Back 10 years or so when Extreme Programming came out, it began to change the way that programmers thought about testing. XP made software developers accountable for testing their own code. XPers gave programmers practices like Test-First Development and simple, free community-based automated testing tools like xUnit and FIT and Fitnesse.
XP made testing cool. Programmers started to care about how to write good automated tests and achieving high levels of test code coverage and about optimizing feedback loops from testing and continuous integration. Instead of throwing code over the wall to a test team, programmers began to take responsibility for reviewing and testing their own code and making sure that it really worked. It’s taken some time, but most of these ideas have gone mainstream, and the impact has been positive for software development and software quality.
Now Devops is doing the same thing with release and deployment. People are finding new ways to make it simpler and easier to release and deploy software, using better tools and getting developers and ops staff together to do this.
And this is a good thing. Because release and deployment, maybe even more than testing, has been neglected by developers. It’s left to the end because it’s the last thing that you have to do – on some big, serial life cycle projects, you can spend months designing and developing something before you get around to releasing the code. Release and deployment is hard – it involves all sorts of finicky technical details and checks. To do it you have to understand how all the pieces of the system are laid out, and you need to understand the technology platform and operational environment for the system, and how Ops needs the system to be setup and monitored, how they need it wired in, what tools they use and how these tools work, and work through operational dependencies, and compliance and governance requirements. You have to talk to different people in a different language, learn and care about their wants and needs and pain points. It’s hard to get all of this right, and it’s hard to test it, and you’re under pressure to get the system out. Why not just give Ops the JARs and EARs and WARs and ZIPs (and your phone number in case anything goes wrong) and let them figure it out? We’re back to throwing the code over a wall again.
Devops, by getting Developers and Operations staff working together and sharing technology and solving problems together, is changing this. It’s making developers, and development managers like me, pay more attention to release and deployment (and post-deployment) requirements. Not just getting it done. Getting developers and QA and Operations staff to think together about how to make release and deployment and configuration simpler and faster, about what could go wrong and then making sure that it doesn’t go wrong, for every release – not just when there is a problem or if Ops complains. Replacing checklists and instructions with automated steps. Adding post-release health checks. Building on Continuous Integration to Continuous Delivery, making it easier and safer and less expensive to release to test as well as production. This is all practical, concrete work, and a natural next step for teams that are trying to design and build software faster.
One difference between the XP and Devops stories is that there’s a lot more vendor support in Devops than there was in the early days of Agile development. Commercial vendors for products like Chef and Puppet and UrbanCode (which has rebranded their Anthill Pro build and release toolset the DevOps Platform) and ThoughtWorks Studios with Go, and even IBM and HP are involved in Devops and pushing Devops ideas forward.
This is good and bad. Good – because this means that there are tools that people can use and people who can help them understand how to use them. And there’s somebody to help sponsor the conferences and other events that bring people together to explore Devops problems. Bad, because in order to understand and appreciate what’s going on and what’s really useful in Devops you have to wade through a growing amount of marketing noise. It’s too soon to say yet whether the real thought leaders and evangelists will be drowned out by vendor product managers and consultants – much like the problem that the Agile development community faces today.