A relatively new school of thought in IT, DevOps is accelerating the pace of software development through cultural and technological changes. How can DevOps benefit the quality of networks, and which aspects of networking are most suited to the change? 


Whatever your industry, a degree of conflict between product development teams and those who take the product to market is inevitable. However, in few fields is this more applicable than in software development. As the name suggests, DevOps aims to fuse the development of products and services, and the work of operations teams. The main benefit of combining these two aspects is the ability to reduce the number of disagreements between teams, as well as eliminating silos among the IT department.

Its ultimate goal is to deliver better software to customers, with smoother development cycles and fewer patches needed down the line. With less downtime en route to market, the whole development cycle is sped up with morale less likely to suffer, in theory. This is all easier said than done, though. Transitioning to a DevOps model is a gradual process.

‘The DevOps Report’ from Puppet Labs found that 63 percent of organisations that implementing the change are looking for better quality of deployment, with a similar percentage looking for more frequent delivery, with 61 percent focused on obtaining better process quality.

Samer Kudsi, enterprise sales director, MENA, Juniper Networks, believes that DevOps has the potential to drastically increase the speed of provisioning new services. “DevOps can be successfully used to solve complex network automation challenges,” he says. “It effectively reduces downtime by allowing for unavoidable upgrades to be made while the device is online. In today’s digital world, where scalability and speed are key to customer satisfaction, and continuous innovation is mandatory to sustain ever-increasing customer expectations, DevOps allows new services to be created and offered in days, perhaps even minutes, rather than months and years.”

With an increasing number of companies’ business hinging on the quality of online platforms and in-house software, provisioning services that are less prone to error can be crucial in fending off competition. Duncan Bradford, chief technology officer, EMEA, CA Technologies, believes that the explosion of apps makes a shift in culture imperative. “DevOps provides a cultural way of working, and a technology focus that allows a business to be able to better sense and respond to the opportunity presented to us in the application economy,” he says. “In this economy, where your software is your brand, being able to continuously innovate and release better quality apps, faster than your competitors is key to survival in today’s digital world.”

World-renowned payment firm PayPal is one well-documented case of a successful transition to DevOps. In 2012, PayPal built a private cloud based on OpenStack, and the infrastructure has gone on to service thousands of internal developers working on internal applications and payment processing and analytics. Although the company faced a range of challenges in terms of deploying new tools and processes, it was able to reduce its time to market from eight weeks to just one day. “PayPal reportedly processes $300,000 in payments every minute, in 25 different currencies, for 128 million active registered customers in 193 markets,” Kudsi says. “After implementing DevOps, PayPal was able to dramatically reduce its average node provisioning time.”

There are a number of aspects of IT infrastructure that may seem like prime suspects for introducing a DevOps culture – ones that are generally more software-based – but networking may not seem the most natural fit. However, in the coming years, as software-defined networking gains traction, networks are sure to be the recipient of many DevOps initiatives.

“DevOps forms part of the natural extension of major IT trends,” Gordon Haff, technology evangelist, Red Hat, says. “It aims to provide flexible and upgradable IT infrastructures via the cloud, or the appearance of even more recent technologies such as containerisation, which define new application architectures.”

Anthony Butler, cloud chief technology officer, IBM Middle East and Africa, believes that networks can be granted impressive levels of automation via the use of integrated processes. “The key point of intersection comes with software-defined networks where, as part of a DevOps process, it becomes necessary to think of the network as code in similar fashion as how infrastructure is seen as code,” he says. “For example, as part of releasing new application-level functions, DevOps processes and tools may configure the network to support these functions or enable better testing of network functions as part of the application release process.”

Red Hat’s Haff, meanwhile, believes that new flexibility demands across IT infrastructures mean that DevOps will need to be applied to networking. “DevOps can be thought of as representing a shift away from the rigid technology silos that grew up around shared storage hardware, networking gear, and so forth,” he says. “In this respect, DevOps is part of a broader shift away from proprietary function-specific hardware, toward software-defined infrastructure based on general-purpose servers. In the case of networking specifically, software-defined networks and network function virtualisation are the key trends.”

However, while a DevOps culture may not necessarily demand huge shifts in terms of technology, it certainly requires a change in attitudes and, most importantly, working culture. Depending on existing practices, this can be a much more daunting task that uprooting hardware or applications, with employees often resilient to new practices, and existing discord being hurdles that must be overcome.

Breaking down traditional barriers between teams is an essential building block, according to Haff. “A culture of collaboration that values openness and transparency is an essential ingredient,” he says. “The path to a DevOps culture is a journey involving many stages of maturity for an organisation. One of the key transformational elements is developing trust among developers, operations, IT management, and business owners through openness and accountability.”

Kudsi believes that many stakeholders are needed to realise the introduction of a DevOps strategy. “For many, the journey to DevOps will and must be an incremental one,” he says. “That’s why it is vital to work with partners and customers to create a roadmap that will help them get the most of what they have in place today, but also, over time, enable them to incorporate new technologies easily for continuous development.”

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