Best DevOps

DevOps at Trainline has been a ‘great adventure’


In 2015, Trainline adopted DevOps in a bid to speed delivery. It started by virtualising services and containerising them, and the new platforms demanded a new way of working.

Sana Essid is a platform operations engineer at Trainline. With the infrastructure hosted on AWS, this mostly entails monitoring the cloud services, building new containerised microservices and helping to standardise the architecture.

An operations engineer for 15 years at a number of different organisations, she has seen some big changes in the role as in-house servers have been replaced by cloud services.

“Fifteen years ago it was very quiet, everything was very stable and the traditional operations job was just to keep an eye and chill out,” she told Computing. “Now with AWS services you have to play around with things and they’re much more prone to being rebuilt or restarted or destroyed. It keeps you much busier, and that’s what I like. I like being busy.”

With the advent of cloud and DevOps, the job now needs a different type of person. Those looking for a quiet life need not apply.

“There’s definitely a learning curve. You to move from one tech to another way quicker, but it’s easier if you have a background in infrastructure.”

Staying on the tracks

Trainline operates in 45 countries and has more than 80 million visits per month from people using its website and app to buy tickets and check timetables. Its workforce is spread out over of lots of separate teams, some more Agile than the others. Sana sees it as her responsibility to ensure that best practice flows from one team to another through what she calls a “trickle-down process”. There is a constant tension between experimentation and stability she says.

“DevOps can get adopted quite quickly depending on how much leeway you give to people. But the more leeway you give the less control you may have. There will come a point where you will be going sideways and you say ‘how can we standardise and make sure things are under control’?”

As an e-commerce firm doing business across national boundaries, regulations are an obvious limiting factor when it comes to developer experimentation, and compliance is uppermost in the operations team’s mind. Far from being the “Department of No”, however, Sana sees her team as a facilitator rather than an enforcer of best practice.

“Each time a new service is created it has to go through us to make it live, and this is where we as platform ops make sure everything is working to the right standard,” she said. “All the DevOps teams and operations work together to design standards, and then we say ‘this is the Training way to do things’.”

New platforms, new tools

Another part of the job is investigating new tools. With the move to containers, her team is evaluating orchestration software and it’s currently a toss-up between Kubernetes and ECS. Monitoring tools need to be container-friendly too, and picking the right one is important.

“There’s New Relic, Sensu, Kibana, Elk – all these tools. Which one is best, particularly for our future needs?”

And while it’s currently wedded to AWS, alternative platforms are being trialled in the background at Trainline, including Azure and GCP.

“At my previous employer the Telegraph we found you can take advantage of the strengths of different cloud providers. For example, Google will be very good for big data, but with AWS the range of services is way more extensive,” Sana said. “Also, in terms of cost, there are areas where each cloud provider will be cheaper, so that’s another thing to consider.”

Sana sees this watching brief as an essential part of keeping Trainline at the cutting edge. The DevOps and Agile ways of working have been wholly beneficial, she believes.

“Everything is now standardised and obviously it has to be. But that means you don’t have your development team going to left and right. I see that as a great success. Also how DevOps has been mastered here at Trainline, the rate at which development happens, being able to bring new features for our customers so quickly – that’s one of the big wins.

“it’s been a great adventure to go down the DevOps methodology and the Agile way of working. When I look at my 15 years’ experience and see where we were and where we are now it’s amazing. What will the future give us? Maybe with artificial intelligence and all these new technologies coming along, we might not need technicians any more – who knows!”


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