The DevOps Lifecycle: A Simplified Guide for IT Leaders

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Thursday, April 21, 2022

DevOps is a key trend for IT leaders, tying business performance to application developers and operations staff through rapid delivery to support growth.

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The DevOps Lifecycle: A Simplified Guide for IT Leaders
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Whenever business operations teams needed a bespoke application, traditionally they made a request to the IT team or external developers. Over a long period of time, the app was delivered, often requiring further work to meet business needs, add security and create a strong user experience.

Development Operations (DevOps) has spent the last dozen years evolving as a concept that speeds up those processes, unifying them to deliver what the business needs through improved communication, collaboration and quality checks from the off, firmly linking operations and development teams across an application lifecycle. 

By using Agile development stacks and focusing on delivering a minimum viable product, end-users (via operations) and developers can work in harmony to deliver more reliable applications that meet and solve business problems.

All of this is done faster and with security built-in, while avoiding the creation of data silos and other risks or issues that can harm the business.

In this detailed guide, we’ll explore exactly what DevOps is, how it works, why it’s important to your business and how to optimize it in your business. Read on to discover:

DevOps explained

Business technology has often been focused on standards and IT performance, with less time to focus on the needs of users or customers. DevOps forges increasingly closer ties between IT and the business to foster a culture that makes application development more enterprise-focused.

DevOps can be defined as operations and development engineers working together over an application lifecycle:

  • Design
  • Development
  • Testing
  • Production

DevOps builds applications or systems that are robust, flexible and scalable – meeting immediate and long-term business needs – which can be updated rapidly.

The purpose and primary goal of DevOps is to stop teams working in isolation and build ongoing partnerships focused on the creation of applications as valuable business assets. In the modern IT business environment, DevOps strives to deliver continuous feedback, integration, testing, delivery, deployment and monitoring across the development and lifecycle of a product.

How does DevOps work and what problems does it solve?

DevOps is often described as a cultural effort within larger businesses upgrading from a long history of old-style application development. In contrast, younger companies are more used to Agile development methods, but often without a focus on the resilience needed for enterprise apps.

Meeting in the middle, today’s DevOps uses modern development tools, inspired by startup culture and the rise of mobile app development that require a fast turnaround to gain market traction. At the same time, DevOps addresses the increasing need to modernize change management and implement security and interoperability to protect and integrate business functions. 

To implement a DevOps culture, businesses need to identify their current development processes and change them from a linear series of projects to a circular set of steps. These circular steps will involve cross-functional teams that build a stable set of reinforcing processes to overcome problems along the DevOps cycle. These processes are as follows:

  • Useful and rapidly developed minimum viable product
  • Automated testing and security
  • Strong feedback loops to improve the app and fix bugs
  • Shorter times between fixes and new features
  • Faster time to market and reduced mean time to recovery (MTR)
  • Measure and improve all processes

Why DevOps is important

The importance of DevOps grows as businesses become more reliant on applications to deliver critical functions and services. As the complexity increasea, DevOps enables automation to speed up testing and bug fixes, reducing downtime, app rollbacks and other delays.

The continuous approach to development, testing, delivery and monitoring means that issues are easier to identify earlier, faster to fix and cause fewer problems down the line. Additionally, DevOps also helps identify responsibilities and individual tasks, making changeovers easier as people move teams or leave. 

DevOps also encourages teams to work together in more flexible ways, encouraging collaboration and ensuring that all business data is accessible for analytics to help drive future decision-making processes. The use of open-source DevOps toolchains also frees the business from vendor lock-in, if required.

Agile and DevOps: What’s the connection?

Agile and DevOps are closely related methods of development, withAgile the more mature having been recognized in the early 2000s. Agile stemmed from a time when businesses were trying to break away from more formal development structures and to ensure their results created better business value.

The difference between Agile and DevOps is that Agile remains focused on flexible development efforts, while DevOps aims to bring developers, operations and other stakeholders together. DevOps encourages collaboration, communication and responsibility, making the best application decisions and products for the business. DevOps is also simpler, with truncated steps compared to the 12 steps of Agile.

The two methodsare similar in that a key focus is on increasing the speed of development, but Agile focuses on releases after sprints of development, while DevOps can handle multiple launches in quick succession to add improvements, fix bugs or update features.

When considering the differences between DevOps and Agile, both methodologies have value in today’s development landscape, but DevOps continues to value and nurture an application long after an Agile team will have moved on to the next product.

Combining DevOps and Agile

Businesses that have already adopted Agile will be better able to shift to a DevOps mindset and culture, and the benefits of both can be used together to help modernize both sides of the DevOps equation.

Integrating Agile and DevOps practices enables developers to better work with operations, streamline application release processes and improve overall collaboration across the business, with the end-products having fewer bugs that can be fixed faster. Better products also add more value for the business, and there’s reduced risk of issues with regular changes or releases.

Using both methodologies in tandem also helps increase the visibility of the development team among operations, and can help others see the value in new applications, which is likely to result in new projects that deliver broader business benefits.

Agile practices help developers grow accustomed to delivering products on time and budget, while DevOps supports a broader understanding of operations, especially in the Software as a Service (SaaS) era where an application can improve over many years and iterations.

Offering an Agile and DevOps approach will also help you to attract new talent who are used to working in such environments, and expect to function in faster-paced operations.

Understanding the DevOps lifecycle

The DevOps lifecycle focuses on a set of continuous cyclic phases.  Each phase can be built around a different set of developer tools to create the ideal creative environment for the business. They can also all take input from multiple sources as the business gets better at building DevOps-created applications or services.

Everything within DevOps remains fluid, with operators used to moving around the lifecycle and ensuring that applications are ready to move between one phase and the next, and continue looping around as applications grow or business needs change.  

7 phases of the DevOps lifecycle

Here are seven key stages of the lifecycle to be aware of when optimizing your software development process from the get-go:

1. Continuous development

The development phase is the most familiar to coders, which is strongly linked to planning, creating and maintaining the code as it matures over many cycles. Strong version control is key to success across the DevOps pipeline as multiple users can access and change the code.

2. Continuous integration

The integration phase sees new features or fixes added to the existing application and code, a key part of DevOps that accelerates the pace from Agile methods. All of these are tested rigorously to ensure that the code maintains function and new changes don’t have unexpected consequences.

3. Continuous testing

Without testing, DevOps methodologies would fall apart, and the focus on automated testing removes the risk of human error and speeds up the process. Alongside automation, quality assurance (QA) teams play a key role in reviewing the usability of the live software to ensure a strong user experience. However, this is only useful if you have a functioning QA process in place.

4. Continuous deployment

The deployment phase maintains the pace of DevOps with live code pushed to production servers and applications. This phase reduces the need for scheduled releases and with increasing use of containerization controlled through configuration management tools, it can reduce the team workload.

5. Continuous monitoring

Application performance monitoring ensures each product works as expected, ensuring security and availability across the business and to users. Data is gathered to see where each application can be improved in performance and usability terms, as well as identifying technical errors across new networks, servers or endpoints.

6. Continuous feedback

The feedback phase sees all the information from monitoring and other phases shared among the DevOps teams to understand any existing or potential issues, with a focus on rapid resolution. Users can also give feedback on improvements they would like to see in future versions of the application.

7. Continuous operations

All the previous phases culminate here, with the wheels always in motion across all phases, working together in short and productive cycles to deliver the strongest business results and the best use of the DevOps team’s time. This ensures DevOps metrics add up, and formal oversight ensures DevOps is delivering operational results.

DevOps best practices

As with any enterprise IT-focused effort, best practices must be based on clear business goals, a strong understanding of the existing systems and the adoption of suitable tools to deliver the best results.

DevOps efforts should be based around a strategy roadmap that puts the right people, teams, technology and infrastructure in place. Cross-functional teams will provide the input on how to build the DevOps operation, establish best practices and assign responsibilities and deliverables.

To ensure your DevOps is a success, consider the following elements:

1. Agile project management

If the business has an existing Agile project team, look to base the DevOps project around the strongest features of Agile, including Scrum or Kanban to solve pressing business issues and create a workflow that supports the strategy.

2. Develop a collaborative culture

Most business units in modern enterprises are designed to be collaborative by nature based around the digital collaborative tools and applications they use. However, some areas can be resistant to change or hard to integrate thanks to data silos or reporting constraints. DevOps can be used to improve collaboration and eliminate silos between the key teams of developers, operations and QA, along with the wider end users across the business.

3. Shift left with CI/CD

To shift left refers to the effort that ensures security, QA and usability are enshrined in the early stages of any DevOps effort, rather than being left to the end where they can be omitted or rushed as an oversight. In today’s IT landscape security can’t be ignored, from encryption to risk of data leaks while users will simply avoid any poorly designed or low-quality apps or features.  

4. Adopt the right tools

DevOps has become the standard methodology for businesses, and there’s a huge range of tools, suites and systems that can be crafted into the ideal DevOps toolchain that meets the needs of the teams and business. As with your own applications, these are regularly infused with new features to improve usability and to enable DevOps teams to be more efficient.

5. Deploy automation

As with many areas of IT, automation is rapidly taking over to improve efficiency as data sets and applications become larger and the staggering number of variables or inputs grows in industrial applications. DevOps and automation go hand in hand in speeding up the processes and cycles, as part of the continuous path to better applications.

6. Monitor the DevOps pipeline and track the right metrics

With so much activity taking place in the DevOps pipeline, management and the business leadership will want to see value and progress being made. A series of DevOps KPIs will help track progress and identify any issues.

As with each of the phases, there’s a range of DevOps monitoring tools available to ensure that each is observable, easy to analyze and can adapt as applications grow or change.

Final thoughts

DevOps is already a firm part of the digital business landscape, enabling enterprises and high-growth companies to build the products they need for internal or customer use that will deliver results in the as-a-service economy. But DevOps itself is not standing still, with a move to DevSecOps truly making it a cornerstone of applications in the high-threat environment that most businesses operate in.

New features will continue to arrive as the future of DevOps focuses on addressing the needs of users across the Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities and digital business in any industry – especially as artificial intelligence becomes a key feature of most apps, and with the power of quantum computing around the corner.

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