If you’re into software or you’ve been following our DevOps and SDLC series, you’ll know that automation is crucial within DevOps. It’s the key to unlocking the true powers of DevOps, allowing teams to develop and deploy products faster. This isn’t to say that automation tools completely replace the need for humans, in some sort of post-apocalyptic world ruled by robots. Instead, automation amplifies the performance of developers by allowing them to spend less time on dull, repetitive tasks and more time on developing new features that your customers love. What’s more, is that automation actually improves the quality of software and products. So, if it’s widely accepted that automating processes is one of the most important aspects of software development and IT operations, what exactly is the role of automation within DevOps?
How to Automate
Firstly, the nature of IT departments within every industry is one of constant evolution whereby teams progressively manage more entities and projects at a more complex level. DevOps allows for easier management of these growing demands through automation. The fewer manual tasks that teams have to undertake, the more that they can focus their efforts on development. It’s important to implement automation right from the beginning of the DevOps transformation process. This will allow you to reap the benefits of the transformation early, making it an easy sell across the wider company. It will also make automating other processes further down the line much easier, with less resistance from internal teams as this attitude of automation will be well established.
When first setting out on your DevOps transformation, it can be tempting to try and automate everything at once. But you shouldn’t run before you can walk, especially if you are working within a complex ecosystem. Attempting to automate too many processes at once could result in conflicts and confusion between these newly automated tasks. Instead of diving straight in, we recommend doing a full audit of your existing environments to know exactly where you need to start automating. This DevOps best practice and baseline understanding of the internal landscape will also guide you throughout the wider journey, whilst stopping you from feeling overwhelmed by the job at hand.
It might also be tempting to start with the slowest or oldest process first but by doing so, you might be setting yourself up for failure. Automating processes within legacy environments could take you down a path to additional challenges — diminishing the overall return on your investments. They are also more likely to create a headache that might put you off automating altogether. Start small and simple, build up your confidence as a team and you’ll be able to capitalize on the benefits of automation in DevOps.
Each step of the SDLC presents multiple variables for developers to consider. From ever-changing customer needs to volatile market trends, internal business goals, and rigid compliance requirements. This can lead to bottlenecks in the software development process, leaving teams siloed with no consistent workflows. To avoid this, teams must adopt standardized processes, workflows, technologies, and protocols. Your audit will allow you to bring different teams together to decide on the best ways to collaborate and work smarter, through automation. Standardization, therefore, has a key role to play within DevOps automation strategies.
The automation of processes minimizes risk by reducing human error within repetitive tasks. Automation also minimizes risks by increasing visibility throughout the SDLC. By automating the issue tracking process, teams can keep a close eye on code changes as well as their impact on both existing issues and overall project goals. This traceability tightens the feedback loop between the various teams, allowing any code issues to be spotted and rectified straightaway.
Incident management is also eased through automation. For many organizations, keeping track of big data like logs and metrics can be overwhelming. This is where high-level incident reporting comes in. It allows developers to make sense of the infrastructure performance whilst making compelling predictions about potential issues in the future. This type of automation is necessary for teams to be able to prioritize events, spot root causes, and ultimately evolve the SDLC based on actionable intelligence. Leveraging machine data analytics in this way is crucial to advancing the DevOps workflow. Replacing outdated IT service assurance strategies with automated, software-defined IT ops will enable organizations to harness the power of DevOps.
Automating the testing process is another key factor within DevOps that helps to minimize risk, whilst boosting the overall quality of software. It’s the backbone of the standardization process which acts to increase the success rate of these efforts. As well as improving the overall quality, test automation increases the reusability and reliability of every component which ultimately saves money on maintenance and upgrades. Access to real-time, automated testing will allow teams again to focus on development which has an impact on your entire organization. All in all, test automation is great for businesses to adapt to situations in an agile way whilst increasing their growth opportunities.
This culture of automation and constant testing holds the key that opens the door to Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery. Automated continuous testing and processes allow teams to release frequent changes to customers. That’s because automation ensures that the correct tests, code changes, data, and software builds are delivered to the correct target environments within the SDLC. Automation is crucial for continuous testing and CI/CD pipelines within DevOps environments.
Beware of Over- and Under-Automating
Over-automation is a mistake that many businesses make when first embarking on their journey, as they take agile to an extreme. It’s important to remember that automation within DevOps is all about taking manual processes and using technology to make them consistently repeatable. It’s, unfortunately, not a silver bullet that’s going to fix the flaws within processes. So, if you try to automate a bad process, it will just make the process happen faster and result in automation waste — without solving the root problem.
Fixing these problems is a completely different task in itself but it will give you the best chance at a successful DevOps transformation. You’ll be able to more accurately pair your processes with the right automation tools. Now, when it comes to picking tools you might find yourself feeling like a child in a toy shop. This is also where businesses can go wrong, as they place too much focus on the automation tools than the processes themselves. They then end up with too many tools that they now need to retrofit their processes to. DevOps is not about having lots of shiny new toys, it’s about finding the best tools to automate your existing processes (and not the other way around).
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find businesses that might be stuck in their old ways and subsequently scared to take the leap into automation. This can result in under-automation, leading to these businesses missing out on the full potential of DevOps. If you find yourself having cold feet about the whole automating thing, it’s important to remember why you started your DevOps journey in the first place. And you certainly didn’t invest time and money just to stick with the same processes.
It’s key to strike a balance between over- and under-automating. This is where your audit will come in handy again, as it will include an inventory of all of your applications, data stores, and existing development processes (from design to deployment). Here, you’ll be able to take your specific requirements and DevOps KPIs into consideration. Try to implement end-to-end automation on one workflow before moving onto the next one, whilst trying to find the appropriate automation tools along the way. This will gradually remove the weakest links within your existing processes in a way that’s going to cause minimal disruption.
When it comes to the role of automation within DevOps, it’s clear that this is crucial to unlocking the full potential of a transformation on this scale. Automation allows for the standardization and improvement of processes, whilst teams can focus on development and overall business growth. As with any major business transformation, it’s important to plan before you get started. Take the time to conduct an audit…You’ll definitely thank us for this later! Patience is key and you should automate processes gradually. At its core, DevOps is all about releasing high-quality software and products to customers at a higher frequency. Automation will enable you to realize this goal.
At Snapbytes, we assist our customers by assessing their current SDLC maturity, planning the DevOps roadmap, and guiding them through this journey. We’re experts in DevOps, CI/CD, Atlassian, and custom development solutions. To find out how you and your business can benefit from DevOps practices and principles, please get in touch.