An Introduction to DevOps and its Tools

DevOps is a set of practices with the goal of making the development lifecycle of a system – a software, an application, an update – shorter and better in terms of quality, as it increases reliability in terms of uptime or performance, for example. It combines software development and IT operations departments to provide a continuous delivery of improvements to businesses systems, applications and environments required by business users. 

In a DevOps culture, shared responsibility is encouraged through closer collaboration. New types of roles are required to keep development teams engaged throughout the operation and maintenance of a system. If silos are broken, developers share the responsibility of looking after a system over its entire lifetime. Developers start to identify ways to simplify deployment and improve performance logging.   

DevOps culture blurs the line between the roles of developer and operations staff and may eventually eliminate the distinction. Understanding this means that some organizational shifts are needed to align operational structures to this new culture. 

However, as it is with many things in this world, there are the good and the bad sides. As much of a great strategy as it is, the challenges of DevOps are still there. The roadblock is adaptation – teams need to understand DevOps and adapt to it efficiently – even if few people or smaller teams understand it and implement it alone, their success will be a demonstration of what DevOps can do to an organization and set the example for the other teams. 

If, by any chance, team members were already siloed for whatever reason before DevOps was implemented, it will be difficult to establish solid connections among them. Jumping straight to tools without first changing this internal culture also turns out to be an issue – the foundation needs to be well built first before other steps are put into practice. Other points to consider before transitioning to a DevOps culture are related to open communication, normalization of mistakes, continuous integration and delivery, and a new mindset and new toolchain. 

Open communication is essential for a team to excel on their cultural shift, deliver requirements faster and run iterations efficiently – when developers write and deploy code, open communication allows them to avoid mistakes. However, errors are common and can still happen regardless. Teams can put a lot of pressure on themselves in order to meet criteria but, by following perfection incessantly, it will certainly be difficult to find new approaches to solve issues or develop new features. A DevOps team should not fear mistakes! We all commit errors, and developers are no exception.  

Such pressure lingers because DevOps requires old problems to be fixed with new approaches. The new mindset approach aims to change a siloed team into a group that deploys and operates applications throughout their entire lifecycle. A set of toolchains that sustain this integration and deployment is essential.  

Continuous Integration and Delivery are essential steps of a DevOps culture. Integration automates code changes in a project, extending it throughout an entire organization. Delivery brings different teams together to bring a product to life. Continuous Deployment is not very used in smaller companies, however still important – such code changes are deployed to production, giving teams the chance to attend to customers’ demands faster. 

It is important to understand each phase of the system’s lifecycle: 

 

Continuous Integration

Integration to code changes is automated in this phase, throughout an entire organization – and not just development. This way, different teams can coordinate when different features are to be launched, which fixes must be done and who is responsible for what. 

Continuous Delivery 

This process permits the code changes to be deployed, either in bits and pieces to customers or hidden, being able to move around easily regardless. With this, a team can easily see market and customers’ demands, and respond to them by deploying features that were validated thanks to their feedback.

In this article, we first provided a brief introduction of what DevOps is. However, that is quite incomplete if we do not mention the importance of a DevOps toolchain

With an updated toolchain, it is no secret that teams can perform the different stages of DevOps better. However, a software that supports Continuous Integration and Deployment is of utmost importance. Once there is a workflow that tests and deploys applications codes efficiently, based on the demands of the market, then it becomes clear for a team to see the benefits DevOps practices can present them with. 

As Atlassian has pointed out in this article (and in many others we tagged here and will tag in future blogs), DevOps tools are defined as a set of practices that combines software development and IT operations. It is complementary with Agile and aims to shorten the systems’ development lifecycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality. 

Since DevOps is a cultural shift where development and operations work as an integrated unit, there isn’t a single tool that enables DevOps principles and practices – instead, DevOps entails changing the siloed process of programmers writing application code and "throwing it over the wall" to an operations team who deploys and operates the application.  

For a DevOps team, having a toolchain that is in accordance with all the different phases of the software’s lifecycle is essential. But that is not all that has to be considered – organizations must provide their teams with tools that will increase their collaboration and improve automation so the software monitoring can happen faster. A toolchain can either be open, customized for the needs of a team within different tools, or all-in-one – offering a solution that does not need to integrate with others. 

Version Control 

With features, come changes to computers and everything that is stored on them – programs, document folders and files, large websites, etc. Any of these changes is automatically tracked, and their access can be given to many clients, on what is known as a centralized version. It is easy to understand and to get started in to and possess more control over users. 

A decentralized version offers a repository copy for each user, which reduces conflict and, consequently, is faster and does not require the need for a server. It also has a more detailed tracking and a reliable merging of code. 

Container Management 

Container Management is the process for automating containers – from their creation to their deployment and scaling stages. Containers are “packages” from an app and its dependencies all together – in a “container”, it becomes easy to manage an app and its develop and deployment. Containers are easy to set up and administer. At a large scale, Container Management facilitates the addition and organization of several of these apps simultaneously.  

Performance Monitoring 

In this phase, tools are used to analyze how applications are running in the cloud. Pretty straightforward, this step is for teams to trace and fix any irregularities with infrastructure in the clouds. 

Deployment 

It releases code for automated testing and production. When teams are aware of fixes and features, they can deploy those faster, consequently making updates available to users frequently and, therefore, increasing the value of the product. 

Configuration Management 

This management makes sure systems are consistent and performing well as they should, despite any changes or updates that might be tracked or controlled. 

Deployment Automation 

This step allows organizations to release features faster while limiting human intervention in the software. Applications can be deployed within the process, developed and modeled across different environments in deployment and production. 

Each phase of a system’s lifecycle is performed thanks to one or several tools. 

Continuous Integration, as pointed out, is the very first step of the process, and many tools used for it are also used for the second step – Continuous Delivery. The most commonly used is Jenkins. This automation server is easy to install, supports build-up steps and has a user-friendly interface. Another good server is Git, used for different stages of development. 

Version Control has tools for its different models – centralized and decentralized. When centralized, there’s only one repository where every user has access to, and the tool Subversion is a good option for it due to being simple to use. If a company opts to have a decentralized version control (meaning several copies of the repository are available individually), the most used tools are Mercurial and Git. 

The most common Container Management tool is Kubernetes. It manages the passwords, tokens and encrypted connections from an organization. This tool is easy and simple to use, and became popular once DevOps started to be embraced. 

In Performance Monitoring, Application Performance Monitoring (APM) is the name given to the industry responsible for monitoring the cloud, by making use of a number of tools that support code-level performance, software programs, monitor user-experience, tracks database operations – and so on. A few examples of tools are: Traceview, Datadog APM, Opsview, Dynatrace, and others. 

For the Deployment stage, it is important for a team to possess tools that will smooth updated and distribution in the software, so developers can focus more on other relevant tasks, changes or projects.  Jenkins also enters in this stage, as it is easy to set-up. Another good tool is AWS, developed by Amazon – it offers rapid deployments, is easy to launch, and works well with any application. 

In Configuration Management and its role of making sure system changes are up and running smoothly, tools must make deployment run faster and remove margin for human error. Some examples of tools include: CFEngine, SolarWinds and Puppet – they all are open-source and easy to understand. 

And, finally, Deployment Automation. This final step of a system’s lifecycle requires tools that allow teams to automate within the system’s lifecycle and eliminate silos with faster deployments. Some examples of tools are Jenkins once again, along with BuildMaster, IBM’s Urban Code, or Amazon’s AWS. 

By choosing its DevOps toolchain, an organization can address the goals of each phase of a system’s lifecycle. The different tools required for each different step are there to plan, build, monitor and operate, and provide continuous feedback and CI/CD.  

When a team goes through these different phases of planning well how a system’s lifecycle is to be built, monitored and finally operated thanks to a customer feedback that allows to faster integration and deployment – that is when an organization know it has implemented DevOps effectively.  

DevOps can be a great change of scenery and habits for teams to get used to, as fully embracing such practices requires a shift of how people use to work – DevOps is a cultural shift, after all! Change can be a difficult path to take, but necessary anyways. If the goals and objectives a business has in regard to this change are not communicated clearly, it can be difficult for a team to put in the work efficiently.  

Once the benefits of DevOps are communicated and understood, then the cultural shift can not only be implemented, but also help a company thrive. When DevOps is successfully implemented in an organization, collaboration, communication and transparency among a team increases – making a company succeed in all its goals. 

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