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Demystify the DevOps process, step by step

While varying definitions and vendor marketing spins can make the meaning of DevOps tough to nail down, there are concrete principles and processes that underpin the methodology.

DevOps breaks down the silos between development and IT operations teams. As a methodology, it enables an IT organization to serve its customers, secure its software and bring applications to market more efficiently.

But as DevOps grows in popularity, so does the marketing spin around it; every systems integrator and tool vendor puts a unique spin on DevOps to attract customers -- which can obfuscate the true definition.

The DevOps process demands close collaboration between operations and development teams in each phase of the service lifecycle from design through development to production. You can't go online and order DevOps. It's not a product; it's a cultural movement. A lack of silos between teams necessarily changes the working relationships between them to build trust and mutual benefit.

Let's walk through the core principles of DevOps, and the key stages that comprise the DevOps process.

DevOps principles

There are seven principles that form the foundation of DevOps:

  1. Maintain version control on all production artifacts: Both development and IT ops teams must place their production artifacts under a centralized version control system.
  2. Implement CI/CD: Teams deliver software updates and patches continuously, rather than on a calendar-driven deadline.
  3. Automate acceptance testing of executable specifications of the system's behavior.
  4. Enforce peer review processes: Testers, developers and system administrators must review production changes collaboratively via a documented and systematic approach.
  5. Create a culture of high trust: No one should be afraid to ask hard questions, get into arguments and be accountable -- because the fear of reprisal no longer exists.
  6. Instate proactive monitoring practices in the production environment: Provide stakeholders and all other vested parties with tailored reporting and alerts based on the configuration of the monitoring tools you have in place.
  7. Foster win-win relationships between dev and ops: Everybody is on one team. Neither development nor IT operations can succeed on its own.

To reach these principles in practice often requires that the organization bring in an outside party to set its IT teams on the right path. Regardless, no team or stakeholder can reach these levels alone. Management teams must set a collaborative tone for all involved.

Break down the DevOps process

DevOps involves a delivery pipeline that enables teams to develop and release software continuously and make necessary security and feature updates without delay. Some industry professionals use the term DevOps infinity loop to describe the continuous integration and development process. There's no waterfall or final phase when product iteration is continuous.

DevOps infinity loop
The DevOps infinity loop represents the continuous integration and development process.

However, it's up to each individual organization to craft its own DevOps infinity loop: Take time to plan and document processes. And don't hesitate to iterate on those processes if something isn't working.

To inform your own DevOps implementation, here's a look at the key phases typically involved.

Planning. This stage is where development and IT operations teams -- along with other stakeholders -- determine the set of features desired, accompanied by an iteration value and criteria for each project phase. Developers, system administrators, product management, marketing staff and technical writers all need a seat at the table to collaborate on the development plan.

Project plans should reside in a secure, centralized repository, such as Atlassian Jira or Confluence. And every team member should have access to the project plans at any time from any place.

Code and build. Some teams treat code and build as separate phases. Determine what works best for your organization. Don't be afraid to iterate on these elements of your DevOps process, depending on staffing availability and other project factors.

In the code phase, developers perform their assigned coding work. When they complete their tasks, they check their work into a centralized source code repository, such as GitLab or GitHub, which must serve as the single source of truth for code.

The build phase entails software code retrieval from the centralized repository through an automated tool like Chef or Puppet. This automation tool compiles the software code into a binary artifact, executes functional tests and publishes the artifact into a shared centralized repository.

Continuous integration. Continuous integration is a practice through which development teams merge code into a central repository. Organizations automate tasks like code reviews, validation and testing.

DevOps eliminates the all-hands-on-deck manual process at the end of the development cycle.

Testing. DevOps testing balances on smart automation -- but it won't replace the human testers on the software development team. Automation enables developers to achieve continuous testing via tools such as Selenium or JUnit to test multiple codebases in parallel. An automated testing strategy ensures that there are no flaws in an application's functionality.

Automated testing also produces detailed reports about the codebase. An organization's stakeholders can use this reporting to gain insights into the development cycle and product maturity.

Continuous deployment. DevOps eliminates the all-hands-on-deck manual process at the end of the development cycle. Instead, with continuous deployment, every code change goes through the entire pipeline and into production automatically. An organization can schedule as many deployments per day as it needs, based on the requirements and velocity of its team.

Operations. In this phase of the DevOps process, IT admins manage software during production. Tools such as Ansible, Puppet, PowerShell, Chef, Salt and Otter provide the necessary management and data collection capabilities, as well as operational views into production applications.

Continuous monitoring. Development and operations teams should continually monitor their production applications. All groups need a view into the application's health. Additionally, install collaboration and communication channels to alert all teams to production issues as they occur.

Popular monitoring tools for this phase include New Relic, Datadog, Grafana, Wireshark, Splunk and Nagios.

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