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DevOps principles increase enterprise IT efficiency

A software developer with a proven track record at HP and Macys.com offers tips to make DevOps principles work for enterprise.

BOSTON -- Gary Gruver was ahead of his time when, nearly a decade ago, he used DevOps principles to alleviate congestion in the software development process at one of the world's largest printer manufacturers.

The practice known as DevOps had yet to emerge in 2007 and then was better known as agile software development.

For 20 years, the printer business at HP was being held back by its firmware; the company was not able to add a new product, new feature or capability without firmware updates. In 2007, Gruver took over HP's software development.

He described the lessons from the journey, and later success at Macys.com -- the website for Macy's department stores -- to a crowd of 30 IT pros here this week, including representatives from the financial, technology and healthcare verticals, such as State Street Corp., Citizens Bank N.A., EMC and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

"[Firmware had] been the bottleneck for the LaserJet business for two decades," he said. "HP had been going around the world trying to spend its way out of the problem," he said.

By 2008, as the recession set in, he was charged with cutting his software development budget from $100 million down to $55 million.

For the longest time I didn't know I was doing agile, I thought I was doing common sense.
Gary Gruverpresident at Practical Large Scale Agile LLC

"I was looking for anything and everything I could find to get more productive," he said.

Three years later, he had "completely re-architected" the development process and eliminated the bottleneck that had been created by firmware. He was also able to free up time for more innovation.

"Most of the organizations I work with look more like the organization I worked with before this transformation than after the transformation," he said. "For the longest time I didn't know I was doing agile, I thought I was doing common sense."

Scrum does not equal agile

One of the major factors that will make a difference in productivity in a large organization -- at one time, Gruver oversaw 800 developers -- is to apply agile principles at the executive level.

Most organizations focus on how the teams work. Teams focus on how their individual projects work, and whether they are doing stand-ups and scrums and other "agile rituals," such as releasing to customers on an ongoing basis.

If a large organization focuses on scrums, it will likely lose focus on agile principles.

"Scrum does not equal agile," he said.

The classic implementation of agility in large organizations is to continue to plan 18 months into the future, as teams do rituals such as standing up software -- but releases are not ongoing.

"The reason DevOps has come up as a term at all [is] because agile forgot this basic principle [of ongoing releases] as it scaled into the enterprise," he said.

Focus on business needs

Knowing the business objectives of your organization will help create a vision and prioritize what the company will go after during its move toward DevOps. For example, at HP, Gruver wanted to eliminate the firmware bottleneck and create capacity for innovation.

IT pros pushing toward DevOps should also understand the cost drivers and cycle-time drivers of the business.

"The journey will take a while," Gruver said.

Adoption of DevOps principles needs to be coordinated across all levels, and all teams needs to agree to use the same tools, for example.

After identifying the core business needs, the move toward DevOps should include a process to prioritize the backlog. Above all, don't forget to continue releasing to customers on an ongoing basis and get consistent feedback, he said.

"If you are working on the most important things first, releasing it to customers on an ongoing basis and you have a continuous learning process that is being led by the organization, it doesn't have to be any harder than that," he said.

Some event attendees plan to put these tips to use to get started with DevOps.

"We don't really have it in my organization, I am more interested in trying to get efficiencies on our development lifecycle and get our supported applications out faster," said Chris Flynn, a senior applications developer at Philips Lifeline, based in Framingham, Mass. He wants to automate releases and testing, because right now he sees a lot of time-consuming manual operations that are often not smooth or easy.

He hopes to implement continuous builds, and is interested in trying to get efficiencies in the development lifecycle and push supported applications out faster.

Those changes start with executive buy-in. "If you can get the executives to see the importance and benefit of it, they will give you the time to get it in there," Flynn said.

Ramesh Subramaniam, an engineering team lead at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Inc., a health insurance provider headquartered in Boston, said the monthly releases his organization delivers are a labor-intensive process involving about 40 people. It's also prone to human error.

"By using continuous delivery, I'm sure we can eliminate some errors," he said.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyperconverged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT.

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