The DevOps Mindset: Best Practices

In a previous article, we defined DevOps as a mentality that allows a company to constantly enhance its value stream by adopting flexible workflows between three departments: development, operations, and QA. We also covered basic principles and foundations that need to be solid in order to successfully allow a DevOps mindset to permeate the whole of your software creation. 

Once you get the core principles right, it’s time to put them into action. In this article, we will cover key practices for implementing a sound DevOps strategy.

Continuous Automated Testing

One of the key elements of DevOps is to guarantee quality from the very beginning. The shift left principle means you need to test as early as possible and as often as possible; it is the only way to ensure quality code. This is where the QA team comes in. The more proficient these testing specialists are, the greater their assistance is when it comes to providing quality delivery support. QA’s crucial contribution is the implementation of continuous testing. 

This can be defined as the execution of end-to-end testing throughout all the existing phases of a delivery cycle and can be applied to any kind of software development. The whole purpose of continuous testing is to catch bugs as soon as possible, making it easier and cheaper to fix them. Overall, it reduces any risk to the delivery schedule and guarantees that any changes made to the code can be reliably deployed at any moment. In this way, the software becomes continuously deliverable. 

This cannot be achieved without test automation: the practice of applying tools and frameworks to write scripts that automate common testing - tests that verify the software’s functionality. By automating them, they can be run at any moment in the development pipeline. Running automated tests constantly, allows problems to be fixed as soon as they are detected, which means the resulting code will be of a much higher quality. 

Continuous Integration

As is often the case in DevOps, all practices complement and enhance each other. Continuous integration (CI) combines a set of tools, premises, and practices that allow high-quality software to be delivered faster. Bottlenecks (such as manual testing) are eliminated and the risks of technical issues appearing late in the release cycle are minimized. With CI, teams build and unit-test software every time a developer checks new code into the repository. This shortens feedback loops required to respond to market demands and eliminates errors quickly. CI allows developers to come up with first-rate working solutions in a series of small, routine steps. By providing instant feedback, the code is regularly checked and modified. Once more, quality is assured from the very beginning. 

CI implies another crucial habit: merging code constantly. When it comes to DevOps strategy, the last thing you want is to have infrequent code mergers in the project’s codebase, particularly if this is done late in the cycle. A continuous integration system monitors the code repository at all times. Whenever a check-in is made, the CI server pulls the latest changes and builds the software. Running a compiler over the whole updated codebase can identify numerous problems (missing dependencies, module/interface issues, undetected syntax errors, just to name a few). Doing this constantly will turn merging and integration into a smaller, more frequent, and much more manageable task. Something so straightforward can have remarkable effects and improve a team’s performance dramatically. 

Continuous Deployment

This is an extension of the previous practice. With continuous deployment, all changes made to the code go through the entire pipeline and are systematically promoted into the next testing environment, where integration happens automatically. Usually, this promotion continues down the pipeline until there comes a point when manual approval is required (typically in the transition between development and operations). It is this manual step that continuous deployment revolutionizes: it automates it. This means any updated working version of the software is automatically pushed into production without any human interference. 

Continuous deployment allows development to decrease the elapsed time between making a change/adding a new feature to the code and deployment into production. In other words, it allows the business to be much more responsive.

Continuous Monitoring

When software reaches the production process, it is the operations team that manages it. They make certain it performs as it’s meant to. To do this, they have to keep track of the environment at all times, guaranteeing its stability. Continuous monitoring is an ongoing process of changing and adjusting monitoring tools (or their configuration). This is where, once more, automating is crucial: it is the root of this practice. It allows operations to keep their configurations up-to-date in the midst of an increasing frequency of changes within an infrastructure. 

However, since the spirit of DevOps always aims to shift left, there is an additional element of this practice that is important to cover: proactive monitoring. Also known as synthetic monitoring, it emulates real users carrying out key actions or using key features of the software being created. Instead of real interactions, you monitor what a hypothetical user would encounter in reality. By doing this, any errors or performance deviations can be identified and rectified before real users encounter the problem -  it’s all about prevention. Proactive monitoring works as an early warning system. Contrary to the historical approach of monitoring solely during later stages (production and deployment), this approach monitors in pre-production environments. By doing so, you get a view of performance from an on-going perspective. Think of it as a heart monitor for your software, keeping track of how it’s performing as new versions of the code are being deployed in different environments. By validating new versions in real-time and making certain they perform as expected, new deployments can be released with confidence. 

It’s All About Adaptability

All in all, it’s important to remember that there is no fixed recipe for DevOps: what works for some companies may not apply for others. A DevOps strategy varies from business to business and from process to process. Therefore, how the above practices are implemented will also vary. So it’s best to thoroughly analyze the situation, see what the options are, and bring in the DevOps practices that best suit your business needs.

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