Will DevOps and APM get a lift from the ‘next normal’?

Patrick Hubbard is Head Geek at SolarWinds. An accomplished technologist with over 20 years of experience, Hubbard’s career includes software development, operations, product management and marketing, technology strategy, and advocacy. An unapologetic market-hype deconstructionist, Hubbard is passionate about arming technology professionals with the tools and skills to deliver services that delight, not just satisfy, users. Hubbard’s current focus is helping enterprises adopt cloud-native and DevOps techniques that deliver the business transformation CIOs increasingly demand.

By now, many organisations have had time to experiment and have discovered DevOps disciplines can improve or even transform operations. According to Deloitte, adopting DevOps will lead to an 18% to 21% reduction in time to production and time to change.

Perhaps more than process changes, DevOps culture can help teams do the previously “impossible”: breaking down silos between business, IT, engineers, and managers. And this may be the most significant effect as increased and consistent levels of productivity, efficiency, and service delivery are prioritised in the uncertain years ahead.

While the nomenclature is new to some, the underlying goals of DevOps foster the most important aspects of effective teams since the inception of IT: genuine, engaged teamwork and shared responsibility. Some organisations go all-in on multidisciplinary blended teams, where operations, development, and business experts can collectively take responsibility for the life cycle of most aspects of the IT system. When everyone has ownership and visibility into technical domains and the customer journey, finger-pointing becomes unnecessary and unpopular.

Other organisations retain developers and administrators in their existing silos or teams but develop new, open, and mutually beneficial inter-team communications, attracting the broader team to selected elements of DevOps culture. Regardless, team members collaborate, experiment, and add continuous improvements to their ongoing mission. Blame-free post-mortems, true sprint reviews, focused planning meetings, and more all provide useful and timely feedback, process improvement, and collaboration that ops professionals and developers both prefer.

DevOps is best when it’s good for business

One driver for DevOps adoption today may also be less altruistic and more pragmatic. Greater emphasis on distributed applications, hybrid ops, software as a service (SaaS), and microservices requires monitoring application performance across elements wherever they’ve been modernised. Collective observability and the flexibility to quickly adapt and share production performance data can facilitate more effective team interaction on its own. In particular, it’s not unusual for DevOps teams to invest in application performance monitoring (APM) alongside or even ahead of infrastructure monitoring.

With more collaboration between teams in the development of applications and services—as well as in managing the overall access and uptime of critical SaaS applications—many of the frustrations and performance degradations teams experience can be reduced. The feedback-oriented approach of DevOps is a natural fit for helping IT pros integrate APM into the business to measure impact. Nothing reassures the enterprise digital transformation project risks are manageable like real data demonstrating reliable ops during changes or system stress.

APM wins, too

In the spirit of DevOps feedback loops, APM deployments benefit from DevOps culture. When everyone on the team can monitor application performance across all components and life cycles, dev and ops

teams have an incentive to invest in expanding and tuning their monitoring systems. We aren’t perfectionists, but we’re fans of completeness. Gaps in visibility rub us the wrong way. When the specifics of technology, vendor, architecture, and operations styles take a back seat to overall service and change quality, silos tend to break down. APM removes the walls blocking teams from seeing the big picture, and entire organisations can benefit, especially for applications with multiple components crossing team boundaries.

APM adoption may also be encouraged by the more academic associations of DevOps. Verified data and research-based decision processes are more typical among DevOps adherents and other modern IT teams. Collaboration between teams, especially in the more skeptical early days of culture change, is almost always improved by a shared view of reality. When everyone agrees on metrics and event analysis, it goes a long way. As improved access and uptime for critical applications becomes the norm, more admins turn to APM for critical, dispassionate shared ops truth.

The tools dev would build for ops

What’s often lost in conversations about the value of DevOps is just how frustrating performance degradations are for operations teams. Dev is first in “DevOps” because it’s primarily led by developers seeking to help ops reduce toil. Developers and ops admins have different DNA. Ops isn’t always quick to invest in instrumentation after a problem is resolved, and dev isn’t always eager to drink from a firehose of uncorrelated performance data from applications in production. This is natural—we choose our career focus based on our unique interests.

However, both teams care about the business’ success and are eager to discover and incorporate the specific needs and behaviors of the business into their technical processes. Business should drive tech—not the other way around—and IT should never be its own largest customer. APM systems tend to be common ground where ops can expand visibility while responding to an endless incident queue. At the same time, they should provide concise, digested feedback to dev that doesn’t require data science to be useful. IT pros of both schools tend to remain fans of APM once they see how their efforts make a business impact (and not just a technology one). Professionals of the Unprecedented Department

IT tends to hunker down during uncertain times and run as little as possible in response to veering budgets. Launching a broad initiative to adopt DevOps culture might seem like something to defer until business knows what this “new normal” will look like. But I’d argue the value it brings to IT teams of many different sizes can be key to enterprise’s transformation ambitions—digital, survival, or otherwise. DevOps doesn’t have to be a big-ticket item when you create quality around shared metrics and easy, empirical feedback for everyone on the team.

Perhaps you’re already part of a team relying on APM as a component of their monitoring and observability strategy. But if you’re not, ask others in the operations community if they are. Chances are you’ll find there’s an overlap between businesses able to weather 2020 without significant challenges and those who added APM to their teams’ utility belts. It remains unclear what the “next normal” entails, but the fundamentals of great service delivery remain the same. The DevOps focus on flexibility and continuous process improvement to break transformation logjams comes in handy when the future of technology is full of new possibility.

Read more: Why security needs to be integral to DevOps

Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

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One comment on “Will DevOps and APM get a lift from the ‘next normal’?

  1. Renny Jose Manuel on

    Yes, correct! DevOps has shifted as a vital factor and one-stop solution to many tech-savvy firms. DevOps can accelerate development & deployment also support to make IT infrastructure more resilient. Thanks for sharing this worthy post, and yes, organizations should consider leveraging the best practices that build an effective DevOps with APM implementation strategy.

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