The world of DevOps is a strange and contradictory place. DevOps is not about tools, IT leaders are constantly told.
It’s about breaking down the barriers that exist between application developers (the Devs) and their colleagues in IT operations (the Ops).
It’s about getting the two camps to collaborate, to work as one, so that they can deliver software faster, with fewer errors.
Above all, it’s about cultural change.
All that is true - but it’s also a convenient truth for the software industry that many of the new behaviours and processes necessary can be given a helping hand by a hefty investment in tools. For many software vendors, then, a 2015 conversation about DevOps is also an opportunity to sell, sell, sell.
At Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, CIO Fin Goulding takes a refreshingly pragmatic view. Having already achieved much of the change management heavy-lifting required to achieve DevOps in his own organisation - through gentle persuasion and sometimes firm leadership - he’s not been blind, either, to the need for new tools:
The role of tools is where this whole DevOps debate gets hung up. A lot of consultancies see an opportunity here to sell so-called ‘DevOps tools’, around managing the flow of work, backlogs, sharing documents - but those tools have always been necessary, regardless of the methodology you use to get software into production.
What really counts, he says, is getting visibility into how the software that’s delivered through DevOps actually performs once it’s in production. These, he says, are the really important tools - and it’s why he’s invested in application management performance (APM) tools from AppDynamics.
To put his words in context, Fin Goulding is a self-confessed ‘DevOps fanboy’ - he even says as much in his Twitter bio. He firmly believes that DevOps is the best way for Paddy Power to beat a crowded field of online betting companies in the race to deliver new online and mobile gambling services and games. And, having convinced his team that this is a winning strategy, he’s identified a need for both sides on the DevOps divide to see how the software they create through this new methodology performs:
We build hundreds of features in small units [through DevOps] and deliver them frequently - but how do we know they’re performing? How do we know individual components work when you put them together? What we need is transparency - to see that a unit of work really delivers, from the customer making the transaction on their mobile phone right through to the back-end database. To understand that full transaction, you need full visibility that it’s performing correctly and that the software you built through DevOps, in small, regular chunks of new functionality, has been assembled correctly.
When Goulding says ‘we’, he means everyone on the IT team and others in the business, too, in true DevOps spirit. AppDynamics provides a ‘single pane of glass’, so that development, operations and executive teams at Paddy Power can all see and understand how applications - and the underlying infrastructure - are performing, as well as how that performance impacts business transactions and revenues.
It’s a complete departure from usual approaches, where developers discover that the code they’ve built is struggling to perform in production only when ops teams report an unexpected influx of complaints from users and the business.That’s not to say, however, that Goulding was an easy sell on APM tools. He put the sales execs from AppDynamics through their paces and, on his side, he says, there was some scepticism at first:
We’d already implemented tools for DevOps - Jira, Jenkins, Maven - all that kind of stuff. We weren’t novices. Lots of tools can monitor the health of your application - but could they [AppDynamics] really deliver that deep, business-level insight that we needed?
The good news is that, in this case, AppDynamics could and did, says Goulding:
AppDynamics now gives us insight into OS [operating system] levels, into JVM [Java Virtual Machine] performance issues and so on - so we’re able to measure, from start to finish, a business transaction that crosses many systems.
It gives us a graphical view of that business transaction that is vital to developers in terms of where there are bottlenecks or where code needs rethinking.
You want your IT team to notice problems first, and to work together to fix the problems, rather than customers complaining about poor performance. That’s what DevOps means to me.