DevOps strategies for IT modernization

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Like most government agencies, the U.S. Courts, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Department of Agriculture need their mission-critical IT systems to always be operational.  Even when such systems are being fixed or modernized, judges, agents and crop insurers still need access to case management systems and bomb tracking databases to do their jobs.

At a June 7 event in Washington, D.C., officials from all three agencies discussed how DevOps practices are increasingly enlisted to smooth those modernization efforts.

“The IT side of the house needs to decide what the quickest wins [are] because we want to create seamless transitions.” said Lionel Cares, the ATF data services branch chief, at MeriTalk’s Cloud Computing Brainstorm. “We are looking at those systems that are easily movable and easier to leverage” when it comes looking at how to best leverage DevOps.

“One of the benefits of DevOps that we realized as we were doing automated tests and monitoring was the ability to see more clearly the health of the system,” said Peter Chin, chief of application development and architecture at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. “We are able to identify the technical debt that has accumulated over the years, whether it comes from security patches or the stability of the technology that we have been using.”

DevOps is used to help teams incorporate that work into their operations solutions in a more automated and repeatable manner, but the challenge for the Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency comes from implementing the strategy on legacy systems.

“You need to prioritize where you are going and how fast you plan to go [with DevOps] because you can’t move an aircraft carrier overnight,” CIO Chad Sheridan, said.  “I have to make a case to modernize all of our platforms, not just to deliver the new shiny, or we are never going to get [to this environment.].”

The breach at  the Office of Personnel Management in 2015 and the Sony Pictures hack in late 2014 help make the case for deploying more DevOps practices agency’s infrastructure, Sheridan said.

“We took advantage of our friends at OPM, Sony and others to show there was a business risk inherent in how we were operating before,” Sheridan said.  “The fertile middle [of our portfolio] is where we are seeing the real progress, but we found that we need to tackle some of the technical debt as well.”

Both Sheridan and Chin acknowledged how the integration of DevOps has included some false starts and problems, but they said they do not see the issues as a reason for not implementing these practices in the future.

“At the U.S. Courts, we really sped up quickly from the beginning, and now we are slowing down to make sure that we have successes team by team rather than as a whole,” Chin said.  “We are working to figure out what problems we are trying to solve, baselining where we are today, determining metrics to improve and figuring out ways to continuously measure what we are trying to do with integration and deployment.”

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