Knowing DevOps is great.

Knowing automation is awesome.

But what if you can do both?

That’s when you become a DevOps automation guru who is responsible for eliminating manual handoffs between Dev, QA, and Ops in development, test, stage, and production environments.

What is DevOps automation, then? Why is it a prerequisite for creating a fully functional DevOps environment? Is it possible to over- or under-automate your DevOps?

All of these are valid questions, and I will do my best to answer them in this beginner’s guide on DevOps automation.

Let’s dive in!

What Is DevOps Automation?

DevOps automation is an integral part of a business-driven software release and delivery approach and a core practice for implementing DevOps, which allows to:

  • Reduce the amount of predictable and repetitive manual work
  • Finetune and align traditionally siloed processes (and teams)
  • Deliver automated, release-driven systems

DevOps automation creates a productive environment where Dev, QA, and Ops teams can effectively communicate and collaborate to deliver software in a continuous manner, with no constraints and bottlenecks.

Put another way, DevOps automation is a way of bringing stakeholders together by integrating specific technologies and tools which they use throughout development, test, stage, and production environments.

Note: DevOps is much more than automation, however. DevOps is a lot of things: processes, practices, tools, culture, and the entire environment where Dev, QA, and Ops collaborate to shorten development cycles, deploy software frequently, increase the quality of software releases, and helps achieve business objectives faster. In that regard, DevOps automation acts as a facilitating element of software delivery.

Why Do You Need to Automate DevOps?

The goal of DevOps can be framed as follows:

DevOps aims to optimize the flow of value from idea to the end user by means of achieving efficient collaboration between all stakeholders through automation of the delivery process.

In other words, no automation practically means no DevOps.

Here are a few reasons to achieve DevOps automation:

  • Faster time to market. By automating DevOps, you ensure that software will be released and delivered much faster since manual interventions and communication delays are reduced to the bare minimum, or eliminated entirely.
  • More time to add value. Provided your manual, redundant and repetitive tasks are automated, all stakeholders will be able to focus on things that really matter and, therefore, add value more quickly and efficiently.
  • Efficient detection and removal of errors. DevOps automation allows to create standardized consistent environments where software is tested consistently, and bugs are detected and fixed continuously.
  • Faster feedback loops. DevOps automation allows for shorter, customer-driven feedback loops; that is, engineers quickly get access to valuable feedback to immediately act on it.
  • Reduced operational cost and overheads. As long as the value is added and innovation is delivered consistently, the organization will enjoy increased efficiency, which allows to cut down on overheads (e.g. expenditures on redundant processes, infrastructure support, salaries of staff who no longer needed, and more).
  • Self-sufficient teams. DevOps automation relieves teams from over-reliance on “key” employees. Thus, should a particular participant of the software release process resign, the software will continue to get built, released, and monitored.

How to Achieve DevOps Automation?

DevOps Automation — Where to Begin?

Before you start your DevOps automation journey, remember this:

To implement DevOps efficiently, the project should work according to the agile principles. The team should be well aware of what continuous delivery is: use configuration management, do continuous integration, and run automated tests.

Once the state of agile is achieved, figure out which areas to automate and which to leave be for the time being. You do not automate everything at once.

That is why, before you hop the automation train, you need to:

  • Identify your DevOps transformation objectives
  • Recognize fundamental constraints
  • Assess ROI
  • Select the most important automation area

Below are several major areas you should consider automating for your DevOps.

Continuous Delivery

Since you will inevitably have to automate build, test, deploy, and provisioning, continuous delivery should be your starting point.

Continuous delivery automation can easily turn into a hassle, however. You will have to integrate a bunch of tools to ensure that:

  • The code is getting developed — Eclipse, VisualStudio
  • Every piece of code gets checked in — Git
  • The code is run through automated tests — Jenkins
  • The high-quality code is packaged into builds — Jenkins, Bamboo (plus automated tests)
  • Builds go to production to get automatically deployed — Chef, Puppet, Ansible

Bear in mind that cloud-based infrastructure can accelerate and facilitate the process.

Tools Integration

To achieve full DevOps automation and break down the silos between Dev and Ops, you will have to integrate and finetune all tools for the following stages:

  • Customer Inputs
  • Plan
  • Code
  • Build
  • Test
  • Stage
  • Release
  • Deploy
  • Provision
  • Configure
  • Monitor

Every stage includes a few processes, which may have their own tools too.

In other words, you will have to integrate the entire DevOps toolchain — from Salesforce and ServiceNow to Nagios and NewRelic.

Monitoring and Performance

Once the Dev, QA, and Ops teams are synced up via multiple tools, prioritize the automation of monitoring and performance tracking processes within your software delivery cycle.

Automation is key here since it enables stakeholders to continuously receive centrally-stored reports about specific application elements and their behavior in different scenarios.

If DevOps automation is implemented, stakeholders can readily get information on and manipulate the following metrics of DevOps success:

  • Deployment frequency
  • Deployment lead time
  • Change lead time
  • Change failure rate
  • Number of errors tracked
  • Number of tickets received
  • MTTR

By achieving full automation of monitoring and performance tracking, you help Dev, QA, and Ops not only realistically assess their own productivity but align their processes with the entire team.

How to Strike the Balance Between DevOps Under- and Over-Automation?

IT organizations need to approach DevOps automation at a slow pace.

First, they have to identify their requirements in regard to development, testing, and deployment.

Second, they should select appropriate tools, or rather a connected toolchain, to automate preemptively selected processes.

Third, they are to ensure that all team members can use the selected tools and know how to work in the context of the DevOps environment.

Unfortunately, IT organizations rarely do that and end up over- or under-automating their DevOps.

DevOps over-automation usually hits the enterprises that want to become the-next-something by replicating the DevOps practices of other companies.

While Amazon, Facebook, or Apple may have already achieved full automation, their approach is not universal and might not work for your enterprise. You metaphorically force your IT organization into other people’s shoes to find out that all of that automation exceeds your needs.

On the contrary, DevOps under-automation is the case for enterprises that try to experiment with “pockets of DevOps.” They sporadically select processes to automate to break down their entire development and delivery pipeline.

So the question now is, how can we strike the right balance between over- and under-automation?

Here is how:

  • Recognize that not all processes have to be automated
  • Analyze and assess procedures in your IT organization (i.e. you do not want to automate processes that cause errors and operational mistakes)
  • Build up your automation elements around development processes
  • Break down the processes onto sub-processes and create a list of corresponding tools for each
  • Select the tools and technology you will use for automation (i.e. you should not implement more tools than you can literally swallow)
  • Remove unnecessary tools if they overburden, not facilitate your DevOps

To sum it up: To achieve efficient automation of your DevOps, you should not copy what others are doing. Analyze your processes, select appropriate tools, and implement them only if they can really streamline your DevOps.

Conclusion

DevOps automation is tough.

To efficiently automate processes in your IT organization, not only should you connect Dev and Ops using tools at every stage of the SDLC, but carefully analyze to what extent automation should be applied in the first place.

You definitely do not want to automate everything. Likewise, you do not need to replicate the DevOps automation practices of other enterprises.

However, automation is intrinsically linked to DevOps.

As a DevOps engineer, you are expected to master it. Thus, examine best practices, learn automation tools, but bear in mind that every enterprise is unique and should be approached individually.

What do you think about DevOps automation? Kindly share your feedback on social media and in the comments section!