The 9 best practices for DevOps: what you ought to do and what you shouldn't do
Over the past decade, we've leveraged DevOps practices to maximize productivity and create value, which has been a hot topic in the software industry. We have embraced these practices and changed how we work and think about development, operations, project management, code quality, observability and continuous feedback.
As organizations have begun to apply these practices, we have noticed the emergence of many anti-patterns. In this article, we will focus on some best practices for DevOps and ways to improve our workflow, as well as explore some typical DevOps anti-patterns along the way and know how to avoid them.
What is DevOps and why is it important?
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By now, you have probably seen hundreds of different definitions of DevOps. For me, DevOps is a set of best practices around the software development lifecycle, a practice of continuous improvement and value delivery.
Based on this, DevOps is a culture that spreads equally between developers and operations staff rather than specific roles. The term has been used as a blanket term to describe the engineering roles of cloud-savvy personnel who share the pain and responsibility of developers and operations staff. At the same time, they work to enable and promote DevOps practices within the organization.
So why are we making a fuss about it? The implementation of these practices has been proven to improve software quality. Different software and operations teams collaborate more effectively, reducing friction and delivery times, continuously integrating and testing their codes, and deploying more frequently.
It's about identifying inefficiencies in our workflows and building a culture of ongoing communication and trust. It's also about handling breakdowns and unplanned work, leveraging automation and focusing on observability for meaningful feedback.
Best practices for DevOps to follow
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Now that we've laid the groundwork let's explore some best practices for DevOps. This list should not be exhaustive but rather a guide with tips to assist you in adopting a sound DevOps culture.
1. Fostering a culture of collaboration and blameless communication
First and foremost, to make this process successful, we must focus on and foster a culture that allows people to collaborate freely and removes their fear of failure. Organizations and teams that promote values such as trust and empathy often have a great advantage in adopting DevOps practices. Breaking down insularity between teams and allowing them to work together towards a common goal can bring value to a company.
Spacelift is one tool that provides an enhanced collaboration layer for IaC. In Spacelift, you can engage security and compliance teams to collaborate and approve workflows and policies.
2. Adopting continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD)
The frequent integration of small batches of codes into a central code repository allows developers to collaborate effectively. With this approach, the repository is always in good shape as we introduce easier to handle changes. Continuous integration (CI) enables error detection and improves code quality as these changes are verified with automated construction and testing.
The next step in integrating the codes is to deploy them into our environment. Continuous Delivery (CD) continuously puts codes into a deployable state for each change. This simplifies the deployment and provides developers with a simple automated approach to putting codes into production environments.
3. Setting up automated tests
A continuation of the last point and an integral part of DevOps success is setting up and curating meaningful automated tests as part of our CI/CD pipeline. In this way, we no longer rely on manual testing. Instead, we set up automated tests that run on each tiny change introduced to our codes.
By increasing the frequency and number of tests, we reduce the chances of bugs being introduced into the production system. Testing varies by use case, but it may typically include unit testing, integration testing, end-to-end testing, load testing, smoke testing, etc.
4. Focus on observability and find the right indicators
DevOps practices are based on the feedback we receive and on a process of continuous improvement. We must track the right metrics to achieve this goal and measure the results. Finding the right metrics is an arduous journey every organisation must go through.
These metrics vary from one organization and team to another, depending on the objectives and the key results being targeted. Some typical examples of DevOps metrics are deployment time, deployment frequency, deployment failure rate, availability of critical services, average detection time, average recovery time, unit cost, code coverage and advancement of changes.
What's more, we must also focus on the observability of applications and software running in production. We must define a strategy to store, manage and distribute our application logs effectively, manage traceability and metrics quickly to resolve issues, improve system understandability and keep our teams operating efficiently.
5. Using automation to avoid manual operation
By reducing manual work and automating repetitive tasks, we speed up processes and improve the consistency of results. Automation allows us to focus on the important things and avoid human intervention. It also provides greater confidence in our systems and processes, eliminating human error and miscommunication and improving team performance.
6. Incorporate security in the early stages of the development lifecycle
Security should not be the last thing to be integrated into software development. The emergence of DevSecOps emphasizes that we should consider application and infrastructure security in the early stages of the development lifecycle, incorporate security into the initial design and integrate it into the CI/CD pipeline.
Security should be a responsibility shared by different teams and throughout the application lifecycle. It should be considered an integral part of the process rather than an additional optional component. Recently, there has been a focus on protecting the software supply chain due to increased malicious attacks over the last few years.
In the area of infrastructure, even the slightest error can lead to serious disruption. That's why Spacelift has added a policy layer that allows one to control independently of their infrastructure project what codes can be executed, what changes can be made, when and by whom. This serves to protect themselves from the villains and allows them to implement an automated code review pipeline.
7. Learn from the experiences and build processes around them
In the world of IT, incidents are inevitable. It doesn't matter how well prepared the team is. It is the incidents that you have to resolve. In these situations, it is important to focus on impeccable communication, learning about the problem, communicating effectively with the affected parties and collaborating with them to seek a solution.
It is equally important to have a process in mind to document the incident and learn from it. Once the incident has been addressed, spend some time with your team to develop a post-incident review and discuss how the incident was handled. Try to find any possible improvements in handling the incident that can help you avoid it next time.
8. Focus on the concept first, then find the proper tool
As the DevOps space evolves rapidly, new tools and services are emerging daily. Rather than constantly integrating new tools and services, it is better to focus on understanding the core concepts that allow companies to accelerate their business through DevOps practices.
Understanding these concepts and prioritizing the missing pieces can you select the proper tools for the job successfully. Remember that you will not be able to build everything in your team. Rely on DevOps tools and managed services whenever it is necessary. Work wisely with your team, try to understand your internal expertise and needs, work on building custom tools when it is needed, and rely on external tools and services for the rest.
9. Adopting Infrastructure as Code (IaC) and promoting a self-service infrastructure model
Cloud infrastructure should be regarded as an integral part of software development, and we should treat it the same as application code. By leveraging infrastructure as Code, we can integrate the best practices we employ for software development, such as version control and CI/CD, into infrastructure creation. The model removes the need to manually set up and configure resources via the UI and further enhances our automation efforts across the IT landscape. Changes are always auditable and transparent, allowing us to rapidly revert infrastructure systems to their previous state when issues arise.
Rather than adding another bottleneck of waiting for cloud infrastructure engineers to create the necessary resources, we should take a step ahead and think about driving a self-service infrastructure model. In this model, developers and anyone needing infrastructure resources can use tools to generate the required parts. This way, we increase productivity and speed while providing independence for our developers, all through a single workflow.
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With the rise of DevOps, we have seen the emergence of an anti-pattern. In the pursuit of adopting DevOps practices, people have misunderstood the scope of its application and made mistakes that lead to common anti-patterns. Let's find out some common challenges, pitfalls and misconceptions companies face while implementing DevOps principles.
1. Do not create a separate DevOps team
Companies often make a mistake when adopting DevOps practices to create a separate team to handle the DevOps transition. Unfortunately, this adds a silo to the process and breaks the central promise of DevOps to increase collaboration and shared ownership between existing teams.
Similarly, we have seen operation teams renamed DevOps teams without any real change in the organisation's culture, communication and collaboration. DevOps is designed to bring disparate teams closer rather than create a new team.
2. Avoid relying on individuals to apply DevOps
Sometimes, specific team members are involved in DevOps practices more than others. This may be due to accumulated knowledge, a higher level of experience or the increased effort of one individual. When this pattern emerges, it can lead to a DevOps anti-pattern quickly in which specific team members become indispensable to the team.
This situation is problematic because the performance and speed of the team depend on individuals. At the same time, that person may be faced with a lot of work, which can lead to staff leaving. To avoid this anti-pattern, we should spread knowledge among the team and team members. We should share the work equally without relying on individuals, teamwork, or rigid processes to achieve outcomes.
3. Do not try to automate and change everything at once
Applying DevOps practices to an organization at the beginning can be daunting. In most cases, trying to solve all problems at once is not the right approach. First, we need to analyze the current situation and processes within the company. People tend not to accept numerous changes, so you must think strategically. It is important to prioritize tasks accordingly, find quick solutions, automate things that, in turn, have a greater impact and focus on one thing at a time.
4. Avoid the pursuit of new tools
With new services and tools appearing almost every day, it is tempting to adopt and use these new tools. Engineers often fall into the trap of introducing a new tool just because it is introduced without a proper analysis of whether it is needed or the best choice.
Choosing the right tool for the job is crucial, but it is also a process that should be carefully scrutinized. For each new service or tool we add, we should consider its maintainability and the operational overhead, dependencies, complexity and new cognitive load we introduce.
5. Never trade quality for speed
Since one of the main factors of the success of DevOps is speed, many teams try to speed up their processes at the expense of quality and security. Many of the typical DevOps metrics are based on how quickly we deliver, deploy and deliver value, but they are not enough, to tell the truth, as they only tell half the story. It's easy to miss the point of what's important and how to deliver quality software. Due to an overwhelming focus on speed, we should treat speed and quality equally, add meaningful automated tests and avoid cutting corners to speed up shipments.
6. Do not give up the continuous improvement
Applying effective DevOps practices is a dynamic process that should be managed on an ongoing basis. It may be tempting to relax after implementing all the best practices of DevOps in the roadmap, but unfortunately, the process never stops.
We should review our workflows and continuously improve our systems, processes and products. We must establish a continuous feedback process to review and reflect on our choices and then make improvements. New paradigms, best practices and improved models always emerge, and we should be anxious if we want our teams to survive, perform and succeed.
7. Do not neglect documentation and effective information sharing
By definition, the successful adoption of DevOps practices relies on effectively sharing information within an organization and creating a workplace that organically fosters collaboration. Unfortunately, neglecting documentation and information sharing is a common anti-pattern among software teams. When handled properly, documentation can be a handy tool for developers.
We try to integrate documentation tasks into the cumulative work of the team and treat documentation as a first-class citizen within the organization. Documentation is not static and should be kept up to date, consistently created and accessible to anyone who needs them.
Words in the End
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We explore different best practices and examples of DevOps and analyze how we can combine them to accelerate team performance and value creation. There are also some hidden pitfalls and anti-patterns that we see and need to be aware of and avoid in pursuing excellent DevOps.