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The ABC of DevOps

SIMON MCCULLOUGH, major channel account manager at F5 Networks, simplifies one of the industry’s most intriguing and influential IT trends.

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What do you think about when you hear the term “DevOps”? Abstruse, impenetrable concept or conduit to a brave new world? Something in between? Maybe you haven’t even heard about DevOps? Don’t worry, you soon will.  

Back in the day

In the past, software delivery was relatively straightforward. All requirements were defined with the customer before handover to coding and Quality and Assurance (Q&A) testing. The Ops team then stepped in to deploy everything. So far, so neat and tidy.  

Today, the pressure is mounting for businesses to launch new features and services as and when they are needed. If speed and efficiency are not a concern, the old model still works fine. However, the status quo is becoming increasingly incompatible with modern ambitions.  

Imagine a situation where multiple teams of developers are contributing in parallel. This happens all the time. After everything is coded – or even the entire application finalised – they discover that certain components are incompatible. A huge amount of time is wasted if all teams wait to finish their tasks before merging the code into a single application. Developmental dynamism goes out the window, and it can become a torturous clean-up and/or retrofitting exercise.  

Now, let’s imagine a second scenario where code integration is successful, and the Q&A team requests a specific environment from Ops to test their application. Without automation, Ops may take days to provide the required environment. Meanwhile, developers are likely to keep coding away. If a bug is found is found during the tests, it is possible that developers were coding on top of an existing bug or bugs. This would potentially require a major coding overhaul.  

Another common issue is the pace at which Ops can provide the right environment to test the code.  In larger organisations, such delays may take weeks and can involve more than one department. For example, Ops may deploy a new environment that requires special permission from security team (i.e. another siloed department). 

So, how do we stop these frustrations from occurring and keep delivery on track? 

DevOps to the rescue! 

DevOps work differently. Here’s how: 

  • Continuous Integration. The DevOps approach uses an agile methodology where, typically, smaller functional chunks of code (e.g. a new feature) are regularly and seamlessly integrated into the application’s main development branch. Errors are spotted and swiftly corrected. This is known as Continuous Integration (CI). 

The small chunks of code in play here are created within their own isolated (containerised) environment where each (component) typically have a point of communication to ‘talk’ to other components known as Application Programming Interfaces (API). This gives the developer enough flexibility to add or remove components without affecting others. This is known as a microservices architecture, wherein each component basically has a plug-and-play capability.  

  • Continuous DeliveryFollowing CI, integrated code is automatically tested via several environments, all the way to pre-production where it is either deployable or ready to be deployed. Some companies do not automate further than that and prefer manual deployment. CI and CD interaction is termed as CI/CD. 
  • Continuous DeploymentThe ultimate DevOps goal: Continuous Integration followed by Continuous Delivery and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD²). As a result, applications are automatically deployed to production.  
  • Cloud-centricity. DevOps thrive in the cloud, as it natively supports their tools and unleashes the speed and automation needed for game-changing innovation. 
  • Infrastructure as a CodeA heavily automated infrastructure is ideal for the Dev team to automatically deploy code at every juncture, from test to deployment environment. Otherwise known as Infrastructure as a Code (IaaS), it is a potent antidote to potential Dev and Ops bottlenecks. A proper IaaS should encompass infrastructure provisioning tools, which build and deploy infrastructure via a click of a button or by quickly filling out a template. Cloud services are a good example. It should also include configuration management tools (e.g. the facility to upgrade, say, 10,000 serves with a single command). 
  • Collaboration. More than most IT disciplines, DevOps-related success is heavily reliant on intensive, intricately coordinated collaboration between customers, developers and IT operations. Developers need to focus on coding. IT operations need to focus on managing automated infrastructure. Both need to talk to each other to uncover new ways to innovate and improve both process and deliverables. Siloed working is yesterday’s news. 

Fundamentally, DevOps is a practice that can eliminate sources of waste from the application delivery pipeline. It drives efficiency by optimising processes, removing silos, using automation tools, standardising platforms and establishing a strong culture of collaboration. It is a powerful way to bypass the bottlenecks of traditional software development and infrastructure norms, and an unstoppable force for innovation. It is all this and so much more. DevOps’ true influence is only just being felt; stay curious, stay open-minded, keep all development teams connected and, whatever you do, don’t get left behind.

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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Robots coming to IFA

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Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.

The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.

The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:

Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.

Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.

Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.

Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.

Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.

IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit www.ifa-berlin.com

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