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Keeping up with the Facebooks: DevOps delivers faster mobile app development

Tony Bradley Editor-in-Chief, TechSpective.net
The pace of developing and updating mobile apps requires that organizations embrace DevOps tools and principles in order to keep up.

DevOps is a relatively new trend. Many years ago—back before EDS was acquired by HP—I worked on a team that performed security analysis of software development projects. The entire process was methodical, bordering on tedious. By the time we got software ready to deploy, we had already amassed a laundry list of changes and fixes to apply to the next major release. It would take months to go back to step one and work through the development lifecycle before that next release would see the light of day. Rinse and repeat.

That entire concept seems foreign now. Everything is real time and instantaneous. The mobile revolution has completely changed the way we interact with software, and companies like Facebook have completely altered the expectations for software development and deployment.

The Facebook mobile app is updated and refreshed every two weeks like clockwork. That's the new normal. Users expect apps to be constantly fixed and updated. A company that takes a month or more to fix a bug or deploy a refresh with new features and capabilities will quickly fade into obscurity. Users expect it now, and if you can't deliver it, they'll move on and find a different vendor who can.

In a roundabout way, Facebook is helping drive the trend. Andrew Storms, VP of security services at New Context and a respected authority on DevOps, notes that Facebook—like Netflix—was an early adopter of DevOps principles and tools. It may not have been called "DevOps," but the demand to accelerate the development lifecycle without sacrificing stability or performance essentially required a DevOps approach.

Facebook and its web-giant peers like Amazon, Google, and others have fundamentally changed customer expectations. Now, all enterprises must become fast, efficient, software-driven businesses to meet their customers' expectations.

Why DevOps? Why now?

Avi Cavale, CEO and co-founder of Shippable, points out that "Agile and DevOps is critical to mobile app development where deployment cycles are super fast. It's a crowded, quick-moving space, and companies have to out-think and out-innovate their competition to survive. The average time an app remains in the top 10 list in an app store is only a month."

To illustrate what DevOps means to the software development lifecycle, let's take a look at learning how to drive. When you first learn to drive, you focus on every step of the process individually. There's a methodical, linear way to do things: Check the sides and back of the vehicle before getting in; buckle up and adjust the seat, mirrors, and steering wheel; start the car; hands at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock on the steering wheel; etc. A simple task like switching lanes invokes a multistep process that's executed tediously and in order.

That's how old-school development methodologies like waterfall work. DevOps, to use the previous example, is more like the natural way you drive a car after you've been doing it a few years. Everything happens simultaneously and intuitively. You can start the car and drive from point A to point B without giving it any conscious thought.

Companies need to move beyond the slow, tedious process of developing applications. The world of mobile apps is too fast. Born out of the success of Facebook, Amazon, Google, and others, DevOps is designed to deliver stable, effective apps quickly. It's not easy per se, but you don't have to be Facebook to succeed at DevOps. You can't buy DevOps like you can a product or service. There are tools and services, but DevOps is more about the cultural shift and changing the dynamics of how teams work together.

Choosing DevOps: Not if, but when (and make it soon)

It's not a choice, really. In today's fast-paced world, choosing DevOps is like choosing to breathe. You can do it or you can die.

Only 16 percent of companies starting out today will survive beyond a generation, according to data from the US Small Business Administration. For mobile app companies, it's not a choice anymore. If they don't adopt agile or DevOps practices, they'll soon be extinct.

In our consumer-driven world, companies have to constantly innovate and keep their products and services fresh, with better usability, features, colors, etc. Any feature that a company introduces can be reverse engineered and copied by a competitor in a matter of a few weeks. For example, people switched from Viber to WhatsApp seamlessly because of the latter's constant innovation.

Chef's Nicole Forsgren, a foremost DevOps researcher, found in extensive research that high-performing DevOps organizations are twice as likely as other companies to exceed profitability, market share, and product goals, and they achieved 50 percent market cap growth over a three-year period.

Innovating more quickly and securely requires three things: automation, cloud, and DevOps. Depending on how you define DevOps, it can be challenging to separate those three elements. DevOps is all about unifying everyone within an IT organization around the same goal: to deliver software faster, with greater quality and less risk.

DevOps: Not just for mobile apps anymore

"In short, only the minority are truly ready to match Facebook's pace," cautions Jay Wampold, VP of marketing at Chef. "However, most, if not all businesses are waking up to the reality that they will have to keep pace with the Facebooks of the world to succeed in today's digital economy."

Wampold notes that Chef sees organizations in all industries adopt automation and cloud technologies in combination with DevOps practices to innovate at velocity and reduce time-to-market with faster software delivery. The reality is that DevOps is quickly evolving from a fringe trend to mainstream adoption. You can see it in analyst research. Gartner recently predicted that 25 percent of enterprises will be using DevOps next year. You can also see it coming from the major IT vendors. Microsoft, HP, Amazon, and others are investing heavily in open source and DevOps.

DevOps itself is still a somewhat ethereal concept. What makes DevOps the definitive route to faster and safer software delivery is unique to each organization, claims Wampold. "The foundational principles—automate everything you can, eliminate the barriers between development, operations, and others, create a culture based on trust—can be applied to any business."

The resulting organizational and technical decisions can be tailored to meet the needs of each organization. And with this shift comes greater velocity, safer operations, and happier customers.

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