Automation is widely considered to be the key to DevOps. The more systems can take care of themselves, the more productive the newly combined development and operational environments can be.
But this is only part of the equation. Equally important is getting today’s disparate IT professionals to work together as a team. When development does not know what operations wants or needs, and vice versa (let alone those mysterious guys in test and QA), the workflow breaks down. This is where collaboration comes in.
Indeed, many DevOps practitioners are coming around to the idea that collaboration is just as important as automation, since this is where the higher-level thought processes are streamlined. Oji Udezue, head of product for Atlassian’s Stride team communication platform, notes that the most difficult aspect of software development and support to date is the constant hand-offs from one stage to another.
“How do people efficiently hand off these artifacts?” he asks. “How can they collaborate when the process demands more than just machines talking to each other?”
In a properly working DevOps environment, Udezue says, the transfer of projects from one creative team to another is the best way to ensure quality of development and deployment. It is also vital for the feedback loop, particularly when it comes to incident management.
“When you put something into the field, you wait until the software tells you something is wrong, and if possible you deal with it in an automated way,” he said. “But when it is a big problem, you need a way for people to jump in and fix it fast.”
With a proper collaboration platform, experts can instantly connect with one another, share data, leverage the correct diagnostic tools, and manage the workflow to a successful resolution. At the same time, it can codify the metrics of the incident response itself, allowing analysts to break it down subsequently in order to identify and correct any weak spots and recommend changes for future incidents.
“90 percent of incident management is communication,” Udezue said. “In cases where there is a down situation, the most critical thing is to assemble a response team, which is usually an ad hoc team. There are other ways to do this, such as through social media and email, but all companies are finding it works much better with collaboration.”
A single platform, however, is only effective within a broader collaborative strategy, which Udezue says should be built around the following elements:
- Efficiency – it must provide a more efficient means of corporate communications than today’s random collection of tools.
- Knowledge Sharing – it must provide effective means of sharing information that are acceptable to users.
- Democratic – it must be open and easily initiated to allow for universal access.
- Intuitive – it must be easy to use and provide clarity of the problem and direction on how to address it.
- Archiving – it must provide a means to research past processes and learn from them.
Collaboration is endemic to the human experience; virtually every great accomplishment started with one person sharing an idea with another. In complex, distributed environments, however, collaboration requires a great deal of technical help, which means the enterprise that collaborates most effectively will usually come out on top.
Below are some of the leading collaboration solutions for DevOps environments:
Flowdock offers a wide range of collaboration tools, including single sign-on under current management systems, customizable data retention policy support, integrated auto-removal of participants and workflow-level management and integration. It also provides NIST 800-53 Rev 4 security and both in-flight and at-rest data encryption.
Hipchat is an enterprise-grade system that provides secure group chat, video chat, screen-sharing and other advanced features. It is designed to meet all regulatory and compliance needs and can scale from as few as 10 users to more than 15,000. It allows full admin oversight of instances through guest access management, integration governance and chat history control.
The Now Platform is an application Platform as a Service (aPaaS) environment that supports IT service management, security and other functions by digitizing and automating build, test and deployment processes. The system features visual task boards and an interactive drag-and-drop console for real-time collaboration, as well as an integrated knowledge management suite for rapid access to the right answers to problems.
Pivotal Tracker utilizes a story approach to develop and track projects from initial concept to delivery. A story is a small, actionable bit of work that helps focus activity around what needs to be done, such as feature development or bug repair. Meanwhile, a workspaces feature allows users to view projects side-by-side, move stories between projects and search story backlogs.
Stride is a full-service team communication platform that provides group chat and direct message, as well as voice/video conferencing and built-in collaboration tools, all aimed at turning simple discussions into realized projects. The system offers customized notifications for rooms and devices, plus a Focus Mode that allows users to turn off notifications and distractions to engage in deep work.
Team Foundation Server
Team Foundation Server or TFS is an integrated suite of developer tools within the Visual Studio platform. It provides code repositories, agile planning tools, and other capabilities to manage a collaborative development/integration process. It works with any language and is compatible with any Git client, as well as Eclipse, XCode or customized IDE or code editor.
Trello is a web application that allows users to organize and prioritize projects through cards, lists, boards and other tools. It provides broad team collaboration and easy onboarding of new users, and it allows apps that are already in production to be easily integrated into existing workflows to provide highly customizable experiences.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.