Promise and peril in the journey to DevOps

Steep learning curves, cultural warfare and unbridled criticism are among the land mines littering the path to DevOps. However, plenty of perks await organizations that complete the trek successfully.

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Like many organizations today, Nationwide must regularly churn out new software applications to stay competitive in a crowded industry.

But the insurance and financial services company wasn't always able to keep up with demand. For years, Nationwide relied on 23 business unit IT shops, each of which used its own hodgepodge of tools and methodologies, to create new products and services. That is, until DevOps technology director Carmen DeArdo realized that Nationwide's "monolithic" approach to developing apps was resulting in bloated project teams, sprawling design plans and painfully slow software development life cycles.

Rather than throw more staff at the problem, DeArdo opted to migrate from the stilted world of waterfall development to a DevOps culture of collaboration.

Definitions vary, but DevOps is generally recognized as a software development movement that encourages automation, integration and greater collaboration between software developers and operations people. By bridging the gap between those two sometimes warring factions, DevOps establishes a consistent, repeatable way for IT to manage its production environment, resulting in faster time to market, higher productivity levels and smoother server and app deployment.

Since embracing DevOps in 2009, Nationwide has improved software quality by 50% and reduced user downtime by 70%. Today, more than 100 agile teams, growing at a rate of 35% a year, handle a whopping 60% of the company's development work and new projects. Code is continually integrated and deployed into a development environment several times a day, resulting in "higher quality, higher productivity and more on-time delivery" of applications, according to DeArdo.

Nationwide is one of a growing number of companies embracing DevOps to contend with the consumerization of enterprise software. Long gone are the days of quarterly releases. These days, organizations are expected to produce code and launch new software tools with the speed and agility of an Amazon or a Google. At the same time, the push for frequent releases gives rise to complex and unruly production environments that are tough to manage. Many IT leaders are hoping to find an answer in DevOps, despite some drawbacks, including the risk of cultural warfare and the possibility of heightened peer criticism.

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