DevOps Benefits Shine Through at Summit

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Real-world DevOps implementers highlight how varied organizations discovered benefits from DevOps, even if they had to clear some hurdles on the path to success.

At its essence, DevOps is about solving business problems. For some organizations, it’s about moving faster. Others are compelled to capitalize on a market opportunity. Still others may face a mandate to do more with less. And no matter what the business case, chances are the move to DevOps will be met by cultural resistance.

Attendees at the recent DevOps Enterprise Summit in San Francisco heard from organizations that had experienced each of these scenarios and thus took home some lessons from these DevOps leaders.

For instance, they heard how the Department of Defense’s Joint Warfare Analysis Center found itself having to change uncharacteristically quickly due to a loss of critical resources.

Kurt Hockaday, a data systems technical lead for the JWAC, told summit attendees that over the last several years, the center had lost 30 percent of its staff and budget, making it impossible to sustain its processes as they were. Instead, JWAC turned to DevOps methodologies to help it remain consistent in its development efforts while reducing the need for IT system handholding.

“We simply couldn’t keep doing what we were doing,” Hockaday said.

Working with consulting experts, JWAC developed a set of principals to serve as DevOps guideposts to delivering services. These principles were designed to help the center speed up system service and delivery, manage services more proactively, bring more consistency to operations, and help make self-service provisioning a reality.

To date, JWAC has see a lot of positive results, such as the ability to build new environments in a week and reduced need for admin privileges to due automation. It also has had some setbacks. Self-service provisioning isn’t ready yet, and Hockaday and his team have found themselves having to re-learn and re-implement basic processes.

The lesson, says Hockaday, is that trying to modernize IT and speed up development in a part of the DoD requires patience. “Battleships can’t turn on a dime, and neither can fairly mature government organizations,” said Hockaday. “Introducing large-scale change into the DoD is never an easy endeavor.”

DevOps Enterprise Summit attendees also heard how Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. went about making good on its goal of becoming a world-class software development organization. As the company began to adopt DevOps practices, it found that it needed to refine its testing environment, which would be critical to its DevOps effort.

“When you’ve been testing for so long, it’s natural that you form a bloat around your test beds,” said Cindy Payne, director of IT application development. “Often they were broken and no one was paying attention.”

After applying DevOps principals to those test beds, Payne said, one of the development teams reported that the process of getting back test findings had been slashed to just two hours.

The resulting ability to work aggressively on code without having to worry about breakages has brought significant business benefits. For instance, after Hurricane Harvey triggered a huge surge in food claims coming from the Houston area, Nationwide developers were able to streamline the related claims process by 40% in just eight hours. “A year ago, this kind of change would have taken about 90 days,” said Jim Grafmeyer, digital solutions architect.

John Esser, senior director of IT and data center operations for medical SaaS provider AdvancedMD, shared with summit attendees the numerous obstacles he met as he led the company down the DevOps path.

It all started with Esser creating a centralized DevOps team.

“Worst decision I’ve made,” he said. “It was a bottleneck, it was a chokepoint, it was a constrained resource, and it was a silo.”

Once he corrected that and started building DevOps practices into various development teams instead, he experienced push back from teams who felt that DevOps was only needed “over in that corner.”

Next he found himself up against AdvancedMD’s monolithic data model, which required him to break up its single data store. Then he was confronted with a mindset that held the business’ past successes as justification for not adopting DevOps. “Where we are and where we need to go is something different,” said Esser. “We needed to create a different kind of success for the future.”

On a more subtle level, Esser had to reset the organization’s mindset, which had many employees believing DevOps was just a fancy way of saying “automated deployment,” when in fact that’s just one small part of DevOps.

“That’s something you want to do,” said Esser, “but it’s definitely not DevOps.”

Tison Mathew turned to DevOps principles while working on the Amazon Prime Now service, which lets customers order some Amazon items to be delivered for free within the hour. Mathew, who is now CTO for Alignment Healthcare, was at the summit to share the lessons he learned working on Prime Now.

Confronted with a mandate to provide one-hour delivery with a system optimized for two- to five-day delivery required the application of DevOps practices in the form of the Amazon Virtuous Cycle, which is designed to drive infrastructure investment, efficiency, speed and reliability, all to fuel more demand, and thus growth.

The success Mathew’s team at Amazon enjoyed in speeding up ordering and fulfillment processes, thus making Amazon more convenient and futuristic, is providing inspiration for his DevOps work at AdvancedMD. “I want to do the same thing for healthcare,” he said. “That’s my passion now.”

And therein may be the greatest lesson gleaned from the recent DevOps Enterprise Summit: That every organization can benefit and learn from applying DevOps principals, regardless of industry.

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