin work. We had goals to meet and objectives to achieve - all of which didn't include waiting in line for IT to give us virtual machines, development platforms or set up sandboxes so we could begin work.

With a lengthy approval process and cost justifications, there was no way I would have been able to secure either the physical infrastructure or cloud vendor approvals I needed to achieve the business unit's goals. And, honestly, the risk of choosing a vendor that would leak our data, or otherwise put the business at risk, seemed a lot lower than the risk of not getting my job done.

So, even though my monthly cloud bill continued to rise, it didn't surprise me too much that I was never questioned about the expense because my team was delivering. And, that is exactly what everyone from the business side of things cares about - is development creating new applications and/or services that can be brought to market before the competition? Can we secure ‘first-mover' status or market leadership because development is firing on all cylinders? These are the questions marketing, business development, and other teams ask. Not, did central IT get you those VMs you needed?

In talking to others, I know I'm not alone. And, yet, I intrinsically know there has to be a better way than to submit an expense report with fingers crossed every month. Which is why I am coming out of the Shadow.

The Real Problem
From my seat, the real problem is that the entire system is caught in a vicious cycle of process, governance and pig throwing. What do I mean?  Limited central IT resources and a focus on infrastructure management limit the ability to allocate development resources and slows development's ability to innovate at the pace needed to match business requirements. Security and audit insert additional approvals and manual steps that need to be followed throughout the application lifecycle that adds drag to the system, and dev is often accused of throwing the proverbial pig over the wall to operations. And, anything and everything that goes wrong from that point forward is blamed on development's "pig".

The problem is exacerbated by pressure from the business - from beating small, nimble competitors to market to ensuring compliance and cutting budgets - that adds stress to the system. Operating in an "application economy" however, this system should run like a well-oiled machine.

Greasing System Dynamics with DevOps

DevOps may just hold the key in the application economy. In case you are unfamiliar with DevOps, it stemmed from Enterprise Systems Management and Agile software development methodologies, with an emphasis on communication, collaboration and integration between dev and IT Operations.  And, most importantly, DevOps focuses on improving reliability and security while speeding development and deployment cycles at each phase of the application lifecycle--from conception and creation, to testing, QA, and product delivery.

DevOps also helps with release management by standardizing development environments, which gives development greater control because they can program to give apps the full knowledge of the supporting infrastructure.  DevOps may well be the cure in the application economy because it automates as much of the operational process as possible, which speeds hand-offs, allows for automatic integration of processes and even governance and security controls.

When the Cloud Helps & When it Doesn't
While DevOps sounds great, when you couple it with some of the promises of cloud computing, it gets even better. For example, one of the core tenets of the cloud is IT-as-a-service, which translates into self-service access for development to the complete development platforms they need, when they need them. Take these resources, begin coding in your tool(s) of choice, and you are off to the races! One thing I learned when contracting with cloud service providers is that this full-service model is much better than renting Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) because the team was still responsible for managing middleware which is unnecessarily time consuming. If the VM is running, your provider is doing their job. Period.

Some IT organizations think IaaS is the place to start with DevOps. I'm of the mind that spinning up VMs faster is about as exciting as watching grass grow - I'm already getting that from the public cloud providers I've been covertly using. It gets you a fraction of the way there, but doesn't really address the spectrum of how DevOps can help break IT out of its box and create a dynamic system that is the rocket fuel of the company's growth.  Let me break it down a bit. DevOps, supported by a self-service cloud environment, nets development:

  • Standardized Environments: With on-demand access to entire application platforms that are already standardized and pre-configured to resemble IT's production environment, dev can create and deploy apps across the lifecycle without the tedium and bottlenecks that occur at each phase of the software development lifecycle today. Development can occur in any language, regardless of the final platform, and dev can focus on developing high-value, innovative applications. Between a greater focus on code, and access to standardized environments, apps are more likely to excel in quality and be less likely to need rework, or cause production hiccups.

  • Streamlined Release to Production: A cloud-based DevOps model allows teams to automate release management, using an organization's existing approval processes supported by automatic provisioning of application deployment environments. By streamlining across the development-to-operations lifecycle, teams are able to keep pace with faster change by automating and standardizing tasks that are manually configured today, creating less room for ‘fat finger' errors and the resultant problem resolution.

  • Built-In Business Policy: Cut the vicious cycle by working with IT and security to provision policies as part and parcel of the standardized environment. By integrating policy early, you increase confidence in the process across the board, eradicating operations' ability to label your new baby nothing but a pig with lipstick.

By working with IT across the software development lifecycle via cloud-based DevOps, development teams can decrease software bottlenecks, increase code output and be seen as drivers of the business. And, who doesn't want a well-oiled machine that drives the company forward? It's much better than holding your breath for a call from accounting about that $20,000 AWS expense.

More Stories By Shawn Douglass

Shawn Douglass has been a cloud visionary and key contributor to the emerging enterprise cloud operating model for over a decade. Mr. Douglass is responsible for the strategy and vision of the Agility Platform and contributing to IT transformation at Global 2000 enterprises.

Prior to ServiceMesh he was managing director at EMC Ventures where he drove strategic investments in cloud, security, big data/analytics, and disruptive technology and business models.

He has served on the Board of Directors and as Chairman of the Technical Steering Committee for the Enterprise Grid Alliance (EGA), and on the Board of Directors at Joyent, a high-performance cloud infrastructure provider. He is also a winner of the Always On 2012 Power Players in the Cloud award. Mr. Douglass is a graduate of Harvard Business School.

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