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How to Evaluate Tools to Automate Your DevOps Processes

by Marisa Vesel, on Aug 21, 2019 10:30:00 AM

DevOps automation is a requirement for companies looking to remain competitive in the modern day. As more and more companies utilize DevOps in the workplace, those who fail to adopt find themselves at a disadvantage. However, even if there is the will to modernize manual processes with new tools, huge obstacles remain. DevOps is complicated, and the number of tools available to help optimize processes reflects that. It’s not always easy or clear for you to know what tools will help you optimize your Application lifecycle. 

Organizations that don’t have a solid plan for evaluating the options can end up wasting a lot of time. In the worst cases, they can end up making the wrong choice and setting themselves back months or even years as they are forced to adjust course. 

Going into the process of tool selection with an understanding of how to do a proper evaluation is important. We’ve put together some of the most important things to think about when evaluating a solution for your organizations. 

#1: Understand the Stages of the Application Lifecycle 

The entire reason DevOps exists is the complicated nature of the application lifecycle. Understanding how they all fit together in your organization is an important part of beginning the transition to DevOps. You should take the time to review each stage in the process before you even begin to evaluate a tool 

Every company and team is different. However, the application lifecycle can generally be consolidated into four main stages: 

Plan:

In the Plan stage, requirements for the build are first outlined. The most important question to ask is, “how will this application Build create the value being asked for by the business?” Some requirements to think about are: user needs; requirements that add value of the product to the user, hardware & software requirements,  perform analysis, business requirements, and compliance requirements.

Additionally, in the plan stage is the design of the build. There are two iterations of design to consider: . A high-level design gives an overview of the overall system design; identifying the main components that would need to be developed for the product and interfaces. A detailed design is a top-down design structure, starting at the highest level and becoming more detailed throughout. This helps paint a clearer picture of the purpose of the build and ensures that the design is ready to be implemented.

Build:

Next in the application lifecycle is the build stage. During the build stage, the software is actually developed by the creation of the actual code. During the build stage, there should be open team communication, so developers are aware of what they are accountable for building.

Ideally, specific tasks will be assigned to individuals who are responsible for completing and documenting the task. During this phase, development tasks will be broken down into release efforts so the application can be completed in parts. Completing in parts allows visibility for the client who should be worked into the build process. This helps developers ensure their build meets the client’s needs.  If the application is designed correctly in the plan stage, then the build stage is relatively simple to complete.

Test:

Of course, it’s one thing to be able to write code. But the important thing is whether or not the written code does what it was intended to do. Software goes through a number of different types of testing including integration, functional, acceptance, quality, and staging testing. In order to move forward through the lifecycle, the tests must be passed.

Automation helps make the testing process easier for organizations. By having builds automatically tested, this reduces the risk of human error. Rather than relying on a human to read results or trigger the test, this can be done automatically. Additionally, automating testing ensures that builds will work the way they are expected to work, meet the users’ needs, and integrates well within the larger application. Builds that fail any stage of testing will not be able to be deployed and instead be sent back to the build stage for fixes.

Deploy:

The final stage is deployment. At this stage, the application is sent to its production environment for use. Automation can help make otherwise risky and time-consuming deployments a breeze. Builds will not be able to be deployed until they have properly passed testing and security & compliance requirements. By automating the deployment process, unready builds will not be pushed to production; creating more successful deployments. Automating testing reduces the risk of human error, increases communication between stakeholders, and saves organizations time, money, and frustrations.

diagram of application lifecycle in an infinite loop

In order to create and deploy quality software, all parts of the lifecycle must be completed in order. An application cannot move forward in a quality way without completing the prior stage. 

Continuous Integration vs. Continuous Deployment:

Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment are two terms tossed around a lot when talking about automating DevOps. However, while the two work together, they are distinct concepts that require different tool capabilities. When making an automation plan, you should understand the difference so you can choose a tool suite that will cover both. 

Continuous Integration: 

Continuous integration is the process of continuously merging code changes to a central repository throughout the day, so Development teams are always working on coding as much as possible.

Continuous integration allows developers to identify and resolve issues before reaching end-users. Each merge is automatically verified by automated builds and automated tests. Developers are able to continuously test their changes throughout the day and have bugs quickly identified and resolved before sending code out to production.

Continuous Deployment: 

Continuous deployment is the process of automatically deploying builds to production that pass the testing stage. It can be used in combination with continuous integration and is best for companies that are not in highly-regulated industries. 

In continuous deployment, applications are deployable at any time and can be automatically pushed to production after passing all tests. There is no human intervention and only failed tests will prevent a change to be deployed. When companies use both CI/CD, the cycle of creating and deploying builds is continuous.

#2: Audit Your Current Application Lifecycle Processes 

The easiest way to start integrating DevOps principles is to automate what you already do. But in many cases, businesses aren’t even sure of what their current process looks like (if they even have one). To remedy this, auditing your current application lifecycle is a must before you even begin thinking about an automation tool. 

It’s tempting to ignore this advice and automate a new process as quickly as possible. Legacy applications are complex, with large teams doing work in (often) non-defined or linear ways. All of that makes doing an audit difficult. Nevertheless, the initial upfront investment is worth it to avoid needless pain down the road. Despite the enthusiasm of a new automation integration project, it’s a slow, long process that needs to be done right. Failure to take the long-view will almost always end in needless work undoing things down the road. 

To be effective, audits should at a minimum strive to identify commonalities between teams that are involved, understand current procedures, standards and regulations in the lifecycle, and develop a set of requirements and objectives for new tools. 

Bottom line, when moving to an automated lifecycle, organizations should work to start automating the processes they already have in place. Once that is done, it becomes much easier to find tools that provide the functionality needed to make those processes better. 

 Don’t fall into the trap of trying to find new tools create a new “ideal” process from scratch. Start by mapping out the processes you already use, and then finding tools to lay on top of them. 

diagram depicting a build passing the various steps of the application lifecycle

#3: Make Sure Tools Have API Integrations 

Once you know the requirements of your process, you are ready to start evaluating the tools available. But before you get to any of the feature lists, the first thing you should look at is the level of API integration offered. 

APIs are a set of functions and procedures in software development that allow communication between various components. Without them, additional steps are usually required to use the tool across large organizations, which can make it very difficult to use the tool seamlessly. 

There are four main reasons why API integrations are a must before considering anything else about a DevOps tool: 

APIs as an Enabler 

In DevOps, each action is essentially an individual and discrete function. However, these action needs to communicate with each otherwhich APIs facilitate. APIs allow the interactions to be supported by a standard methodology. Each subsequent action in the DevOps toolchain requires an enabling API to facilitate the interaction.  

APIs as a Translator 

Not all systems used in an organization are going to be the same. With an increasing number of integrations between tools, there is a large variety of languages, platforms, encryption types, and more that are utilized. APIs act as a translator in order to allow various tools to share communication and data.  

APIs as an Automation Tool 

A key component of adopting DevOps in an organization is automating parts of the application lifecycle process. In an automated systemAPIs keep the flow of information smooth and constant between processes.  

APIs are required between steps in the automation process as they enable the understanding between actions in the toolchain. APIs are able to understand what the expected function of each tool is and test the result against this expectation. If something is wrong, the API is able to report this error. 

APIs as a Factorization 

APIs are able to serve as a method for refactorizing efforts. Because each tool is fully integrated into the system as a whole, its ability to augment the work of the others in the system increasesThe result is an exponential increase in the impact of the core functionality of every tooland by extension, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. 

When APIs act as a method for factorization, they also provide more context for each function throughout the lifecycle, helping developers quickly find and resolve issues in code throughout the process.  

#4: See if the Tool Offers a Free Trial 

DevOps automation is a huge undertaking for organizations, and choosing the wrong tool can consequently result in a lot of frustration as time and energy needs to be spent to roll back to the previous process. 

Luckily, many tools offer a free trial. This is a great way to try out tools and see how they work in your organization before making a large financial commitment to a tool. Always check and download the free trial of tools before buying. It can save you a lot of needless headache down the road. 

For example, Inedo’s BuildMaster is a tool that is able to release and deploy your applications reliably. With the ability to easily integrate with other popular DevOps tools, BuildMaster can quickly integrate into any process and help it run as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

With BuildMaster integrated into your DevOps automation you can: 

  • Release on time. Not on personal time. Meet deadlines without the night and weekend release that kill employee morale and risk your best people leaving 
  • Use Developer time to write code. Not reverse engineer release history. Match builds while working on multiple releases simultaneously, across all your applications. 
  • Make decisions based on requirements, not release cycles. Reduce release overhead by orders of magnitude and release on demand. 
  • Use CI/CD today, even with legacy applications. Benefit from CI/CD without replacing your current stack. 

Check out the BuildMaster downloads page for a free trial.  

#5: Don’t Forget About Communication Tools 

Automating CI/CD is an ongoing process, and ongoing processes require ongoing communication. Don’t fall into the trap of evaluating tools to automate Development and Operations tasks without ever stopping to consider how Dev and Ops teams communicate both internally and amongst themselves.  

In other words, it’s important to build a culture of automation and communication. This is why DevOps also aims to break down the silos that occur between development and operations teams and increase the collaboration in the workplace. 

There are several communication tools that can help organizations adopt a DevOps culture. These tools provide an easy platform for real-time communication between teams. Additionally, many of these tools can integrate with other tools in the DevOps toolchain so notifications are sent to one central location. 

One popular and well-used communication tool is SlackSlack allows teams to collaborate quickly and easily by providing the option to create “channels” that are topic-specific. This allows conversation to be organized. Additionally, Slack integrates with the most popular DevOps tools currently on the market, providing notifications from these tools directly onto Slack. This keeps everyone on the same page and encourages communication and collaboration to solve any issues that occur.  

slack channel depicting conversation between teams about a deployment schedule

Conclusion 

The best way to start looking for tools is to evaluate your current process and decide what objectives the organization has for their tool suite. While research can be lengthy and time-consuming, performing a comprehensive evaluation of tools will help companies avoid unnecessary problems down the road. 

As you build your tool suite, remember that Inedo offers several tools that can help. Our DevOps tools maximize developer time, minimize release risk, and empower stakeholders to bring their vision to life faster. All with the people and technology you have right now. To get help streamlining your automated CI/CD processes, contact mgoulis.inedo.com 


Sources: IBM Application Development LifecycleAn OverviewStackify What is SDLC?; Semaphore What’s the Difference Between Continuous Integration, Continuous Deployment, and Continuous Delivery?  Puppet Continuous Delivery vs. Continuous Deployment: What’s the Diff?  

Topics:DevOps AutomationDevOps Tools

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