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DevOps, a combination of development and operations, is a popular software development and deployment model. DevOps blends rapid, responsive software development with the reliable IT operations needed to deploy and manage applications in production.
Implemented properly, DevOps can help businesses create more useful and effective software. The organization can then get that software to market faster and with fewer errors compared with traditional development paradigms. That said, the DevOps approach has both pros and cons.
What is DevOps?
DevOps is a combination of practices and tools intended to accelerate the development cycle and continuously deliver quality software. It aims to eliminate the silo between development and operations teams, increasing developers' responsibility for software deployment and maintenance.
In contrast to the traditional waterfall development model, DevOps takes an iterative approach, in which teams work on projects in short, frequent and repeating cycles. The idea is to build software one piece at a time.
DevOps is a cyclical process that involves a well-established series of steps:
- Plan. Organizations gather requirements, set program design elements, and select new features and functionalities.
- Code. Developers write code to implement the plan. This code should adhere to established quality standards, including coding style rules and uniform variable and file naming conventions.
- Build. Code is converted into machine-executable files. This includes the new code written in the previous step as well as existing libraries and modules drawn from code repositories.
- Test. The executable code is tested for stability, functionality, performance and security.
- Release. Builds that pass testing become release candidates, which can be deployed to production if desired.
- Deploy. Release builds that are appropriate and necessary for production are deployed. Teams provision and configure on-premises or cloud infrastructure to host the selected release.
- Operate. IT operations staff take the necessary steps to run the selected release in production. This can include creating virtual instances, copying code, replicating databases, and performing other processes needed to run the software and cut over from prior versions to the newest one.
- Monitor. Operations teams monitor deployed and operational software to gather metrics about use and performance. This data helps developers and business leaders identify ongoing software problems, such as bugs or performance limitations, and make corrections in subsequent software iterations.
As a whole, the DevOps model helps businesses deliver higher-quality, competitive software that can be available sooner than traditional development approaches would allow. The key advantages of DevOps include the following.
Faster time to market
A traditional waterfall development cycle can take years to complete. During this time, because the software product has no presence in the marketplace, the business is not generating revenue or gaining market share.
In addition, the all-or-nothing nature of waterfall development means any changes to requirements, major defects or technical oversights -- such as interoperability problems with other software -- can significantly delay the release date due to code rewrites and extensive retesting.
DevOps uses far shorter development cycles, with high-performing teams deploying code multiple times per day. As a result, developers can code, test and release new features, functions and fixes in rapid succession. This gets working software into users' hands sooner, leading to more timely UX feedback and helping developers respond quickly to flaws, new requirements and changing market demands.
Market conditions and users' needs often change in the years it can take to complete a waterfall development project. A business might finally release software only to discover it's no longer relevant, doesn't do what users need or expect, has serious defects or can't compete with better products.
With short, iterative DevOps cycles, developers can release features and functions on a regular basis, incorporate bug fixes quickly, and experiment with creative features -- with little effect on project schedules or budgets. Through repeating the phases of the DevOps cycle, organizations can catch flaws early and try new things with minimal risk.
DevOps can erase traditional silos that impede creativity and agility, but doing so requires effective collaboration across the organization. To ensure successful development cycles and meet stakeholder requirements, developers and operations staff must work together to manage frequent deployments and updates.
In the DevOps model, teams perform work faster and more successfully because the individual iterations of a project can fail occasionally. DevOps tool sets can also improve efficiency through automation and interoperability.
DevOps vs. Agile
The DevOps and Agile software development paradigms both aim to accelerate development and improve software quality through frequent and iterative improvements. However, there are subtle differences between the two.
DevOps emphasizes a collaborative relationship between developers and operations staff. DevOps also tends to embrace fine-grained iterations that include numerous commits and builds per day.
In contrast, Agile does not overlap with operations; instead, it focuses on collaboration among numerous smaller development teams. The iterative sprints in an Agile development cycle help these teams focus, adapt to changing requirements and maintain complex development schedules.
Despite these benefits, DevOps has potential disadvantages. A DevOps methodology can be difficult and costly to implement, adoption might spark organizational resistance, and the business might struggle to measure the success of its DevOps initiative. Top DevOps challenges include the following.
Lack of meaningful metrics
DevOps success is not automatic. Simply accelerating the development process brings little tangible benefit; organizations need meaningful metrics to track progress, measure efficiency and find opportunities for improvement.
DevOps initiatives can fail because of absent or meaningless metrics. DevOps leaders must identify and implement an array of metrics, including those that illustrate development velocity, such as deploy frequency; product quality, such as bug rates; and delivery success, such as completed cycles versus deployments.
DevOps' costs for the business can go beyond financial investments in new development tools. DevOps often influences organizational structure, changes traditional roles, and requires time and effort to implement and manage.
It takes time for a business to adjust to a DevOps environment. Changes can be hampered by factors such as legacy systems, attempts to build overly complex applications and deeply embedded corporate cultures.
The additional tools and processes required to manage a DevOps environment can sometimes outweigh DevOps' efficiency gains. Teams might have trouble overcoming the inertia of previously established development paradigms, and the processes and tools needed to run DevOps can become new layers of bureaucracy.
DevOps initiatives can fail when goals are unrealistic. Implementations backfire if the business expects adopting DevOps to immediately fix every development challenge, deliver too much too soon or guarantee market success.
Because DevOps can take time to yield benefits, set modest and reasonable goals. Approach a DevOps transformation through pilot projects that enable the organization to test the methodology with simpler tasks. Once the paradigm proves its value for the business, gradually extend DevOps to more complex projects.