While the DevOps model is widely accepted as a best practice for agile enterprises, a large majority of organizations are stuck midway in their journey to fully adopting it, according to the 2021 State of DevOps Report by infrastructure automation company Puppet. Findings from the report and interviews with experts point to fallout from a broader shift to cloud native technologies. The lack of solid cloud native strategies is throwing a monkey wrench into progress made by developers and operations working together better inside organizations.
The report found that 83 percent of organizations are implementing DevOps practices, but 80 percent of those respondents have fallen into a mid-level evolution category – and some companies have languished there for some time. DevOps is increasingly critical as more organizations move to hybrid multicloud operations, where they design and run cloud native applications.
DevOps represents a change in IT culture, focusing on rapid IT service delivery through the adoption of agile, lean practices in the context of a system-oriented approach, according to research firm Gartner. DevOps emphasizes people and culture, emphasizing collaboration between IT operations and software development teams. DevOps implementations utilize technology — especially automation tools that can leverage an increasingly programmable and dynamic infrastructure from a life cycle perspective.
DevOps moved into the mainstream because the approach enables companies to deploy software quickly and securely, often with on-demand delivery. These are essential in the hybrid multicloud era, where organizations manage data and applications across private cloud and multiple public cloud services. Reliance on interactivity across different IT systems demands a different approach, according to Mark Lavi, DevOps solution architect at Nutanix.
“Traditional ‘waterfall’ methodologies are characterized by gross disconnections between developers and IT operations, with development cycles that can stretch into years,” Lavi said.
Friction and stagnation in DevOps adoption typically come from divisions of responsibility across all business teams, Lavi said. Leaders who don’t unite and align different teams, clouds and applications struggle to seamlessly run critical processes. They constantly battle the complexity that fragments those efforts.
“Cloud native architectures and applications effectively require automated distribution rendered as infrastructure, operations and governance as code,” said Lavi. “This poses skill, tool and infrastructure challenges.”
A lack of cloud native strategies makes it even more challenging for teams already struggling to overcome organizational structures that obstruct transformation to new software-powered capabilities.
Why DevOps Matters When It Comes to Cloud-Native
Organizations develop cloud native applications to improve their functionality, responsiveness, scalability and ability to be updated across public, private or hybrid clouds. This allows companies to shift resources away from maintenance and toward building new capabilities, according to Ashesh Badani, vice president and general manager of Cloud Platforms at Red Hat.
But how well a company “does” DevOps has a significant effect on its cloud-native strategy, according to Erica Langhi, in an article for Information Age.
DevOps is “one of the fundamental patterns for embracing a cloud-native approach,” Langhi said. “DevOps is the cultural change needed to transition to cloud-native development.”
Despite touted DevOps initiatives, many companies surveyed for the 2021 State of DevOps Report don’t understand the cultural, organizational and process changes required to adopt a new way of working with technology.
“They may have invested in automation … but as an organization, they haven’t addressed the organizational silos and misaligned incentives around deploying software to production that gave rise to the DevOps movement,” the report stated.
Challenges to Doing DevOps Right
Mid-level evolution organizations have DevOps foundations, according to the Puppet report.
“They have introduced automated testing and version control, hired and/or retrained teams, and are working to improve their CI/CD pipelines,” stated the report. “They’ve managed to start optimizing for individual teams … Yet many remain stuck.”
Survey respondents said their main challenges include skills shortage (33%), legacy architecture (29%), organizational resistance to change (21%) and limited or lack of automation (19%). By contrast, highly evolved teams face more fundamental challenges, including legacy architecture and skills shortage (29%). For these well-developed DevOps teams, culture was no longer a barrier.
For teams stuck in the middle, the report stated that DevOps is likely promoted throughout the organization, but in a passive manner. They are moving toward more autonomy with access to self-service capabilities, but may still require multiple handoffs between teams. This slows project progress and maturity of DevOps. This leaves teams with a lack of clarity about purpose, mission and operating context.
Instead, leaders need to embrace “a healthy ecosystem of loosely coupled but highly cohesive teams is what helps move the needle for the organization, as focusing solely on optimizing teams in isolation is insufficient,” the report stated.
On the lower end of the mid-level evolution group (low-mid), 35% reported that DevOps is actively or passively resisted.
Moving the Middle
Ultimately, DevOps is about removing the friction between developers and the customer, according to Lavi.
"DevOps isn't a state; it's a constantly evolving process,” he said. “Removing friction means finding all of those barriers [and] understanding how to deliver your business efficiently."
True DevOps is a two-way street, said Lavi. Organizations sometimes focus their efforts on the speed and frequency of deployment. That's valuable, but it's equally important to improve the speed of information getting back from the customer.
"If we don't have that feedback, then how do we know the developers, engineers, product management or business development folks – or any of our leadership – is actually encompassing the consumer experience and their feedback and their needs?"
The Puppet survey found that the main roadblocks for the mid-level evolution group were caused by some technical but mostly cultural issues, include organizational hesitancy to buy in, risk aversion, imperfect feedback loops, vague role definitions and poor communication between teams.
“Stop talking about culture, start doing stuff,” the report recommended. “The reality is, DevOps yields results when leadership makes DevOps a meaningful priority.”
High-evolution organizations have “created knowledge and pattern sharing practices that enable fast flow optimization, and established productive change approval processes.” Those practices can help build momentum – and a lot of organizational goodwill – to support the DevOps approach. The next step is to find the right combination of stream-aligned teams and platform teams to manage team cognitive load at scale, the Puppet report stated.
- Stream-aligned teams – aligned to a flow of work from a segment of the business domain
- Platform teams – a grouping of other team types that provide a compelling internal product to accelerate delivery by stream-aligned teams
The report recommends mid-level evolution organizations to focus on the platform team approach to more quickly advance in their DevOps goals. A platform approach, by definition, “requires well-defined team responsibilities and interactions, organizational buy-in from both managers and practitioners, a strong automation practice, and a willingness to accept risk and invest for the future.”
Why It All Matters
The report states that “organizations practicing DevOps consistently report more frequent deployments, shorter lead time to change (LTTC), lower change failure rates, and faster mean time to recovery (MTTR).” So doing DevOps right can lead to significant outcomes.
A core tenant of DevOps continues to be agility, and rapidly evolving cloud native strategies force DevOp teams to stay on their toes. They must strengthen teamwork while pulling in new tools and techniques.
“By leveraging composable CI/CD solutions and prudent policies to automate secure and simplified application development, DevOps can minimize the challenges of cloud native environments while enabling developer creativity and productivity to flourish,” wrote Henrik Rosendahl, COO of Shipa, in a article titled Cloud Native 2.0: 3 DevOps Strategies to Consider Now for The New Stack.
DevOps success frequently becomes a cultural mandate to reorganize siloed teams into a continuous, shared build, deploy and operate responsibly, said Lavi.
“Success equates to a culture of shared responsibility and an environment of constant improvements to automated application delivery, operation and management as distributed architectures across multiple, hybrid clouds."
Erin Poulson is a contributing writer who specializes in IT and business topics.
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