DevOps pipeline tools sort out IT automation junk drawers

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SAN FRANCISCO — As early reconnaissance missions into DevOps expand into full-fledged battle strategies for enterprise IT shops, they look to DevOps pipeline tools to help them create a unified front.

Against that backdrop, updated products from Electric Cloud and XebiaLabs offer new ways to tie together disparate IT automation environments from mainframes to microservices, along with features that track software updates as they move through DevOps pipelines. This contrasts with earlier trends among DevOps pipeline tools, in which IT pros stitched together custom pipelines from open-source components and lacked visibility into the data that flowed between them.

“We’re seeing DevOps as a pilot project move to DevOps at scale,” especially over the last six months, said Rob Stroud, analyst with Forrester Research. “DevOps starts as a series of experiments where enterprises glue together pipelines with anything they can find, but as the market matures, enterprises want one or two tools rather than eight.”

To offer enterprises a unified view of DevOps pipeline tools and IT environments, Electric Cloud’s ElectricFlow 8.1 can now coordinate releases for IBM zOS and Compuware mainframe applications, including IBM DB2 databases. ElectricFlow 8.1 users can also design and monitor modern microservices application deployments, and future ElectricFlow releases will make recommendations to improve application release efficiency across environments, company officials said.

XebiaLabs’ XL Impact, also released this week, offers a bird’s eye view of the DevOps toolchain, where users can monitor code changes as they flow through the XebiaLabs XL Release pipeline. XL Impact evaluates whether the IT organization meets overall business goals, such as increased product release velocity, and suggests remediations to improve DevOps pipeline efficiency.

ElectricFlow, XL Release, CA Technologies’ Automic Release Automation, and IBM’s UrbanCode are among the leaders in continuous delivery and release automation tools. A surge of adoption has yet to arrive for these tools, and Forrester predicts it will crest early next year. The analyst firm’s Q1 2017 Global DevOps Benchmark Online Survey of 237 DevOps pros found that 50% have implemented DevOps and planned to expand. In that same survey, however, 64% of respondents said their businesses were dissatisfied with the time it takes to release features for customers, and just 34% of respondents said that the complete life cycle, from development to production, was automated.

“Separate islands and silos of automation are the biggest problem in DevOps now,” Stroud said.

DevOps pipeline tools bring legacy code into the future

Somos Inc., a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 that manages North America’s 43 million toll-free telephone number records in Herndon, Va., has seen these trends firsthand over the last year. It uses ElectricFlow to create a DevOps pipeline that spans IT environments from decades-old mainframes to an on-premises data center that runs on VMware and the Amazon Web Services public cloud.

That pipeline brought together DevOps pipeline tools such as Atlassian’s JIRA and Confluence to manage software development projects, Artifactory code repositories, SonarQube code quality management, VersionOne (now CollabNet) application lifecycle management, Jenkins continuous integration, Ansible configuration management, and the Robot framework for test automation, among others.

This menagerie of different software species sprang up as the organization took its first steps into DevOps, but then it looked back and realized it lacked a robust DevOps release and deployment pipeline, said Gary McKay, Scrum master at Somos.

ElectricFlow can integrate with third-party tools where they’re already in use, or offer its own application release automation functions and that flexibility proved ideal for Somos, McKay said.

“We had Jenkins in use for some projects, and our goal with Electric Cloud was, ‘First, do no harm,'” he said. Gradually, ElectricFlow took over most of the continuous integration and continuous deployment duties from previously fragmented Jenkins environments.

Under ElectricFlow, the organization’s deployments that took multiple days now take hours. In test and stage environments, Somos averages between 20 to 30 builds a day, up from about half a dozen before ElectricFlow. User acceptance testing takes place up to twice a week. Production releases are still a “mainframe-like” process, and take place about once a month.

All of this serves a greater mission at Somos to translate a mainframe-based database of 1-800 numbers first built in 1967 into a modern Java-based application environment accessible to Somos’ business customers through REST APIs. So far this work has been done carefully, with extensive testing and validation and “great Java developers,” McKay said. With faster code releases, McKay said he hopes the project will move to its final phase in December.

McKay hasn’t had time to fully evaluate ElectricFlow 8.1, but said he’s hoped for better organization among menus in the ElectricFlow user interface.

“Right now it’s almost like two products, based on old and new menu systems,” he said. “I’d like to see more integration from a UI perspective.”

Electric Cloud reps said it has addressed this concern in ElectricFlow 8.1.

As organizations such as Somos roll out DevOps pipeline tools, there’s a distinct developer and application-level focus, said Edwin Yuen, analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group. And there should be — DevOps is ultimately about faster delivery of application features to the business. That’s a new paradigm for IT ops pros, but it’s also an opportunity for them to truly align with the DevOps model, Yuen said.

“Development and operations are actually still fairly separate,” Yuen said. “These tools offer ops a way to help developers, not just with infrastructure automation, but by understanding the development process.”

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