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Survey paints discouraging scenario for enterprise IT software delivery, development

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Juan Carlos Perez Freelance writer

A troubling picture of large enterprises' software development and deployment processes emerges from an ongoing survey of IT executives, whose preliminary results TechBeacon had exclusive access to.

When asked whether their organizations have software production release problems, a whopping 77 percent of the respondents said that they do, either occasionally (62 percent) or frequently (15 percent). About 20 percent reported that their companies run into these software delivery problems "rarely" and 2 percent reported "never" facing these issues, according to the survey, which is being conducted by Gatepoint Research.

A total of 127 CxOs, VPs, directors, and managers have so far been polled for the survey, titled "Trends in DevOps, Continuous Delivery & Application Release Automation."

Common complaints

The responses paint as the norm a scenario that should be the exception, not the rule, says Sam Fell, senior director of product marketing at Electric Cloud, which is sponsoring the survey. "You should be able to release software as frequently as you want with no downtime and with no deployment problems," says Fell.

Electric Cloud, an underwriter of the currently running DevOps Enterprise Summit, has a vested interest in delving into the nature and frequency of these problems, because it's in the business of making tools to automate, accelerate, and analyze the process of building, testing, and deploying software. The company plans to continue surveying IT executives, and Fell wants to do a deeper analysis of the responses. He thinks that more insights will emerge from the data regarding causes and correlations for common difficulties faced by enterprise IT groups.

Skeptics may view this type of vendor-sponsored survey as being self-serving by definition—a thinly disguised marketing tool to drive home the message that there's an urgent need for a certain type of product. However, tales of horror about maddeningly dysfunctional software development and deployment processes are extremely common in the enterprise IT industry, and have been for decades, so the issues in question are real and relevant.

So far, the data points to other areas of concern. For example, 34 percent of respondents said that fixing problems with software they have in production takes them anywhere from days to months, when they should be shooting for deploying fixes in minutes or hours. Additionally, 41 percent admitted that their companies miss software release deadlines occasionally (37 percent) and frequently (4 percent).

Some common challenges respondents said they face with their production application releases include:

  • Developing and testing software in an environment that's different from the production environment, so that unforeseen issues pop up once the software is live and being used by customers
  • Too many manual processes that should be automated and that lead to preventable mistakes
  • Complex application dependencies and workflows

Realistic solutions

Donnie Berkholz, research director of the development, DevOps, and IT ops channel at 451 Research, says that production release problems are unavoidable. The only realistic stance is to minimize the impact of that risk by reducing time to recovery and making sure that releases roll out gradually. That way, they reach the smallest possible audience before problems crop up, he says.

"We need to move on from the common approach of blaming individuals to assuming they're all trying to do their jobs effectively and figuring out how to fix the process such that that class of mistakes becomes impossible," Berkholz says.

Blown deadlines for software delivery are very common in organizations that use a traditional waterfall model for software development, he says. " That's why we talk about shifting to agile and DevOps approaches where you're releasing frequently."

What this approach of releasing software more frequently guarantees is having a product by the date set originally, although possibly with a different feature set than originally envisioned. "In some cases that may actually be a good thing, because [if] you misunderstood the customer or user base when you designed the requirements... releasing frequently enabled you to discover and fix that," Berkholz says.

There are fewer challenges with packaged software than with code that's written in-house, but many of the same problems remain, particularly when there's heavy customization involved, he notes.

Growing awareness

The respondents, more than half of whom (54 percent) work in Fortune 1000 firms with more than $1.5 billion in revenue, appear aware that obstacles in their software development and deployment processes have an impact on their business. Many said that increasing release quality, reducing deployment errors, and cutting the cost of application delivery, among other things, would help their top and bottom lines.Survey respondents work in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, financial services, retail, telecom, media, transportation.

About 54 percent of respondents said they have a plan to adopt a DevOps way of working at some point in the coming year or beyond, while 64 percent have plans in the same time frame to implement continuous integration. About 62 percent plan to adopt deployment/application release automation.

"Interest is absolutely growing for DevOps and continuous delivery in the enterprise," says Berkholz. "We get a lot of inbound queries about how to make these drastic shifts in mindset and toolset, because it's a nontrivial process. You can't just go and buy a couple of tools and be doing DevOps."

DevOps proposes that the historical divide between the software developers and the IT operations staff needs to come down, and the two groups must function organically as one, pursuing common technology and business goals while communicating and collaborating constantly at every step of the software creation and delivery pipeline.

"Moving to DevOps is more about the journey than the destination. There is no point when you can say, 'We're done, we've reached DevOps,' " he says.

The same goes for continuous delivery. "We hear a lot about continuous delivery but most people are nowhere near that, although they often want to get there," Berkholz says.

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