I recently had the pleasure of hosting Donnie Berkholz, Research Director at 451 Research, in a webinar devoted to the latest developments in the world of DevOps—DevOps 101: Moving Fast with Confidence. Donnie’s research focuses on the software development cycle, making him the perfect choice to share his sense of the current pulse of DevOps.

You can watch the entire webinar video at the end of this post, but I wanted to first share some highlights of our discussion, from the high cost of bad software to the three pillars of DevOps success.

How software problems cost one firm $10 million per minute!

To illustrate why DevOps matters so much, Donnie shared the story of Knight Capital Group. As a high-frequency financial trading company, KCG’s core business was fundamentally tied to its IT systems operating at peak performance. Yet the company was maintaining its IT infrastructure with outdated processes and limited automation.

When deployment was missed to one of their production servers a few years ago, the resulting 45 minutes of debugging cost the company an estimated $440 million or more. That’s about $10 million per minute, according to a story in the New York Times.

Why DevOps matters even more today

As software becomes a core element of more and more businesses, Donnie said, the potential costs of poor software become even more severe. The drive toward creating better software is sometimes wrapped up in buzzwords like “digital transformation,” but don’t dismiss the real-world, big-money consequences of software problems such as the one that crushed Knight Capital Group.

To emphasize that point, Donnie shared insightful research on software trends. Even as more organizations take an “aggressive adoption stance towards emerging technologies,” he said, their goals have shifted. Over the past four years, 451 Research has seen a move from a pure focus on “lower costs” in favor of “speed/time to market” and “lower risk.”

Building better software today means maximizing agility while minimizing risk, which just so happens to validate DevOps’ core premise.

The “How” of DevOps

Not surprisingly, the fast rise of the DevOps movement has generated a myriad of sometimes conflicting definitions and priorities. To help provide clarity, Donnie shared his three pillars of DevOps success:

  1. Culture
  2. Automation
  3. Measurement

3 pillars of devops

The culture pillar is about breaking down silos to build empathy, particularly between development and operations teams that have historically worked in fairly isolated environments. Donnie emphasized the importance of putting these disciplines in the same room to reduce barriers to communication. Equally important is the practice of sharing information across the broader organization.

The importance of automation as the second pillar of DevOps reflects the shift in how IT infrastructure is maintained in a modern software environment. Whereas Knight Capital treated its servers as “pets,” each with its own unique maintenance and configuration requirements, today’s best practice has evolved to treat servers as “cattle,” where a fleet of basically indistinguishable servers is configured en masse through automation. Automated deployments across a fleet of servers can significantly improve scalability and reduce the risk of errors.

While culture and automation have garnered much of the DevOps headlines, measurement is an increasingly important element for success. Donnie implored companies adopting DevOps to monitor the actual increases they see in agility and speed of software delivery—and quantify the value created. He also stressed the importance of using shared tools across dev and ops teams to facilitate the empathy that DevOps requires. With common metrics and shared tools for sharing that data, the measurement pillar acts as an important DevOps enabler. Cultural transformation is hard unless everyone has clear and consistent information on the progress you’re making. Similarly, automation can actually harm application stability if you’re not able to measure the impact.

RELATED: Read our ebook DevOps Without Measurement Is a Fail

DevOps execution remains the key

The pillars of DevOps may sound simple, but they’re not always easy to implement. So Donnie closed his talk with a word of caution: DevOps can provide real value but execution is the key to extracting it.

New technologies can help. According to 451 Research, for example, Docker adoption is growing dramatically to meet the demand spurred by DevOps. According to a 2016 survey (see slides 23 and 24 in Donnie’s slide deck), 14% of cloud-using organizations are deploying Docker in production, while another 31% are piloting it. The containerization movement, meanwhile, is driving high adoption of microservices, where monolithic applications are broken down into collections of small, loosely coupled services.

Containers and microservices create opportunities to boost agility and speed, but they also introduce complexity. That includes complexity in terms of organizational processes needed to properly incorporate these new technologies, and also complexity in terms of the new tools needed to support these new approaches.

To help sort through those complexities and get tips for how to navigate the challenges of DevOps, watch the entire webinar below:

Ready to learn more?

Discover how your organization can successfully make the transition to DevOps. Visit the New Relic DevOps Hub for more information and resources.


Ravi Tharisayi is a Senior Product Marketing Manager, APM. He has 15 years of experience in the IT industry, starting as a Java web developer before a 10-year stint at IBM in consulting and marketing roles. Having first-hand experience with the frustrations of the waterfall software development methodology, Ravi is passionate about DevOps and development on the cloud. He’s also a proud Boston native and cheered for the Patriots even when they had Steve Grogan. View posts by .

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