Build a Foundation for DevOps and Automation

    [Published on DZONE at]

    Organizations struggling with project delivery, application availability and security maintenance  typically also have an IT culture that struggles to understanding its own environment architecture. Many of the big dollar investments in CMDB projects, monitoring solutions, Agile processes and DevOps strategies start by building the proverbial walls and roof without ever pouring the foundation.

    I believe organizations need to build reference architectures for the organization, applications and IT automation framework. However, since these reference architectures are rare and seem to spur passionate debates when discussed, I’m simply going to articulate my view of IT for others to comment.  (APM diagram posted below).

    There are three basic categories for Application Portfolio Management (APM):

    1. Business Environment Applications – provide the strategic business value.
    2. IT Supply Chain Tools – the manufacturing, delivery and maintenance tools for IT, “IT for IT.”
    3. IT Technology Platforms – vendor technologies that all applications are built on. 

    Business Environment Applications:

    The Business Environment includes two categories; Business Applications and Shared Services Platforms.

    Business Applications represent the end-user interfaces that deliver the business functions or support business processes and have four primary categories.

    • Products are IT applications or services that are sold for revenue generation such as SaaS offerings. This may or may not be relevant to your organization.
    • Front Office Applications are the primary business applications that deliver value for the business and are targets for SLA measurements. These can typically be categorized by business functions such as Marketing Services and Manufacturing Services. However, they may also have categories representing cross-functional departments such as eCommerce Services and CRM Services.
    • Business Intelligence Applications are categorized by the applications that deliver business analysis and reporting functions.
    • Back Office Applications are the corporate functions required to run the business such as Financial Services, HR services and IT Services. In this category, IT Services include the IT end-user services such as Email, VPN, Printers, Desktops and Phones.

    Shared Service Platforms represent applications that primarily provide services to other applications. These are typically services that support multiple Business Applications across multiple business departments. Therefore, the availability of these applications have broad business impacts.

    • Frontend Platforms are web proxy farms and repositories for serving media and UI (JavaScript).
    • SOA & Web Services Platforms are typical Service Oriented Architecture solutions, API governance, memory grid and cache solutions, Business Process Management (BPM) solutions and Enterprise Message Queues.
    • Backend Application Services represents a wide range of application services and data management solutions. This includes everything from ETL processes, to FTP file transfers, batch processing, data replication processes, directory services (AD), identity management, authorization and entitlement services; and infrastructure services such as DHCP, DNS. 

    IT Supply Chain Tools:

    IT Supply Chain Tools represent applications used in the development, delivery and maintenance of all other applications. In DevOps these are the applications that represent the IT manufacturing process or the IT manufacturing floor. This is the function of software development, testing, deployments, security, infrastructure management, monitoring, diagnostics and all the lifecycle tools for process management.

    • IT Lifecycle Management Tools provide processes for IT project and program management, requirements gathering, bug and defect tracking, change and release management, incident and problem management.
    • IT Operations Tools provide dashboards, analytics, support and monitoring solutions.
    • IT Security Tools provide security scans, diagnostics, forensics and reporting.
    • IT Systems Tools are utilized for environment management such as “Jump Servers.”
    • IT Deployment Tools provide deployment orchestration, code deployments, configuration management, patch management and infrastructure provisioning.
    • IT QA Tools provide test plans, scripts, functional and load testing solutions.
    • IT Development Tools provide source control, builds and continuous integration.

    This group of applications is rarely well defined in IT organizations and the individual application ownership is distributed between Dev and Ops leadership. In many cases, DevOps initiatives can be simplified down to the creation of small teams that have end-to-end ownership of this delivery chain. And once there is end-to-end ownership, the obvious reaction is to simplify and automate processes. Thus, the adoption of DevOps Engineers and the exploding popularity of tools like Jenkins, BambooChef, NolioUrbanCode and the ElectricCloud suite.

    IT Technology Platforms:

    IT Technology Platforms include two categories; Application Platforms and Infrastructure Platforms.

    Application Platforms represent technologies for software languages and runtime containers.  Many of these platforms are offered from cloud hosting providers.

    • Development Frameworks are the .Net, Java and other software development frameworks, mobile platforms and Integrated Development Environments (IDE).
    • Portal and WCMS Platforms are the portal framework applications such as Oracle WebCenter, SharePoint, and Adobe CQ.
    • Web Servers are the typical HTTP and web routing servers such as Apache, IIS, HAProxy and Nginx.
    • Application Servers provide the runtime environment for application development frameworks such as Tomcat, Jboss, Glassfish and WebLogic.
    • Database Servers provide the data and access protocols for structured and non-structured data such as Oracle DB, SQL Server, MongoDB and CouchDB.

    Infrastructure Platforms represent the core processing technologies for application platforms. I typically describe this as the primary offering from cloud hosting providers.

    • Compute Services are operating systems, virtualization technologies and storage solutions.
    • Network Services are firewalls, routers, switches, proxies, load balancers and wireless infrastructure.
    • Communication Services represents the phone and PBX infrastructure.
    • Facilities are Data Centers, Server Rooms and Network Closets that host the hardware systems. 

    APM Framework Diagram:

    Click the image below for full page view…


    So what value does this have? It provides a standard vocabulary and framework for dev, ops and non-technical resources to communicate.  That common framework can then be institutionalized in the IT tools data structure to align end-to-end logistics as the foundation for DevOps and IT operational management.

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    DevOps: Flexible Config Management? Not so fast!

    [Published on DZONE at]

    You’re in charge of establishing a department-wide deployment automation capability. Your fellow developers are excited about it, and their managers are too. There is no shortage of ideas on how it might work:

    • “Let us create our own workflows!”
    • “We should be able to configure our own servers.”
    • “It should be able to deploy from Nexus, Artifactory, S3, or whatever we choose.”
    • “We can finally use the app versioning scheme my team likes.”
    • “My team should get to do parallel installs if we want”
    • “We should have open APIs so anybody can execute their own deployment solution.”
    • “Each team should be able to configure the middleware for their application’s needs.”

    Developers hate being told how to do things, so there is a general consensus that if you can make this deployment tool as flexible as possible, you’ll be able to build the best deployment automation system the world has ever seen.

    Sounds great, except that it’s totally wrong.

    Flexibility kills quality

    Configuration “drift” is evil.  Drift causes downtime and rollbacks.  Flexibility creates drift.

    I’ve been involved in data center migration projects where almost every server in a production farm was configured differently.  It’s amazing the application even worked!  On many other occasions we have rolled back code because the QA and Prod configurations were so different that our testing failed to uncover critical bugs.  Although these environments sound ridiculous, I’m confident that it describes a common scenario across enterprise environments.  I will also state that we had talented systems administrators managing the environments, unfortunately each one had the flexibility to manage the systems to their liking.

    Our initial investment in deployment automation (and what initiated our devops strategy) was largely driven by a need to eliminate drift and increase availability.  We knew automated deployments should be driven by data, and server instance data would be sourced from a CMDB.  However, we quickly realized that our CMDB schema allowed for configuration drift. This led to one of our first devops principles:  Don’t manage problems that you can eliminate.

    Eliminate drift with inflexible schema data.  Tools from operations teams tend to be server or device centric and we wanted our deployment automation to be app and farm centric.  In other words, we wanted to deploy apps to a farm entity, where the server instances are attributes of the farm.  However, we found traditional schema for configuration data was very flexible.  The diagram below shows a typical farm with multiple instances, and each instance has an OS version.  Since the OS version can be independently selected for each instance, the schema allows the ability to represent drift across the farm.  While architecting our app deployment CMDB (interestingly named deathBURRITO), we specifically did not want to manage farm configuration consistency.  We simply wanted a guarantee that our farm deployments did not have drift.

    A typical CMDB schema that allows farm drift.

    To achieve this we made a simple change to the schema that did just that – prevented the data from representing farm drift (picture below).  Although you can incorrectly represent farm attributes, the data driven deployment is either 100% right or 100% wrong.

    A better CMDB schema that prevents farm drift.

    Gratuitous flexibility and useful flexibility

    Eliminating schema flexibility to control drift is not that controversial since most people get it — and support it.  When you start limiting personal preference, man look out, people get really passionate over stupid things.  So we started communicating another one of our devops principles:  flexibility is not always a good thing.

    Your deployment automation should start with inflexibility and provide flexibility as needed.  Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely support innovation and the ability to empower our department with tools that enable creativity.  I often confuse the hell out of people by saying weird stuff like, “by limiting your flexibility, I can offer you more flexibility.”  And I actually mean it — because we focus on the flexibility that is actually valuable.  The objective is to distinguish between value-added flexibility and gratuitous flexibility, and eliminate the gratuitous junk.

    • Value-added flexibility can be represented by a middleware option between Tomcat, JBoss and Glassfish.  Each solution provides different features to the development team and they should have the ability to choose the best match (within reason) for developing to application requirements.  Easy enough, there is value to the options.
    • Gratuitous flexibility can be represented by allowing multiple install directory variations for each Tomcat app.  SysAdmins usually have a preference and sometimes make it a very passionate preference.  Although the configuration matters, it should support automation and security, not personal preference.  There is no inherent value gained by allowing your environment to have different install directories such as /opt,  /app,  /u01.  In fact, allowing options creates complexity for install scripts, logging, permissions, service accounts, monitoring etc. Pick one and restrict the rest.

    One of the great things about automation is the ability to make the deployment platform deliver what you want, and fail what you don’t want.  It’s a platform that gives the devops team enforcement power in the IT department that is rearly available.  Like most organizations, you probably have many awesome design standards that are drafted, but in effect are just glorious shelfware documents.   Automation empowers your ability to eliminate drift, control flexibility and operationalize the shelfware designs.

    So back to my statement about limiting flexibility to offer more flexibility?  I will argue that by eliminating all the gratuitous variations, you can simplify environment complexity and eliminate the associated busy work and time waste.  I also believe that eliminating the gratuitous variations will allow your devops teams to focus on delivering the value of predictable self-service deployments… Real flexibility is the ability to provide your developers and QA teams self-service deployments; on demand at any time day and over weekends.