5 DevOps Best Practices To Ensure Successful Testing
More and more organizations have adopted DevOps with more or less success. Despite the enticement of DevOps, the implementation can be challenging. Instead of increasing software development velocity and ensuring a delivery with greater quality, DevOps might actually lead to a slower process. In theory, DevOps has great advantages however in practice some are failing to get the targeted benefits.
Poor implementation and lack of best practices can lead to failure. In this article, we are going to cover 5 best practices for a successful DevOps implementation.
1. Implement the Agile Methodology
A methodology can be defined as a set of best practices that aims to interpret and solve different problems within a given scope. In software development, a methodology is meant to help improve the development process. It is required to bring structure and help plan and manage the process.
In order to ensure that the software development process is running smoothly, it is essential to have a roadmap with the best strategy to produce a high quality and maintainable software.
Before DevOps was implemented, there were several methodologies that were proposed to structure development process: the Waterfall methodology, the V-model methodology, iterative and incremental methods, etc.. In these methodologies, specifications are frozen most of the time, allowing no room for changes throughout the development process. In addition, they often don’t allow for frequent delivery. In the waterfall model, for instance, the product is designed, developed, tested and deployed during a long process, one step after another, sometimes leading to software that doesn’t meet users’ needs.
These methodologies are suitable for small and simple systems, but they are limited when it comes to building a complex system. Over time, needs became more and more complex and the software development process had to be rethought.
More and more organizations and executives are advocating for Agile methodology for their development process. There is a tendency to create a DevOps vs Agile debate when trying to establish Agility in a DevOps approach. Their goals are often understood to be contradictory. On the one end, DevOps is sometimes reduced to continuous delivery leading to little or no change in the software, only continuous improvement. On the other hand, Agile is confused with Scrum (meetings, sprint, stand-ups). This oversimplification leads to a misunderstanding.
In order to better understand why Agile is a best practice, we should have a clear and accurate understanding of what DevOps is. We should understand that DevOps is rather a culture; a philosophy aiming at a better software development process and Agile is a way to achieve that goal.
Agile development enables and promotes continuous integration, which is in line with DevOps culture. With Agile and its implementation, software development is broken down into small tasks called stories. The iterative and incremental approach (Scrum for instance) gives room for continuous integration. Each time a story is finished, it is pushed in a shared repository where it is tested and validated first as a single feature and then as a part of a system. Once the product is validated, bugs and errors are reported to the backlog and will be part of the following iteration. The product owner designated at the beginning of the project will be part of the development process: UAT, requirements validation, backlog prioritization etc.
Agile helps approach a complex problem by breaking it down into more manageable pieces of features and modules. Iteration and a good control over time frame ensure that the product is developed according to the requirements and clients' needs which leads to a higher quality of the product which among DevOps’ goals.
Continuous delivery is part of Agile. In each iteration, we are working on implementing stories defined in our sprint, emptying iteration by iteration our backlogs. These stories are the translation of our end-users’ needs.
Agile is the right methodology, it is totally compatible with DevOps philosophy.
Actually, DevOps is an attempt to apply the Agile methodology to the entire information system. With DevOps, agility is not only the development team’s concern but also concerns the operating team, which makes the Agile methodology the methodology par excellence for the DevOps approach.
2. Implement Small Iterations for Better Control
The length of a Sprint is preset and defined at the beginning of the project development. In the Sprint, the time interval during which the development takes place is called an iteration.
Each sprint contains defined total points that define velocity. It may be tempting to run a long iteration and apply Agile in a waterfall way. A very common error is to try to finish as many stories/features as possible in one sprint. In the beginning, we may have the satisfaction of having great velocity, but this is actually a double-edged sword. Multiple features make it harder to troubleshoot quickly, therefore we spend more time fixing the bugs of previous iterations than developing new features.
Small changes are the correct way to implement continuous integration. Introducing a few changes at a time is what enables frequent integration. Once a small change is made, and integration has proved to be a success, the new release is delivered to the client. At this point, if bugs or errors occur it will be easier to detect their root causes. These bugs are often detected at early stage leading to fewer issues in the production environment. Validation and deployment can be done very fast as well leading to a reduced time to market and also to a frequent delivery.
Frequent delivery through small change also requires frequent interaction. Frequent interaction fosters a better working communication and collaboration among the engineering teams.
Even for end-users, it is easier for them to validate the product when small changes are introduced each. Thus, they can see very early on whether the change met their needs or whether there is a need for changes.
3. Document the Process
Documentation has often been the black beast of IT specialists. It has always been done at the last moment and even left undone if it wasn’t asked for specifically. If it could be ignored, there would be much less documentation in the software development process.
However, documentation is crucial exactly because DevOps requires collaboration among all teams involved in the software lifecycle. The operations team is not working on one system, software or project. Rather, it monitors and tunes several applications, systems and softwares at a time. Operations need to understand how the application works. Requirements documents include business rules and the way they will be implemented. Therefore, correct documentation will be used as a reference against which the system will be validated and will create a smooth process.
Documentation is also important for the deployment process. Deployment differs slightly from one application to another. These differences can include: configuration needed by the application (upload folder, database, etc.) and prerequisites in order to run the software (CPU, memory etc.). Standardized documents can help overcome this obstacle. The deployment process should be clear so that we are not wasting time reporting back and forth on deployment issues. We should have in mind that deployment in the DevOps context will happen frequently, so the documentation has to be as thorough as possible to speed the process
The operations team is not the only entity that needs documentation. When working in a very active organization, even the development team can have some moving parts. So, it becomes essential to document the development process, to help new developers understand faster a given project. Spending two months to try to understand a project while trying to implement a simple feature is a pure loss for the organization. Good documentation will help speed up the development learning curve.
Finally, since DevOps aims to benefit the end users as well, it is suggested to write a user manual to make it easier for users to understand the software. This will ensure they have a better experience when interacting with the product for the first time, and also that they have a document at hand whenever they have questions regarding a feature in the software.
To conclude, there are four types of documentation that are essential while implementing DevOps:
- Source code documentation
- Design and requirements documentation
- How-to deploy
- Manuals for end users
4. Choose the Right Tools
Every best practice has to be supported by tools.. These tools should be standardized among software developers and the operations team. This standardization is essential especially when the process involves more than one user.
Here are a few types of tools I recommend:
Collaboration is the key to DevOps success and excellent collaboration starts with excellent communication. Ongoing communication should take place between end-users or the product owner and development team: because development starts with understanding the end-users’ needs. There should also be continuous communication between the development team and the operations team, as I’ve explained throughout this blog post.
Today, there are several tools that can be used to improve communication. Formal communication like email and formal meetings can happen whenever it is necessary to discuss the software development. But when we need quick answers or clarifications, private and group-messaging tools like Slack or Skype for Business can be used.
When tracking and reporting issues or new features, issue trackers and ticketing tools like JIRA should be used. It helps that they present the task history and task status.
Continuous testing tools:
These tools help execute automated tests; so all test suites are reviewed before each delivery. For example: Selenium is an open source automated testing framework used for web applications. Taurus is an open source automated performance testing framework. BlazeMeter is an automated performance, API and functional testing tool that runs tests in the cloud.
Continuous integration and continuous delivery tools:
Applications are so often pushed into different environments, that efficient tools are required for managing them. During the validation process, it is important to make sure that no regression was introduced. The right tool also has to allow building and deployment automation. Finally, if changes are pushed regularly and we want to ensure a smooth delivery across the environment it is important to automate. Jenkins is a popular and successful open source continuous integration and continuous delivery tool
Version control tools:
As we are implementing constant delivery, it is important to track the code version, to revert to a stable version when changes lead to unstable software and to manage the version automatically. Git is an example of a recommended version control tool.
Monitoring and tuning tools:
Client satisfaction is at the heart of DevOps culture. Ensuring that a software's performance is acceptable requires the right tool. There are several types of monitoring tools: database monitoring, performance monitoring, resources monitoring, etc. Munin is an open source and free monitoring tool, allowing system, network and infrastructure monitoring.
An Agile tool helps run and manage Agile projects successfully and helps manage its different constraints, like time and budget. Agile tools should also include a collaboration tool, provide metrics and have powerful reporting tools. So, it is important to choose a tool that offers an integration of other tools. An example of such a tool is Atlassian JIRA.
5. Be Reactive, Proactive and Open to Feedback
Before DevOps, the development lifecycle allowed little to no interaction to the product before its delivery. Software was developed from end to end, and end-users could only test and provide feedback once it was delivered. They often ended up with a product that didn’t meet their needs. Applying changes was a long and similar process.
For high-quality software, it is important to be open to feedback and act on it as soon as it is given.
Feedback can be gathered through three different channels:
- From operations team to development team and vice versa
- From end-users to the development team
From application logging: allow the software we develop to give us feedback
The operations team gives its feedback by reporting errors or bugs or by suggesting improvements. Several tuning and monitoring tools like Munin or Sentry One are now used to track issues, they have become so efficient that tracking problems really soon and identifying potential bottlenecks have become easier. Suggestion and bugs reporting help improve code quality and even help anticipate problems and find solutions before they affect production. Fixing a reported issue as soon as it occurs is more than a good practice. Efforts should be deployed to reduce time to fix a bug.
Continuous delivery in itself does not guarantee client satisfaction, but rather client satisfaction is a result of a long process. Feedback from users gives an idea of how well the feature released is responding to users’ needs and what adjustments can be made to improve user experience and to improve business value.
Another way to gather feedback is through log collection. Logging improves reactivity as well as proactivity. Application logging is very important; it helps understand how the application is responding to different environments and helps anticipate potential performance issues etc.
Today, we are deploying lots of efforts to fix production issues as soon as they occur. Continuous feedback and reactivity have greatly improved software delivery and maintenance, making them part of best practices.
Reactivity is a good practice but solving problems before they even occur is even better. Anticipation is the key. How great it would be for user experience if we could anticipate their needs, solve issues before they even occur. How can we be more proactive?
Applying lessons learned from previous challenges is one way to be more proactive. During the validation phase, situations that could possibly be causing problems can be triggered, the software has to pass these situations successfully in order to be eligible for a production deployment.
Another way to be more proactive is upfront communication: assume less and inform more. We have all suffered at least once from poor communication. The development team may sometimes engage in debugging for several days only to realize that it was due to changes in the production environment configuration.
To sum up, in order to achieve proactivity and improve software quality:
- We should test against known and anticipated scenarios.
- We look for feedback given or gathered through different channels and act on it as soon as we receive it.
- Every change that may affect the development process should be communicated
Applying these practices is not as difficult as it may seem. Once the organization is set with the right tools and the culture is understood, it is easier to apply DevOps principles on a daily basis. Communication and collaboration via the right tools ensure that software development process is running smoothly.
Eventually, DevOps should come naturally, it is as natural as changes organization and business are undergoing all the time.
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