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Tips to bridge the gap between DevOps and legacy IT

DevOps is key to successful digital transformation programmes. But IT leaders need to work out how their legacy systems fit in

According to the SDI, Containers and DevOps study from SuSE, 86% of IT executives see DevOps as part of their IT strategy moving forward, and 77% say they plan to modify their application development and delivery to a DevOps mode.

Based on a survey of 1,420 senior IT decision makers conducted by market research firm Insight Avenue, the study found that maturity of cloud, software defined infrastructure, containers and DevOps are fuelling the transformation of IT.

“Faced with increasing customer demands and industry disruption, IT leaders in the UK are rethinking their approach and searching for the best way to quickly increase agility and speed while keeping costs down,” said Danny Rowark, ‎regional director, EMEA West at Suse.

“Cloud is a clear enabler for UK businesses, with many implementing cloud- and DevOps-first strategies to underpin wide scale digital transformation.”

Although DevOps is not tied to any particular technology, the study found that many IT executives feel that containers enable DevOps workflows. In fact, 27% are currently running containers, with a further 44% planning to do this in the next 12 months.

Businesses see the benefits of developing workloads using containers as better resource allocation (53%), improved reliability (51%), cloud portability (50%), application scalability (43%) and speed of application development (41%), the study reported.

Thomas Di Giacomo, Suse’s chief technology officer, said: “Today, every business is a digital business, and adopting a flexible, agile software-defined infrastructure can make the difference between success and failure.”

Scaling DevOps

But organisations face major hurdles when trying to scale DevOps processes company-wide, warned Bola Rotibi, founder and director of Creative Intellect Consulting. Speaking to Computer Weekly, Rotibi said: “The danger is that too many organisations think they need a separate DevOps team. They are not incorporating the teams they have.”

It comes down to changing the way people work and think about projects. “It is about getting people to recognise what DevOps really looks like and their role in it,” she said. “People need to think differently.”

For instance, DevOps embraces the concept of continuous delivery and product improvement, which is not the same as allocating budgets for distinct IT projects, “A product manager thinks in a different way compared to a project manager,” she said. As such, Rotibi said IT leaders need to recognise DevOps will be a challenge for some people in their team.

One area where many IT teams can struggle with DevOps is when the DevOps teams needs to integrate with legacy systems. “Too often, we hear things fail because there is a disconnect between domain knowledge and where the DevOps team wants to go,” she said. “The reality is that scaling DevOps doesn’t mean throwing out everything you did before. You need to scale the experience and build on what has worked in the past.”

She said that IT leaders need to identify the areas in their IT infrastructure that can potentially impede DevOps processes. These potential bottlenecks can then be segmented in a way that can minimise the impact on the overall DevOps process. This is sometimes referred to as bimodal IT.

The problem facing many companies is that their legacy back-end systems have been developed over a long period of time, where enhancements are generally using a waterfall methodology, rather than agile, which is needed to make DevOps run smoothly.

According to Tim Russell, chief product officer of Perforce Software, when an organisation has a legacy application which has attributes that are being used in new services, it is necessary to design the right interfaces that can enable DevOps teams to work independently of it. This may involve the legacy leam providing the right application programming interfaces (APIs) to enable the DevOps team to work without being held back by the pace with which the legacy code can be changed.

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As Computer Weekly has previously reported, this is the approach Ticketmaster took to connect new applications to its core back-end system. The ticketing company developed APIs into the core system and built a tools pipeline to help DevOps teams work more efficiently with the legacy system.

Industry experts believe that for true digital transformation, businesses need to link back-end systems, the so-called systems of record, with their new digitally enabled products and services.

“I see a lot of challenges moving from waterfall at the core to using agile for new services. How do you incorporate agile processes to match a pipeline delivery lifecycle? You need to think of it as a whole system,” said Russell.

In Russell’s experience, companies tend to try to move to a hybrid model where the legacy core slowly becomes more agile. “The new stuff (i.e. digitally-enabled projects) bridges the gap between pure agile and (legacy) waterfall.”

For Russell, IT leaders need to ensure there is up-front planning in any DevOps project. “Too often there is no up-front planning in DevOps,” he said.

With the right planning, he said teams can shift their approach to legacy systems from a purely waterfall approach to one where the code is continuously built and tested. “The legacy system has to be brought into an automated process,” said Russell. This process automation can help the legacy team build and test incrementally.

IT experts recommend that beyond automation IT leaders should also aim to reduce the amount of legacy IT their businesses run.

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