PaaA is great for DevOps too: treat your Platform as a Product!

In this previous post, I chronicled my evolving understanding of PaaS and how it has taught me the virtues of treating your Platform as an Application (PaaA). Here I documented what I believe a self-respecting platform application should do.  In this post I’m going to describe how I’ve seen PaaA help solve the Dev and Ops “problem” in large organisations (“Traditional Enterprises” if you prefer).

DevOps is a highly used/abused term and here I’d like to define it as:

An organisational structure optimised for the fastest release of changes possible within a pre-defined level of acceptable risk associated with making changes. Or simply: the organisational structure that lets you release as fast as possible without losing control and messing up too badly.

This isn’t my first attempt at tackling DevOps teams, also see a blog here and an Ignite here. Of course lots of other good things have been written about it as well, e.g. here from Matt Skelton. I believe PaaA provides a good path.

So this is the traditional diagram for siloed Dev and Ops:

devops1

*Skull and crossbones denote issues which I won’t describe again here.  If you aren’t familiar with the standard story, I suggest viewing this excellent video by RackSpace.

For any organisation with more than one major application component (aka Product), when we add these to the diagram above it starts looking something like this:

devops2

Each application component (or Product) e.g. the website (Site) or the Content Management System (CMS) is affected by both silos. Obviously traditionally the Development (Dev) silo write the code, whilst the Operations (Ops) silo use part-automated processes to release, host, operate, and do whatever necessary to keep the application in service.  Whilst each “Business Application”  exists in both silo, only the Ops team have the pleasure of implementing and supporting “the Platform” i.e. the infrastructure and middleware.

So if silos are bad, perhaps the solution is the following. One giant converged team:

devops3

The problem with this is scale. There is a high likelihood that attempting to adopt this in practice actually fails and sub teams quickly form within it to re-enforce the original silos.

So we can look to subdivide this and make smaller combined Development and Operations teams per application component or small group of them. If that works for you, then fantastic!  This also is effectively the model you are already using when connecting your in-house application to any external or 3rd party web-services (for example Experian).

devops4

In my experience though, it is impractical and inappropriate to have so many different teams within one organisation each looking after their own Platform. Logically (as per the experience of public cloud) and physically (as per traditional data centres and private cloud) major elements of the platform are best to be shared e.g. for economies of scale, or perhaps for application performance.

So what about when you treat your Platform as an Application?  Where could Dev and Ops reside?

The optimum solution in my experience is a follows:

devopsPaaA

The Platform Application (highlighted above by a glowing yellow halo) has a dedicated and independent, fully-combined Development and Operations team and it is treated just like any other Business Application.

Hang on a minute, haven’t I just re-branded what would traditionally be just know as the Operations team as a Platform Application team?

Well no. Firstly the traditional Development team usually has no Operations duties such as following their code all the way to production and then being on call to support it once it is in there. They may not feel accountable for instrumentation and monitoring and operability, perhaps not even performance.  Now they must consider all of these and implement them within the constraints of the capabilities provided by the Platform Application upon which they depend.  By default nothing will be provided for them, it is for them to consume from the Platform Application.  So the Platform Application team are already alleviated of a lot of accountability compared to a traditional Operations team. So long as they can prove the Platform Application is available and meeting service levels, their pagers will not bother them.

Secondly, the platform team are no longer a quite so different from other end-to-end Business Application teams. They manage scope, they develop code, they manage dependencies, they measure quality, they can do Continuous Delivery and they must release they application just like anyone else.  Sure their application is extremely critical in that everyone else (all the products using the platform instance) depends on them, but managing dependencies is very important between Business Applications as well, so isn’t a new problem.

The Platform Application delivery team (which we could also call the Platform Product team) hey have to constantly recognise that their application has to provide a consistent experience to consuming Business Applications. One great technique for this (borrowing from “normal” applications is Semantic Versioning (SemVer) where every change made has to be labelled to provide a meaningful depiction of the compatibility the new version relative to the previous.  In Platform Application terms we can update the SemVer description as:

  1. MAJOR version when you expect consuming Business Applications to need changes e.g. you change the RDMS
  2. MINOR version when you don’t expect consuming Business Applications to break, but need full regression testing, e.g. configuration tuning or a security update
  3. PATCH version when you make backwards-compatible changes expected to have no or a very low change of external impact.  For example if the IaaS API has a change which the Platform Application fully abstracts Business Applications from.

Hopefully it is becoming clear how the powerful and effective the mentality of treating your Platform as an Application (or Product) can be.  Everything that has been invented to help deliver normal applications can be re-used and/or adapted for Platform Applications.  The pattern is also extremely conducive to switching to a public PaaS, in fact, it is exactly how you operate when using on one.

Full disclosure: I run an organisation that develop and manage multiple different Platform Applications for different enterprises.  I am most enthusiastic about this approach because I feel it reconciles a lot of the conventional wisdom around DevOps that I’ve heard about, with what I’ve seen first-hand to be extremely successful in my job working in “traditional Enterprises”.

Reducing Continuous Delivery Impedance – Part 4: People

This is my fourth post in a series I’m writing about impedance to doing continuous delivery.  Click these links for earlier parts about the trials of InfrastructureSolution Complexity and COTS products.

On the subject of Continuous Delivery where the intention is to fail fast, it’s actually rather sloppy of me to defer talking about people my fourth blog on this. When it comes to implementing Continuous Delivery there is nothing more potentially obstructive than people.  Or to put things more positively, nothing can have a more positive impact than people!

Here are my top 4 reason that people could cause impedance.

#1 Ignorance  A lack understanding and appreciation of Continuous Delivery even among small but perhaps vocal or influential minority can be a large source of impedance.  Many Developers and Operators (and a new species of cross-breeds!) have heard of Continuous Delivery and DevOps, but often Project Managers, Architects, Testers, Management/Leadership may not.  Continuous Delivery is like Agile in that it needs to be embraced by an organisation as a whole, simply because anyone in an organisation is capable of causing impedance by their actions and the decisions they make.  For example the timelines set by a project manager simply may not support taking time to automate.  A software package selected by an architect could cause a lot of pain to everyone with an interest in automation.

A solution to this that I’ve seen work well has been awareness sessions.  Whatever format that works best for sharing knowledge (brownbag lunches, webinars, communication sessions, memos, the pub etc) should be used to make people aware of what Continuous Delivery can do, how it works, why it is important, and what all the various terminology all means.

I once spent a week doing this and talked to around 10 different projects in an organisation and hundreds of people.  It was a very rewarding experience and by the end of it we’d gone from knowing 1 or 2 interested people to scores.  It was also great to make connections with people already starting to do great things towards the cause.  We even created a social media group to share ideas and research.

#2 Ambivalence?  As I’ve discussed before some people reject Continuous Delivery because they see it as un-achievable and / or inappropriate for their organisation. (Often I’ve seen this being due to confusion with Continuous Deployment.)  Also, don’t overlook a cultural aversion to automation. In my experience it’s only been around 5 years since the majority of people “in charge” were still very skeptical about the concept of automating the full software stack preferring.

A solution here (assuming you’ve revisited the awareness sessions where necessary) is to organise demos of any aspects of Continuous Delivery already adopted and demonstrate that it is real and already adding value.

#3 Obedience  Another source of impedance could perhaps be a misguided perception that Continuous Delivery is actually forbidden in a particular organisation.  So people will impede it due to a misinformed attempt at obedience to the management/leadership.  Perhaps a management steer to focus only tactically on “delivery, delivery, delivery” does not allow room for automation.  Or perhaps they take a very strong interest in how everything works and haven’t yet spoken about Continuous Delivery practices, or even oppose certain important techniques like Continuous Integration.  Or perhaps a leadership mandate to cut costs makes strategic tasks like automation seem frivolous or impossible.

A solution here is for management/leadership to publicly endorse Continuous Delivery and cite it as the core strategy / methodology for ongoing delivery.  Getting them along to the above mentioned training sessions can help a lot.  Getting them to blog about it is good.  As can be setting up demos with them to highlight the benefits of automation already developed.  Working Continuous Delivery into the recognition and rewards processes could also be effective (if you please C suite!).

#4 Disobedience  Finally, if people know what Continuous Delivery is, they want it, they know they are allowed it, why would they then disobey and not do it?  Firstly it could be down to other sources of impedance that make it difficult even for the most determined (e.g. Infrastructure).  But it could also easily be a lack of time or resources or budget or skills.

Skills are relatively easy to address so long as you make time.  Depending on where you live there could be masses of good MeetUps to go and learn at.  There are superb tutorials online for all of the open source tools.  #FreeNode is packed with good IRC channels of supportive individuals.  The list goes on.

Another thing to consider here is governance.  As I’ve confessed before, some people like me really like things like pipeline orchestration, configuration management, automated deployments etc. But this is not the norm.  It is very common for such concerns to be unloved and to slip through the cracks with no-one feeling accountable.  Making sure there is a clear owner for all of these is a very important step.  Personally I am always more than happy to take this accountability on projects as opposed to seeing them sit unloved and ignored.

Finally as I’ve said before, DevOps discussions often focus around the idea that an organisation has just two silos – Development and Operations.  But in my experience, things are usually lot more complex with multiple silos perhaps by technology, release, department etc., multiple vendors, multiple suppliers, you name it.  Putting a DevOps team in place to help get started towards Continuous Delivery can be one effective way of ensuring there is ownership, dedicated focus and skills ready to work with others to overcome people impedance.  Of course heed the warnings.

Obviously overall People Impedance is a huge subject.  I hope this has been of some use.  Please let me know your own experiences.