What DevOps Automation in the Cloud means for business
In today’s highly competitive business world, digital transformation is imperative for both business sustainability and scaling up. Although DevOps automation and cloud technology were utilized towards that goal, they were two separate practices for most businesses; until recently. As the benefits of using DevOps automation for projects deployed in the cloud became more and more evident, these two aspects have become inseparable.
While the cloud is about breakthrough services, DevOps automation is about teams and how they collaborate for optimal results. Hence, when combined, they open the door of endless possibilities, and innovation.
To that end, it’s important to understand how DevOps automation and the cloud work together to help modern businesses achieve their goals.
What is DevOps automation?
DevOps automation, as its name denotes, is automating DevOps tasks to speed up — and streamline — the application lifecycle; while providing continuous delivery of high-quality software. In conjunction with the organizational culture mindset of smooth, cross-team collaboration, DevOps automation breaks down the barriers placed by traditional software development, and infrastructure management processes.
Understanding the DevOps process flow
Above all, the DevOps process flow is driven by the need for automation and agility. With this in mind, each phase in the ceaseless DevOps loop serves as a connecting dot between Development and IT Operations teams, swiftly taking production through a CI/CD (Continuous Integration / Continuous Development) pipeline. To highlight, the DevOps process includes, in order:
Evidently, the first part of the process has to do with task management and schedules. It’s when the teams start putting tasks in order and setting up schedules, drawing from the Αgile methodology. This allows both the development and operations teams to understand what needs to be developed, when, how and why.
This is where developers create and review their code, using source code management tools. When the code is ready, they merge it to their production environment.
In this step, the teams initiate the DevOps automation mechanism, aiming to quickly build the source code into the desired format; while compiling, testing, and deploying it in the infrastructure. Once this step is complete, CI/CD and version control tools run checks, to verify the source code and build status.
Continuous testing is a necessary part of the process, as it minimizes risks and determines performance. As a rule of thumb, it’s important to implement testing tools in the workflow, to ensure a bug-free implementation, and the best possible quality of software.
When the code passes the testing phase it gets prepared to be deployed for end-users to use. However, before that, the code needs to go through a change management process, to ensure its releasability. The release phase is a critical part of the process, as it improves deployment efficiency and secures standardization.
After the change management process, the team prepares for the last phase in the deployment process, the pre-deployment staging. If everything goes according to plan, the new release gets deployed in the production rollout. Yet, this will not be the end of the code. In the world of DevOps, codes are configured and go through roll back deployments, for as long as there is use for them.
Once the code is live, it’s the operations team’s turn to take things in hand and ensure that everything runs smoothly. For this reason, the Ops team performs all the necessary tasks, from orchestration to monitoring; thus, confirming that the infrastructure is secure and scalable.
This is the (let’s call it) ‘last’ part of the DevOps process, calling for service performance monitoring to fix incidents and improve end-user experience. During the monitoring phase, the team hinges upon customer feedback, provided in the previous step. The team collects data and runs analytics on customer behavior, performance, errors, etc.; finally, feeds all the information back to the development team.
Naturally, after the completion of the process, the DevOps team starts all over again, creating a new feature for a software application every time. In this regard, it is not by chance that the DevOps process is pictured as an infinite loop. Likewise, the product continuously evolves, throughout its lifespan, until it’s not necessary anymore.
Tools to automate every aspect of DevOps
The implementation of DevOps automation heavily depends on tools to cover every area of the systems development lifecycle. Luckily, there are several tools out there — commercial and open-source — that help automate every phase of DevOps. Below, is a non-exhaustive list of the most popular DevOps tools or services; to name a few:
Team collaboration and feedback:
- Docker (with Dockerfiles)
- Apache JMeter
- Docker (with docker run and compose)
- AWS CloudFormation
Logging & monitoring
- Kibana (in the context of ELK)
DevOps automation as a solution
More than ever, daily business reality calls for DevOps efficiency; and, this is achieved through high-speed processes, and smooth collaboration between development and operations teams. Yet, the fact that this goal requires an inter-team effort to work, often causes many issues along the way. That’s what DevOps automation is here to solve.
DevOps automation practices were born out of the challenges faced by organizations all over the world, in helping silo-ed departments to work together towards making better decisions, fast. It’s a multifaceted effort that brings together different philosophies, to help improve efficiency and transparency across the development and operations teams; thus, allowing for faster product implementations and iterations. As a result, teams can offer software-related products in a competitive and sustainable fashion.
What role does the cloud play in DevOps automation?
On a practical level, the cloud provides the necessary tools and infrastructure for implementing and streamlining DevOps automation practices. Apart from this, it enables different teams to collaborate, without treading on each other’s field of expertise, during the complex process of software development.
What’s more, being in the cloud minimizes the need for physical hardware support — along with all the complexities that derive from it; hence, it helps simplify the development process. Be that as it may, this allows teams to perform tests, make iterations, and experiment with creative and innovative ideas.
At the same time, it helps reduce costs, mainly due to the on-demand service for cloud-based resources. Put another way, the users only spend what they need, to develop an application and deploy it in the cloud. This is especially the case with Cloud Management Platforms, where users can easily track costs that come from deployed resources, and efficiently allocate budget.
What about DevOps automation and cloud computing?
Let’s begin by briefly defining cloud computing. So, cloud computing is the process of storing and accessing data and applications over the internet, instead of a local hard drive. Simply put, any service delivered online, falls within the field of cloud computing.
Now, cloud computing relies on virtualization and automation on the infrastructure level; and, that’s where DevOps automation comes in. To elaborate, the element of automation enables the self-service capability in the DevOps process, which, in turn, enables the end-users to employ the resources, and the services they need each time to deploy workloads fast, and efficiently.
What does this mean? Essentially, it means that with DevOps automation, teams can eliminate the delays — and inefficiencies — of the conventional software development process. It also means that teams have a solid basis for developing, testing, producing, and deploying their applications; due to the abstract nature and scalability of cloud computing.
DevOps automation as a managed cloud service
The traditional software development process, slow and challenging as it was, hampered growth in companies for years. When the Cloud came to be, companies saw an opportunity to shake things up. Evidently, the Cloud could facilitate the automation of this complex process, speeding up the application lifecycle. That’s when many companies decided to ‘migrate’ their DevOps practices to the noise-free environment of the cloud.
Indeed, development and IT operations teams soon realized that DevOps automation is a very effective Managed Cloud Service. After all, the centralized nature of a Cloud Management Platform, made it easy to solve issues arising from distributed complexity, on the spot. From that point forward, teams were able to build, deploy, and monitor — using stackable and code-ready tools — at will, accelerating time to market and, consequently, increasing ROI.
Benefits of DevOps automation in the cloud
The first benefit companies and teams notice, regarding cloud-based DevOps automation practices, is speed. That is, speed in learning, analyzing, testing, and iterating; which also translates to speed-to-market.
On one hand, speed allows companies to adapt to clients’ needs almost “proactively”, helping them grow faster; thus, driving better results at a business level. On the other hand, microservices and continuous delivery allow multi-disciplinary teams to take the reins and own the projects they’re working on; hence, making way for more frequent releases than before.
2. Swift delivery
To top it off, frequent releases get products and application services where they need to be, a lot faster. When the time comes for a new release, continuous integration and continuous delivery make for an automated process, while almost eliminating errors. The IT operations team is able to offer new features, and meet clients’ needs much more efficiently. In essence, this kind of agility provides companies with a strong competitive advantage.
3. Better collaboration
DevOps automation in the cloud naturally optimizes workflows and processes, leading to standardized practices. In turn, this contributes to establishing a streamlined communication channel across different teams.
As a result, people with very different backgrounds are able to collaborate more efficiently, combining their know-how to bring about the best possible results, per project. With teams working together in such an orchestrated way, nothing can go amiss; not only in developing software, but also in monitoring applications and systems.
An important aspect of cloud-based DevOps automation is that it can help eliminate the possibility of human error. DevOps teams can therefore be in control of their infrastructures and monitor updates consistently.
That said, they can deliver new releases more often, and reliably. Continuous integration and continuous delivery help test each change made for the new release, making sure it’s functioning as expected; therefore, it’s safe to be implemented.
Monitoring and logging provide real-time information, regarding the way applications — and infrastructure — are performing. In the final analysis, when reliability is a constant value, teams are able to work on new creative projects.
Using DevOps automation, teams can manage the development of infrastructure and processes at scale. It makes for consistent results and reduces the risk of managing or changing a company’s systems inefficiently. Infrastructure as a Code (IaaC) is a great way to manage the entire set of environments, consistently and efficiently.
By extension, better control over infrastructure and processes means a better way to preserve compliance. Automation for compliance policies, fine-grain control, and configuration management is probably the way to go. Both Infrastructure as a Code and Policy as a Code will help companies track any type of compliance, at any scale required.
Meaningful digital transformation
The continuing evolution of DevOps naturally prompted its implementation into cloud-based architecture; all the more so, in recent years, when business is shifting towards scalable digital technologies.
Despite the fact that teams and companies are only just beginning to understand the interdependent relationship between DevOps solutions and the Cloud, the benefits from their merger are already evident. To point out, the road to an effective Cloud passes through DevOps automation; likewise, DevOps automation can only go so far, without the Cloud. This newfound realization opens up a world of possibilities for companies aiming to grow in the digital era.
And, that’s where the real value of DevOps automation in the Cloud lies: in its ability to drive meaningful digital transformation that has the power to directly impact business goals.