Returning harmony to the DevOps relationship
Cloud technologies hold the promise of unparalleled levels of automation and productivity for developers and application deployment teams. With new development platforms and application architectures, such as Docker containers and hybrid cloud, agile development has finally arrived. But, on-demand application deployments, along with cloud-scale requirements and workload mobility have placed new burdens on the traditional data centre network and operations teams.
The vision of DevOps, a tight coupling of development and IT processes that can streamline the entire application development and release cycle, requires network agility and automation as much as new cloud-based application platforms. Traditional networks were frequently viewed as bottlenecks to delivering timely new services at scale, and often the first suspect as application performance and service delivery degraded (instead of the application). This discord between organisational silos needed to be overcome for DevOps to become a reality.
Fortunately, software-defined networking (SDN) came along and delivered the ability to migrate traditional network management tasks from vendor-specific manual consoles to software and policy-based orchestration tools. SDN made the network and IT operations as agile and flexible as cloud development architectures and made it easier to align development and deployment processes for DevOps, as well as the business policies and requirements of the organisation.
With the ability to program the network, rather than relying on the restrictions of a vendor-specific management station, the intended policies of the organisation, including quality of service, security, cost management, and traffic prioritisation can be easily represented in software. This makes SDN synonymous with the term “policy-based automation”.
Policy-based automation that incorporates DevOps processes can quickly bring harmony between the development and network operations teams. New development and test environments can be quickly created and recycled on a moment’s notice. Resources can be scaled up to public cloud providers and brought back on-premises quickly and transparently. Network automation can be viewed as a key enabler of business initiatives, new revenue opportunities and competitive advantage.
In parallel, development organisations are leveraging the new container-oriented application model known as “microservices”. Small, lightweight application containers are replacing more resource intensive virtual machines, allowing monolithic applications to be redesigned into many small modular compartmentalised services. These vastly more modular applications further accelerate application updates and feature enhancement since only small portions of the code base need to changed, tested and be re-integrated.
Application development cycles are changing from planned releases every several months to a process of continuous integration with new features and enhancements rolled out on a near-daily, or even more frequent, basis. Some of these new application workloads may only be instantiated for seconds or minutes at a time, and proliferate at peak capacity by the thousands, all enabled by the policy-based networking and automation from latest-generation SDN platforms. And as monolithic applications are replaced by hundreds of microservice-level components, the networking requirements and considerations between those workloads increases accordingly, furthering the need for an SDN platform to handle the complexity.
As SDN platforms mature, and DevOps processes become more sophisticated, we are already seeing the need for more advanced security policy automation and network monitoring to go along with network automation. Application-specific security policy requirements must be automated as well, otherwise DevOps processes can grind to a halt. And when performance or quality of service degrades, network automation software should be intelligent enough to analyse and remediate the situation, potentially across multiple sites or public cloud providers, in real-time.
The parallel evolution of SDN and DevOps has resulted in a new generation of cloud applications and accelerated development and productivity for organisations. As SDN platforms continue to embrace new cloud application architectures like containers and hybrid cloud, development and operations teams will be able to align themselves around common processes and technology rather than operating in silos. The resulting harmony around DevOps will quickly become a strategic imperative for small and large organisations across industries to remain competitive.