How to implement DevOps automation in your business?
If you’ve ever thought “we need to deploy features and updates quicker”, the answer is probably DevOps automation. Automating a chunk of previously manual IT work is a tricky process that you’ll need to plan carefully, potentially using external DevOps consulting services for best effect.
Is it worth it? When implemented well, absolutely.
If the ability to deploy in hours, proactively fix user pain points issues and reduce human-related error in your deployment processes is the dream, read on. Below, we’ve outlined everything you need to know about DevOps automation, the tools you’ll need and what services to look for.
What is DevOps?
Top level definition: DevOps expands agile working principles outwards from your product/development teams to include your IT operations team.
When you implement DevOps well, all those productivity benefits you see from Agile working methods – short, sharp sprints, continuous delivery and more – become even more pronounced. You might be able to deploy a couple of times a week with a pure Agile approach; if you extend that with DevOps you can deploy several times a day.
How? It’s all about the DevOps principle of Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment. That’s a bit of a mouthful, so it’s normally abbreviated to CI/CD.
Traditional methodologies run these phases one after the other. To speed things up and bypass potential blockers elsewhere in the business, a DevOps approach runs them concurrently. For this to happen, you’ll need to find the right automation tools and invest in modernizing your infrastructure.
Why is DevOps automation so important right now?
You’ve been running Agile a while. It works fine. Why risk disrupting everything now?
That’s not a throwaway rhetorical question – it’s 100% what you should be asking yourself. No change is without risk, and you should always way up the costs and benefits of any major upheaval against the disruption it could cause.
Our take is that DevOps is the only methodology you can implement that will actually keep you ahead of the competition, rather than just keeping up with it.
It’s worth stating again: DevOps allows you to deploy several times per day.
Think of the UX benefits that offers – and the potential gains in overall customer experience as a result – are huge. Right now, that’s a major advantage indeed.
Currently, the market is saturated with SaaS and cloud-based software tools. With monthly subscriptions now very much the norm, it’s never been easier for customers to switch to a rival if they’re frustrated with your product, or even if a rival is getting those exciting new features out ahead of you. A great user experience is now essential in building your customer base and keeping them with you in the long term.
DevOps automation allows you to test more extensively, proactively identify areas that users aren’t getting on with and reduce human errors in the deployment process significantly. Alongside this, you can release great new features faster and free up your IT team to focus on complex tasks.
The result: a significantly improved UX that will keep your customers coming back, despite a range of other options being available.
What DevOps automation tools do I need?
DevOps automation isn’t really about any one process or tool in particular. There’s no such thing as a single DevOps automation platform you can implement that will take care of everything. Instead, DevOps automation is achieved through implementing a host of different tools, each with a specific purpose. These include:
- Containerization software (e.g. Docker, Kubernetes): removes slowdowns and errors caused by building in one environment and launching into another by creating portable ‘containers’ for code.
- Automated testing tools (e.g. Jenkins): eliminate slowdowns caused by manual testing and debugging processes to speed up deployment.
- Continuous monitoring tools (e.g. AppDynamics, RayGun): proactively identify bugs and pain points in your product so you can fix them quickly.
- Infrastructure management tools (e.g. Puppet, Chef): automate low-level infrastructure management and reduces human error, so your IT ops team can refocus their time on activities that add more value.
How to create a DevOps implementation plan?
Implementing an entirely new methodology held up by numerous different types of software can sound intimidating.
We’re not going to lie – if you’re starting from scratch, it’s a big job. Equally, the same broad change management principles apply as they do for any project. Spend time nailing down your requirements, break large phases down into smaller tasks, and commit to measuring your success. You’ll get there.
This will vary from business to business, but a rough structure for your DevOps implementation might look something like:
- Defining your project requirements
- Onboarding the right expertise and creating a budget
- Building a project timeline
- Identifying and measuring key KPIs
- Ask for feedback
You can read our full, step-by-step breakdown of each of these steps here. Below, we’ve created a quick DevOps automation cheat sheet with specific hints and tips for each stage of your implementation.
The requirements gathering phase
Day to day, DevOps is mainly going to affect your product, design, development and IT operations teams – but it has an impact far wider than that.
DevOps offers deployment speeds that have never been possible before, and that’s going to have a ripple effect across many other parts of your business. If you’re releasing new products or features at the rate of knots, you might need to check in with customer service, marketing and more to help them up the pace.
Building a team and a budget
There are DevOps engineers and DevOps engineers. Whilst it can be tempting to hire one or two very good generalists and hope that will see you through, a specialist can be worth their weight in gold when the technical aspects of implementation roll around.
Spend some time looking at your requirements and who you need to fulfill them. You might need some or all of the following specialist DevOps engineers.
- Release manager: oversees the planning, scheduling, controlling, and release of a software build.
- Automation expert: fairly self-explanatory. The go-to person for all things automation-related.
- Software tester: responsible for all DevOps-related software testing.
- QA lead: ensures quality and adherence to standards across the DevOps function.
- SecDevOps engineer: takes the lead on embedding the appropriate security measures into your release cycle and across all other DevOps processes.
If you’re really unsure what you need here, you can always bring a DevOps consultant onboard earlier in the process. They’ll be able to help you figure out what you need in terms of requirements and advise on the kind of hires you need to achieve these.
Our top tip: overestimate, overestimate, overestimate.
Obviously, don’t be cynical. Adding huge swathes of time to your project might make higher-ups question its viability (not to mention the extra budget a longer budget would require).
Equally, DevOps is a complex implementation with several tricky technical components. Those extra couple of days or weeks could be the difference between a confident team delivering on time and a stressed team desperately trying to claw back overruns.
Identifying and measuring KPIs
By all means build targets into your implementation plan, but see them as a guide to keep you on track, rather than an imperative that must be met at all costs. There’s such a thing as getting too hung-up on numbers, particularly in the early stages whilst everyone’s getting used to new ways of working and there’s potential for efficiency slowdowns as a result.
In terms of what sort of KPIs you should be measuring, aim for a mix of:
- Budgetary: are you spending less whilst doing more?
- Time-centered: are you getting releases out quicker?
- UX-centered: are your users completing more actions in app with fewer drop offs?
- CX-centered: are your customer service agents getting complaints about app errors?
- People-centered: has automation given your teams time to focus on value-add tasks?
Asking for feedback
Ask for feedback before, during and after each implementation stage, and build in time to tweak anything that isn’t quite right. Creating a stakeholder panel is a great way to build a balanced source of feedback that represents the business as a whole.
We’d love to say, as developers, that tech behaves as you expect it to 100% of the time, but we all know that would be optimistic at best and extremely disingenuous at worst. Often it’s not an open and shut case of whether it works or not – it’s whether it works for you. Having time set aside to check in with your IT teams can help you identify customizations that result in major efficiency gains in the long term.
What sort of DevOps automation services exist?
However you run your implementation, your teams need to live with DevOps as your long-term in-house methodology.
In other words, DevOps automation isn’t something you can completely outsource and check in on every few months. It needs active involvement from within your organization from day one. Outsourced expertise can be a fantastic investment alongside this organizational commitment, but it doesn’t cancel the need for it.
In terms of what you should look for here, you have a couple of options:
- Third-party DevOps consultancy: DevOps consultants oversee the implementation process, offer input on requirements gathering and act as independent advisers free from the constraints of company politics.
- Freelance DevOps engineers: DevOps engineers fulfill specific roles related to the technical implementation of automation tools and processes.
Getting external experts to assist your DevOps implementation can offer huge advantages. Here are the big ones.
Experience on a wide range of projects
DevOps consultants have seen it all. Having worked across a wide range of businesses, they see many different approaches to implementation, and will be able to make recommendations based on this.
As external workers that are contracted into your team, DevOps consultants can operate and make recommendations without the pressure of company hierarchy or expectations. A fresh pair of eyes can notice often overlooked requirements or opportunities that make all the difference.
No long-term cost for niche skill sets or extra hands
You may come across tasks during implementation that won’t be an ongoing concern. There may also be areas that you want to train your existing team to handle in the long term (or hire in for) but lack the ability to handle immediately.
In these instances, outsourcing to external DevOps engineers is a great way to get the ball rolling without delaying the implementation for training or making new hires. And, if your internal team is involved in the project, it’s a great way to pick up some new skills!
Ability to tap into a global network of talent
DevOps consultants and engineers come with their own networks of expertise that you can tap into. If you’re looking to scale a team quickly, these networks are invaluable in finding the right people for the job. If you are looking to make in-house hires, outsourced Devops professionals might be able to help you out with some leads too.
Ongoing framework management
Your employees will need to work with the DevOps methodology every day if you want to realize its benefits – but a lot of the maintenance can be managed externally if needed. If you haven’t got the capacity to manage in house or simply don’t want to, DevOps consultants can take a continuous role in managing, monitoring and maintaining the frameworks they implement.
DevOps consulting with Tivix
At Tivix, we’ve consulted on a wide range of DevOps projects for major Fortune 500 companies and hotly-tipped startups alike. Our DevOps automation services get you where you need to be to reap the benefits of CI/CD – with ongoing support and maintenance where needed.
Got a project going? Get in touch to see how our friendly and knowledgeable team could help.