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Jenkins devs prep Blue Ocean, a sea change in DevOps deployment tools

What do Jenkins, Ansible Tower and New Relic have in common, besides being parts of a DevOps toolchain? A new appeal to an audience beyond IT.

The Jenkins open-source community will soon launch the first version of the Blue Ocean user interface, and they're not alone as they push to broaden the appeal of the software beyond hardcore coders.

In fact, DevOps deployment tools industry-wide have undergone user experience polishing and additions that encourage business and IT to collaborate. Tools from Red Hat and New Relic have also seen user experience improvements this month as business managers join DevOps teams to improve product release cycles.

Jenkins Blue Ocean, which was released into beta last September, has a user interface (UI) designed to streamline and improve accessibility of the popular but persnickety continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) software, according to the Jenkins Blue Ocean website.

Blue Ocean includes customizable versions of the Jenkins UI to suit various roles in a DevOps team, as well as a visual interface to design CD pipelines. For troubleshooting, the Blue Ocean UI shows where problems have popped up in the pipeline and need attention. It slots into a DevOps workflow with the ability to accommodate projects based in GitHub and Atlassian Bitbucket.

Such features help to establish a common platform and language between DevOps engineers and the businesses they serve, industry experts said.

"Jenkins code is somewhat inaccessible, and the question is, how do we bring it to other aspects of the business that are just as important as [software] developers?" said Barton Nicholls, a solutions architect for network security company Cohesive Networks based in Chicago, and an enterprise DevOps consultant.

Typically in the DevOps world, people don't talk about tools' user interfaces and the user experience, but this will become necessary, Nicholls said.

"Otherwise, you have your Dungeons & Dragons nerds in the basement who speak one language, and your guys in nice business attire upstairs who don't speak that language," he said. "A lot of these tools hope to bridge that gap."

User experience is now a key feature for DevOps pipeline tools, a trend started by application release automation products last year, which has now spread into DevOps tools.

"We've seen a lot of DevOps concepts used in marketing automation, for instance," said Rob Stroud, an analyst at Forrester Research. "Now they can use a Jenkins toolchain, potentially, to build services and group them together."

Graphical UIs also offer a foothold for compliance auditors to review the DevOps workflow without the need to wade through code -- important to enterprise DevOps shops as they automate security and compliance best practices into application development, Stroud added.

Strong circumstantial evidence points to an imminent release of Jenkins Blue Ocean 1.0. During a presentation at Jenkins World last fall, it was disclosed that general availability would come in the first quarter of 2017, which is nearly at an end. Meanwhile, the Blue Ocean developer wiki dubs a March 6 build "the last beta." A spokesperson for CloudBees, which launched and sponsored the Blue Ocean project, declined comment on the project but indicated there would be a forthcoming announcement.

New Relic loops business managers into APM

Another area where vendors have made DevOps deployment tools more accessible is application performance monitoring (APM). New Relic, for example, recently launched company-wide dashboards and customizable alerts that offer visibility into the IT infrastructure for those unfamiliar with scripts and coding. This has boosted the product's appeal for Intelex Technologies Inc., a software company based in Toronto.

Intelex began using New Relic's APM software within its IT ops department several years ago, but now most of the company's New Relic users are outside of IT, said Ted Burton, the company's director of client support.

The ability to customize transactional views with New Relic's software allowed customer service agents to monitor specific customer sites and respond more quickly to problems. Then, account managers also began to view these customized reports. Similarly, implementation teams at customer sites now use New Relic's monitoring as they get the company's software up and running.

New Relic's recent update, which added customizable dashboards for business managers and more granular configurable alerts, continues to push its software beyond Intelex's IT department and into the hands of product managers. This will tighten the feedback loop from customer experience to further product development, Burton said.

"Where we've had the most success with New Relic is in its extension to other areas of the business besides IT," he said. "The changes they've made recently make it easier for an even wider range of people to use it."

Intelex will eventually build custom dashboards based on New Relic for customers to view, Burton said. The company is also still in the process of creating a continuous deployment process for its software internally.

Ansible Tower polishes visual configuration management tools

The march toward improved user experience in DevOps deployment tools has also reached configuration management. Here, Red Hat's Ansible Tower puts a friendly face on Ansible's command-line driven experience, and allows for schematic visual builds of linked tasks that are similar in look and feel to Blue Ocean's pipeline editor.

"As a nerdy guy, I don't need to buy into the Ansible Tower licensing to do what I need to do with Ansible," Nicholls said. "What they're offering is business process management, as well as the ability to delegate tasks to lower-level engineers or devs who may not know how to do them programmatically."

Ansible Tower also uses YAML, a familiar utility to Linux admins, as opposed to other configuration management tools that use Ruby and Python languages and require a steeper learning curve, Stroud said. Such a tool can allow a company to deploy its most expensive developer resources where they are most needed.

But better UIs don't mean IT ops specialists won't have to learn to code, Stroud said. Such tools can act as a "placeholder" for IT ops pros as they learn, but aren't a long-term substitute for coding prowess in all aspects of IT.

"It's also just realism that we've got a skills shortage in the industry," Stroud said. "This allows enterprises the choice to redeploy existing resources while they learn new skills."

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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