Lessons Learned: How to Build a DevOps Practice

Bringing developers and operations together can offer more robustness for mission-critical enterprises. Find out what defines DevOps today and how to build an effective DevOps team.

The world has changed its cadence. Before the turn of the millennium, business processes and systems used to run at a linear, sequential pace within more circumscribed and defined parameters. But we have progressed. As the compound effects of the cloud, mobile ubiquity and web-scale intelligent networks have coalesced, we now operate at an altogether more connected, concurrent, multi-dimensional pace and that change impacts the way we both use and build software.

Software application developers (dev) in both eras have always worked alongside their operations (ops) counterparts. The dev team needs the ops team (system administrators, database administrators and other core systems management staff) to keep their applications well served with network resources, to apply updates and to carry out all forms of essential maintenance and reporting.

Equally, the ops team has always needed the developer function to provide it with its core raison d’être, but in a communicative and collaborative way, so ops can be more than just the “gas pump” that supplies the fuel for enterprise applications.

In fact, they tangoed from time to time but their approach was out of step. The dev team would often just “throw applications over the wall” once they were ready to exist in live production environments and expect ops to deal with the day-to-day challenges that presented themselves. The ops team would then provision as many resources as it could, but often fail to comprehensively communicate system status to the dev function either before, during or after deployment.

Enter DevOps

Today, both functions come together to deliver and more rapidly iterate apps inside continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. This offers real functionality and robustness for mission-critical enterprises.

But what defines DevOps today and how does an enterprise in any industry vertical go about building an effective DevOps team? A business’s first task is to understand that DevOps is not simply a software development methodology such as waterfall, lean, agile or feature-driven programming. DevOps is a wider notion of combined cultural philosophies, practices and tools that increase an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at a high velocity.


A Cultural Shift

Developing the culture and implementing the tools to create a DevOps or DevSecOps (with the security team as a third essential function to create a three-team playbook) is rarely a plug-and-play overnight task. Separate dev and ops functions typically have entrenched and ingrained ways of working that take time to define, deduplicate, delineate and then fuse.

This isn’t just about getting all the teams to eat lunch together virtually, although that can help raise team morale. Rather, this is about making sure that all functions have access to the same levels of measurement, provisioning and reporting technologies from the outset. While it would normally only be the project leaders among the dev function that would talk to customer end-users to gather requirements, the ops team should be privy to those base-level parameters from the start.

Giving all teams the same visibility into application and data health with a custom-built DevOps assessment dashboard is a key step. Using a dedicated DevOps platform, everyone can be driven to adhere to a multi-factor development process and engineer to the same security compliance standards.

This approach can also help businesses mitigate the security challenges associated with digital transformation. The Dell Technologies 2020 Digital Transformation Index (DT Index) surveying 4,300 senior business leaders/C-suite executives across the world, found that the pandemic catalyzed digital transformation across the globe. But continuous digital transformation is not easy with the majority of businesses facing entrenched barriers to transformation, particularly data privacy and cybersecurity issues.

This year’s DT Index highlighted the “information overload” difficulties organizations face, leaving them “unable to extract insights from data,” while attempting to roll out broader remote-working capabilities. DevOps serves as a control mechanism as businesses continue to transform services and consumption models. But there is still work to do. According to the DT Index, just 42 percent are practicing DevSecOps to champion a “security-as-code” culture, and only 34 percent are using DevOps as a route to practicing CI/CD.

Speed, Security and Substance

The old world of outsourcing and past organizational and go-to-market models sought to split work apart into various components to create a wider billing structure. The natural byproducts of these approaches were disconnected workflows and a lack of collaborative drive.

DevOps counters those outdated notions and allows us to drive towards building agile, hyper-performing models where constant adjustments can be made to technology for changing use cases and markets.

Jaynene Hapanowicz, CTO and Senior Vice President, Technology Transformation, who recently built a successful DevOps practice for Dell Technologies’ IT organization—Dell Digital—has experienced this first-hand:

“DevOps allows us to validate areas that were never given substance in the past. We can now look at how we code, what quality management controls we have in place, what layers of security fabric our applications and data are exposed to and what overall productivity measures are being placed over the now-combined forces of the DevOps team.”

– Jaynene Hapanowicz, CTO and Senior Vice President, Technology Transformation, Dell Digital

According to Hapanowicz, DevOps also changes the workplace and the way people work: “I’m particularly passionate about how a formalized DevOps platform gives teams greater accountability for the products they help to develop and satisfaction in their work. This accountability factor opens the door to enabling more expansive, comprehensive security controls, security of infrastructure, security of plug-in modules and security of as-yet-unknown information channels when they arise. When you empower people, the end result is better, more robust processes and products.”

DevOps as a Platform for Innovation

As a business progresses its DevOps practice, it can look to widen DevOps training throughout its technology department, as well as the commercial function that will depend upon it. Only then can it introduce new capabilities and use DevOps as a platform for deeper and wider innovation.

Hapanowicz cautions that, “All this needs to be done with the lights still on, and with daily operations and commerce channels in live production. As such, each stage will need to be properly planned for, with risks mitigated. But the payoffs are worth it.”

DevOps is becoming an established work practice that is bringing greater collaborative efficiency, more robust and effective software delivery and, ultimately, improved business profitability. It’s a powerful connector in a world that desperately needs cohesion.