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DevOps: Main challenges and their solutions

Posted by Hans Ashlock February 3, 2016
DevOps: Main challenges and their solutions

DevOps can sometimes come off as a nebulous concept, one that spans a lot of technical as well as cultural ground. The basic principles of DevOps such as cross-departmental collaboration (the name is a portmanteau of "devtest" and "operations," after all) are usually framed as complements to technical tools such as test lab management platforms and environment-as-a-service solutions.

The ideal DevOps implementation will draw upon these capabilities to streamline the software development cycle and ultimately deliver increased business agility. Whether this actually happens in practice, however, is another matter entirely. There are many potential roadblocks to DevOps success, including unchecked use of software-as-a-service tools, difficult integration of cloud and legacy applications and confusion over who "owns" and directs the new culture.

DevOps as a way to boost the bottom line
While DevOps can seem a bit murky, its benefits to IT organizations when implemented well have become increasingly clear. For example, a 2015 report from CA Technologies and Vanson Bourne, surveying more than 1,400 senior IT and business leaders worldwide, found that DevOps can be a big boost to the bottom line:

  • Nearly 90 percent of respondents reported having a DevOps strategy already in place or in the works.
  • U.S. organizations reported an estimated 27 percent increase in inter-departmental collaboration, a 26 percent reduction in application maintenance time and a 25 percent uptick in the number of customers, services and applications they oversaw.
  • Another widely reported benefit was the ability to deploy software more rapidly and also make it available across as many platforms as needed.
  • Over one-third of respondents that reported faster than average growth in revenue cited DevOps as a contributor to their advantageous positions.
  • The main drivers of DevOps uptakes for these companies included improvement of application quality (44 percent) and ability to offer superior end user experiences (42 percent).

At the same time, the most widely cited challenges with DevOps were organizational complexity and concerns about security. A 2015 Wall Street Journal article from Rachael King echoed similar worries observed by DevOps experts such as Gene Kim. Agile companies such as Netflix have navigated this particular difficulty by developing custom monitoring tools that support DevOps automation workflows.

"We have to make humans more effective via automated decision-making, automated data gathering and analysis," Jason Chan of Netflix told the Journal. "You really need to help get what's most important in front of people as quickly and easily as possible, so you're using your human resources as effectively as possible."

What else stands in the way of DevOps?
Returning to where we started - i.e., DevOps as a nebulous term that can mean different things depending on the audience in question - we can see a few other DevOps issues in addition to security. These obstacles can impede the adoption of technical and cultural change that, as we saw in the above survey results, can unlock real benefits for IT organizations.

Addressing both legacy and cloud infrastructure
For starters, DevOps is not implemented into a vacuum at many places. Legacy applications and accompanying methodologies for managing their lifecycles do not magically go away when DevOps first enters the picture. Making everything work in concert can be a tough balancing act, especially at the beginning.

"Implementing infrastructure-as-a-service is often a good start to supporting older applications."

Organizations need to give self-service access to both legacy and next-generation applications and will often need to give access to just more than VMs. A cloud sandbox platform, like QualiSystem's CloudShell, allows modeling and provisioning a mix of physical, virtual, and legacy components giving end users access to sandbox environments that have all the infrastructure and resources they need. Self-service sandbox portals and easy environment provisioning and teardown are huge leaps over the manual alternatives.

DevOps tool sprawl
Beyond legacy-cloud integration, there is the growing problem of DevOps tool sprawl. The misguided idea that DevOps is mostly about implementing new apps or platforms has lead to a proliferation of various solutions that may or may not be easy to integrate. Tool management and delegation need to be tackled early on during any shift to DevOps

Cultural control at DevOps organizations
DevOps is meant to tear down organizational silos, but it has the potential to do just the opposite. That is, increased emphasis on programmable interfaces and technical skills can isolate network engineers and others accustomed to older operational models.

DevOps tools have proliferated in recent years.DevOps tools have proliferated in recent years.

The question then becomes who is in charge of the DevOps culture. Operations and devtest must be careful in how they assign responsibilities and integrate new and old practices in the drive toward DevOps. A balanced approach should be pursued, leveraging tools like CloudShell that can automate all aspects of the DevOps lifecycle as well as the full range of legacy, physical, virtual and cloud infrastructure.

The takeaway: DevOps can seem vague and vast, yet it has the potential to deliver many tangible benefits to IT organizations adopting it. However, security, tool management and cultural practices all remain concerns when putting DevOps into place, especially early on in the transition. A mix of versatile tools and collaboration is essential for overcoming these challenges.

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