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Introduction:

DevOps Best Practices

March 8, 2024
8 min read

DevOps is a cornerstone of modern software development, bridging the gap between development and operations and fostering a culture of collaboration and efficiency. It represents a blend of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools, aiming to deliver applications and services at high velocity. 

This article aims to provide actionable insights into effective DevOps strategies, ensuring that readers can grasp and implement these practices to enhance their workflows. DevOps revolves around various platforms and tools, such as Jenkins for continuous integration, Docker for containerization, Kubernetes for orchestration, and a plethora of cloud services. We assume a basic familiarity with these tools, focusing instead on the practices that make DevOps successful, including examples and tutorials.

Key DevOps best practices

DevOps Best Practice Description
Employ automated testing and deployment Automate testing and deployment processes to ensure reliability and efficiency.
Practice continuous integration Regularly merge code changes to detect issues early.
Leverage infrastructure as code (IaC) Manage infrastructure using code to ensure consistency and speed.
Implement monitoring and logging Implement comprehensive monitoring and logging for proactive issue resolution.
Encourage collaboration and communication Foster a culture of open communication between development and operations teams.
Design for scalability and flexibility Design systems to be scalable and adaptable to changing demands.
Integrate security standards Integrate security practices throughout the DevOps lifecycle.

Employ automated testing and deployment

Automated testing and deployment leverage technology to automatically test and deploy software, drastically reducing manual effort, minimizing errors, and accelerating the delivery process. By integrating tools like Jenkins for continuous integration and Docker for containerization, organizations can ensure that their software is delivered faster and meets the highest standards of quality and reliability. 

Here are some specific actions to take in this area:

  • Implement CI/CD pipelines: Utilize tools like Jenkins, GitLab CI, or CircleCI to automate the testing and deployment process. This approach ensures that code changes are automatically tested and deployed, reducing manual intervention and errors.
  • Maintain a robust testing framework: Employ various testing stages, including unit tests, integration tests, and functional tests. Tools like Selenium for web applications, JUnit for Java applications, and PyTest for Python are essential for ensuring code quality.
  • Leverage containerization: Use Docker or Kubernetes to create consistent environments for testing and deployment. This practice eliminates the "it works on my machine" problem and ensures reliability across different environments.
  • Incorporate blue/green deployments: Minimize downtime and risks by maintaining two identical production environments—one environment hosts “live” production with traffic targeting that environment, while the other is used for testing new releases. When the release testing passes, traffic can be switched over to the environment with the new release code, and the other server can be upgraded so that the code is the same.
  • Monitor and optimize pipelines: Regularly review pipelines for bottlenecks or inefficiencies using tools like Prometheus or Grafana.
  • Ensure traceability and compliance: Keep detailed logs of all deployments and tests. This practice is crucial for troubleshooting and complying with regulatory requirements.
  • Prioritize security: Integrate security checks into the pipeline. Tools like SonarQube or Coverty for static code analysis or OWASP ZAP for security testing can be integrated into the CI/CD pipeline.
  • Use automated rollbacks: Implement mechanisms to automatically revert to the previous version in case of deployment failure.
  • Employ feature flags: Use feature toggling to enable or disable features without deploying new code, which allows for safer rollouts and A/B testing.

Example 1: A global retail company

In this scenario, the company faced challenges with long deployment cycles, leading to slower market responsiveness. To address the situation, they adopted Jenkins for CI/CD, automating their testing and deployment process. Docker was used to containerize their applications, ensuring consistency across different environments.

The result was a reduction in deployment time from several weeks to a few hours. The automated process enabled quicker feedback and faster time-to-market for new features.

Example 2: A healthcare technology firm

This firm needed to maintain high standards of quality and compliance due to the sensitive nature of healthcare data. It implemented a multi-stage testing pipeline using GitLab CI, incorporating unit tests, integration tests, and security audits. The company also used Kubernetes for orchestrating its containerized applications, ensuring scalable and consistent deployment across the cloud infrastructure.

The robust testing framework ensured high code quality and compliance with healthcare regulations. Kubernetes enabled efficient management of the growing number of services with minimal downtime.

Practice continuous integration

While automated testing ensures that code consistently meets quality standards, continuous integration (CI) is the practice that keeps the codebase stable, agile, and ready for any changes. CI involves integrating code into a shared repository frequently, ideally several times a day, with each integration verified by an automated build and tests. This continuous merging and testing of code minimizes integration challenges and allows teams to detect problems early.

CI solves critical problems in software development and enhances the overall agility and quality of the development process, especially when it is powered by the latest technologies, like GitHub Actions. By integrating CI into their workflows, teams can ensure a stable and efficient development lifecycle, staying ahead in the fast-evolving technological landscape.

The following are some specific best practices for setting up CI workflows: 

  • Commit code frequently: Encourage developers to integrate their changes into the main branch frequently, avoiding the pitfalls of long-lived branches.
  • Automate the build process: Use tools like GitHub Actions to automate the build process, ensuring that every code commit is built and tested automatically.
  • Run fast, reliable tests: Implement a suite of fast, reliable automated tests that run with each integration, providing immediate feedback on the integration’s success.
  • Maintain a single source repository: Store all source code in a version-controlled repository (like Git) to simplify change tracking and enable easy collaboration.
  • Make the build self-testing: Ensure that the build script not only compiles the code but also performs sufficient testing to verify that the application is functioning correctly.
  • Keep the build time fast: Optimize build times to keep them short, maintaining the efficiency of the CI process.
  • Test in a clone of the production environment: Use containerization technologies like Docker and Kubernetes to create production-like environments for testing, ensuring consistency.
  • Make it easy to get the latest deliverables: Automate deployment of the build to a staging environment, making it easy for testers and stakeholders to access the latest version.
  • Ensure the visibility of CI results: Implement dashboards using tools like Jenkins Blue Ocean or Travis CI’s web UI to make the results of the CI process visible to the entire team.

Example 1: Solving slow and error-prone releases for a FinTech startup

In this scenario, a FinTech startup struggled with slow, error-prone releases due to infrequent and large code integrations, leading to integration conflicts and delayed product updates. By implementing GitHub Actions, the startup automated its integration and build processes. Every pull request triggered an automated build and test sequence, ensuring that issues were detected and resolved early. Furthermore, automation was added to address repository rebases with the master branch.

As a result of these changes, the startup experienced a significant reduction in integration conflicts. The company was able to increase its release frequency, enhancing customer satisfaction with more regular and reliable updates.

Example 2: Addressing inconsistent coding practices in a software development team

A software development team faced challenges with inconsistent coding practices, leading to varying quality of code submissions and integration headaches. The solution was integrating GitHub Actions into the workflow, which included automated code quality checks, linting, and style guide enforcement on every commit. This practice led to a more consistent codebase, reduced the time spent on reviewing code for stylistic or basic quality issues, and improved overall code quality.

Leverage infrastructure as code (IaC)

IaC is a key DevOps practice that involves managing and provisioning computing infrastructure through machine-readable definition files rather than physical hardware configuration or interactive configuration tools. This approach streamlines the development process and ensures consistency and scalability in the deployment environments.

Here are some specific best practices related to IaC: 

  • Version-control your infrastructure: Just like application code, infrastructure code should be stored in version control systems (like Git) to track changes and maintain history.
  • Ensure idempotency: Write code that can be run multiple times with the same result to ensure that your infrastructure can be reliably updated or recreated from scratch.
  • Modularize and reuse code: Design your infrastructure as modular components that can be reused in different environments or projects.
  • Keep documentation up to date: Document the infrastructure setup and changes thoroughly for clarity and future reference.
  • Continuously test and monitor: Regularly test the infrastructure code for errors and performance issues and monitor the deployed infrastructure continuously.
  • Incorporate security from the start: Embed security practices within the IaC process, including regular audits and compliance checks.
  • Collaborate and review: Implement peer review processes for infrastructure changes to ensure reliability and adherence to best practices.

IaC integration with CI/CD pipelines provides multiple benefits:

  • Automated infrastructure provisioning: When new code is committed, the CI/CD pipeline triggers the IaC tools (like Terraform or AWS CloudFormation) to provision or update the infrastructure required for that code. This ensures that the infrastructure is always aligned with application needs, reducing manual intervention and potential human errors.
  • Ensuring consistency across environments: IaC defines each environment (development, staging, production) as code, ensuring consistent configurations across all stages of deployment. This consistency minimizes the “works on my machine” problem because the code runs in identical environments at every stage.
  • Automated testing in real environments: After the infrastructure is provisioned, automated tests are run in a real environment that closely mimics the production setup. This leads to early detection of environment-specific issues, reducing the risk of production failures.
  • Version control and rollbacks: Both application code and infrastructure code are version-controlled, allowing easy rollbacks to a previous state in case of failure. This provides a safety net, ensuring quick recovery and minimal downtime.
  • Security and compliance checks: Integrating security and compliance checks within the pipeline ensures that both the application and the infrastructure adhere to security standards. This automated check enhances security and compliance, which is crucial for sensitive applications.
  • Continuous monitoring and feedback: Once deployed, continuous monitoring tools are used to gather feedback on application performance and infrastructure health. This real-time feedback allows for proactive issue resolution and continuous improvement.
  • Enhancement of branching strategies: Incorporating IaC in different branches for features, hotfixes, or releases lets each branch have its own dedicated infrastructure setup if needed. This aids in parallel development and testing, increasing development speed and efficiency.

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Implement monitoring and logging

While IaC sets the stage for a robust infrastructure, monitoring and logging provide the necessary insights into its performance and health. Effective monitoring and logging are crucial for understanding the behavior of applications and infrastructure in real time, enabling teams to proactively address issues, optimize performance, and maintain security. They are the eyes and ears of the IT environment, turning raw data into actionable insights.

Best practices for monitoring and logging include the following:

  • Ensure comprehensive coverage: Be sure that all components of your system (applications, servers, network devices) are being monitored.
  • Implement real-time monitoring: Utilize tools that provide real-time monitoring capabilities to quickly detect and respond to issues.
  • Log everything: Adopt a policy of logging as much information as possible, which can be invaluable for troubleshooting and analysis.
  • Use centralized logging: Use a system like the ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana) for aggregating logs from different sources.
  • Correlate events: Implement tools or practices that help correlate events across different systems and logs to identify patterns or issues.
  • Set up alerts and thresholds: Configure alerts for abnormal activity or performance issues to ensure prompt response.
  • Conduct regular audits and reviews: Regularly review logs and monitoring data to identify trends or potential issues before they escalate.
  • Emphasize compliance and security: Ensure that your monitoring and logging practices comply with relevant regulations and include security monitoring.

Encourage communication and collaboration

Collaboration and communication are the linchpins that hold the various aspects of a DevOps culture together, ensuring that teams are not only aware of the system’s state but also work together seamlessly to respond to challenges and innovate. In an environment where development, operations, and support teams are constantly interacting, clear and effective communication is key to unlocking efficiency and fostering a productive work environment.

Here are some specific best practices for collaboration and communication:

  • Establish clear channels of communication: Utilize tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Jira to ensure that team members can easily share information and updates.
  • Foster an open culture: Encourage open discussions and feedback among team members, creating an environment where ideas and concerns can be freely expressed.
  • Conduct regular stand-ups or meetings: Implement regular meetings or stand-ups to keep everyone aligned on project goals, progress, and issues.
  • Document everything: Maintain thorough documentation for processes, decisions, and changes, making it easy for team members to access and understand information.
  • Form cross-functional teams: Create teams that include members from different disciplines (including development, operations, and quality assurance) to enhance perspective and understanding.
  • Invest in training and development: Invest in training programs to develop communication and collaboration skills within the team.
  • Use collaboration tools effectively: Leverage features of collaboration tools like shared calendars, task boards, and real-time editing to enhance teamwork.

Design for scalability and flexibility 

Scalability and flexibility are critical in ensuring that DevOps practices both support current organizational needs and are robust enough to adapt to future demands and technological advancements.

Some best practices for ensuring scalability and flexibility include these:

  • Adopt a microservices-based architecture: Break down applications into smaller, independently deployable services that can be scaled as needed.
  • Embrace cloud computing: Utilize cloud services for their inherent scalability and flexibility, allowing for easy expansion or contraction based on demand.
  • Implement elastic load balancing: Use load balancers that automatically distribute incoming application traffic across multiple targets, such as Amazon EC2 instances, containers, and IP addresses.
  • Automate wherever possible: Automation in testing, deployment, and monitoring helps scale operations efficiently without a proportional increase in resources.
  • Build with modular components: Design systems and applications with modular components to easily update or replace parts without affecting the whole.
  • Establish a continuous feedback loop: Integrate a continuous feedback loop in development processes to adapt and respond rapidly to changes or new requirements.
  • Capacity planning and monitoring: Regularly monitor performance and conduct capacity planning and load testing in a staging environment to proactively anticipate and address scaling needs.

Integrate security standards

Security integration is essential in the current landscape, where security threats are ever-evolving, and data breaches can have catastrophic consequences. In DevOps, integrating security—a practice often referred to collectively as DevSecOps—means embedding security measures and considerations into every phase of the software development and deployment lifecycle.

Security integration ensures that protective measures, compliance standards, and risk management are not afterthoughts but are ingrained in the development process. This proactive approach reduces vulnerabilities and minimizes the risk of late-stage security issues, which can be costly and time-consuming to resolve.

Best practices for security integration in DevOps include the following:

  • Shift-left security: Integrate security measures early in the development process rather than treating it as a final step before deployment.
  • Use automated security scanning: Utilize tools for automated security scanning of code, dependencies, and infrastructure as code configurations.
  • Perform regular security audits and compliance checks: Conduct regular audits to ensure ongoing compliance with security standards and regulations.
  • Employ continuous monitoring and response: Implement continuous monitoring tools to detect and respond to security threats in real time.
  • Training and awareness: Educate the entire DevOps team on security best practices and the importance of security in their roles.
  • Collaboration between security and development teams: Foster a collaborative environment where security and development teams work together.

A real-world example and tutorial: Implementing security scanning in a CI/CD pipeline

A financial technology company needs to ensure that its application is secure from vulnerabilities, particularly since it handles sensitive financial data. It decides to integrate automated security scanning within the CI/CD pipeline.

Tool selection

The company opts for SonarQube, a popular tool for continuous inspection of code quality and security.

Tutorial: Integrating SonarQube with Jenkins

1. Set up SonarQube Server: 

  • Install and configure SonarQube on a server.
  • Ensure that it is accessible to the Jenkins server.

2. Configure Jenkins:

  • Install the SonarQube Scanner plugin in Jenkins.
  • Configure global SonarQube settings in Jenkins: Manage JenkinsConfigure SystemSonarQube servers.

3. Create a Jenkins pipeline: 

  • In your Jenkins pipeline configuration, add a stage for SonarQube scanning.
  • Use the SonarQube Scanner to analyze the project.
pipeline {
    stages {
        stage('SonarQube analysis') {
            steps {
                withSonarQubeEnv('My SonarQube Server') {
                    sh 'sonar-scanner'
                }
            }
        }
    }
}

Note that this configuration assumes that sonar-scanner is configured in the project to point to the correct SonarQube server and project key.

4. Run and monitor:

  • Execute the pipeline created in the previous step.
  • SonarQube will analyze the codebase and provide a report on security vulnerabilities, code smells, and bugs.

5. Integrate with pull requests:

  • For repositories like GitHub, integrate SonarQube analysis results into your pull request process, ensuring that code is reviewed for security before merging.
  • Generate an access token and API URL in your GitHub repository, and then go to the ‘Pull Request’ settings in your SonarQube instance and set the provider to “GitHub.” Enter the token and URL information you generated.

By integrating SonarQube into its Jenkins pipeline, the financial technology company automated its code security scanning process. Every code commit is now automatically scanned, significantly reducing the risk of security vulnerabilities in its application.

Integrating Squadcast with DevOps best practices

In the ever-evolving world of DevOps, the integration of effective tooling is pivotal for the success of any organization’s IT operations. Squadcast stands out as a tool that exemplifies this, providing streamlined incident management that aligns seamlessly with DevOps methodologies. Below, we explore how Squadcast integrates its tooling across various DevOps best practices, complete with code examples and an analysis of the problems it addresses.

Automated testing and deployment

Squadcast can be integrated into the CI/CD pipeline, allowing for automated alerts and incident management throughout the deployment process. Below is an example of how you can configure automated alerting to Squadcast.

# Sample GitHub Actions Workflow
name: CI/CD Pipeline with Squadcast

on:
  push:
    branches: [ main ]

jobs:
  build-and-deploy:
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    steps:
    - name: Checkout code
      uses: actions/checkout@v2

    # ... other steps for build and test ...

    - name: Notify Squadcast on Deployment Start
      uses: squadcast-notify-action@v1
      with:
        squadcast_webhook_url: ${{ secrets.SQUADCAST_WEBHOOK_URL }}
        message: "Deployment started for ${{ github.repository }}"

    # ... steps for deployment ...

    - name: Notify Squadcast on Deployment Success
      uses: squadcast-notify-action@v1
      with:
        squadcast_webhook_url: ${{ secrets.SQUADCAST_WEBHOOK_URL }}
        message: "Deployment successful for ${{ github.repository }}"

This integration ensures that any issues during the deployment process are immediately flagged and addressed, reducing downtime and improving deployment reliability.

Continuous integration

Squadcast facilitates the early detection of issues by integrating with CI tools, sending alerts for failed builds or tests. The script below illustrates how to configure these alerts.

# Python script to send an alert to Squadcast on build failure
import requests
import os

SQUADCAST_WEBHOOK_URL = os.environ['SQUADCAST_WEBHOOK_URL']

def send_alert_to_squadcast(message):
    payload = {"message": message}
    response = requests.post(SQUADCAST_WEBHOOK_URL, json=payload)
    return response.status_code

# Example usage
build_status = "failed" # This would be dynamically determined
if build_status == "failed":
    send_alert_to_squadcast("CI build failed in Repository XYZ")

By providing immediate alerts on integration issues, Squadcast helps teams to quickly identify and rectify integration problems, maintaining the integrity and speed of the CI process.

Infrastructure as code

With Squadcast, teams can receive alerts about infrastructure provisioning issues managed via IaC tools like Terraform or AWS CloudFormation.

# Bash script to check Terraform plan and alert via Squadcast
terraform plan -out=tfplan
plan_output=$(terraform show -json tfplan)

if [[ $plan_output == *"error"* ]]; then
  curl -X POST -H "Content-Type: application/json" -d '{"message": "Terraform plan error in Project ABC"}' $SQUADCAST_WEBHOOK_URL
fi

This ensures that any discrepancies or issues in the infrastructure setup are quickly brought to the team’s attention, facilitating a more reliable and consistent infrastructure deployment.

Monitoring and logging

Squadcast integrates with monitoring tools like Prometheus or ELK Stack, aggregating alerts and streamlining devops pipeline failures.

# Example of sending an alert to Squadcast from a monitoring tool
curl -X POST -H "Content-Type: application/json" -d '{"message": "High CPU usage alert from Prometheus"}' $SQUADCAST_WEBHOOK_URL

This integration allows teams to centralize and prioritize alerts, improving the efficiency of incident response and reducing the mean time to resolution (MTTR).

Collaboration and communication

Squadcast enhances team collaboration by providing a centralized platform for incident management, aligning with communication tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. By centralizing incident communication, Squadcast ensures that all team members are on the same page, which is crucial for quick and efficient issue resolution. It reduces communication overhead and streamlines the process of managing incidents.

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Conclusion

DevOps, by bridging the gap between development and operations, not only optimizes the software development lifecycle but also cultivates a culture of collaboration, innovation, and efficiency. This article highlighted key practices like automated testing and deployment, continuous integration, infrastructure as code, monitoring and logging, and the pivotal role of collaboration and communication. The discussion of scalability and flexibility, along with the crucial integration of Security in the DevOps pipeline, illustrated the comprehensive nature of DevOps in addressing current and future technological challenges.

The integration of tools like Jenkins, Docker, Kubernetes, and Squadcast, as exemplified in various scenarios above, reveals the indispensable role of technology in enabling these practices. These tools facilitate automation, consistency, and efficiency while empowering teams to respond rapidly to changes and maintain high standards of quality and security.

As organizations continue to navigate the fast-evolving technological landscape, the insights and strategies outlined in this article serve as a valuable guide. By embracing these DevOps practices, businesses can propel their development processes to new heights of efficiency, quality, and innovation, staying ahead in a competitive market.

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Squadcast is a leader in Incident Management on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Mid-Market IT Service Management (ITSM) Tools on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Americas IT Alerting on G2 Best IT Management Products 2024 Squadcast is a leader in Europe IT Alerting on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Enterprise Incident Management on G2 Users love Squadcast on G2
Squadcast is a leader in Incident Management on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Mid-Market IT Service Management (ITSM) Tools on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Americas IT Alerting on G2
Best IT Management Products 2024 Squadcast is a leader in Europe IT Alerting on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Enterprise Incident Management on G2
Users love Squadcast on G2
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