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How well do you help customers wrangle apps? The answer spells the difference between pushing their businesses forward and becoming the next victim of the creative disruption going on in IT.
February 23, 2018
By Clarify360's Jo Peterson
What’s the world’s largest taxi company? Top 10 U.S. retailer? Biggest accommodations provider? Easy: Uber. Amazon. Airbnb. What do they have in common? They’re digital companies. Category disruptors. Upstarts that are gobbling up the old guard in their industries.
They also exemplify something else: A new economy that’s based on software.
Apps have become the business imperative, the key conduit to customers and the essential business enabler. The mission-critical aspects of your firm, and your customers’ businesses, run on apps. They are the competitive differentiator. And they’re proliferating, with no end in sight.
As a trusted adviser, you know that IT buyers in the organizations you support are rolling out apps as quickly as possible. They might be pushing an app-based service to sell to, engage with, and support customers and business partners. Or they might be developing apps to increase productivity and efficiency.
But in their bid to keep pace with the market, they might also be hitting a wall.
How can you, as a consultant, channel sales expert, MSP or agent, guide IT pros as they struggle to fund, roll out, house, manage and update thousands or millions of lines of code?
Companies take a few different approaches to dealing with software. Some hire an ever-expanding army of people. And yes, building and managing apps is people-intensive. But that’s a short-term solution, even with the budget to sustain it. The top-tier security experts, developers, operations professionals, QA testers, project managers and engineers needed to build and manage apps are in short supply.
Businesses also look to the cloud, and PaaS does promise to be more cost-effective, agile and scalable. Many have moved to at least a hybrid environment of cloud and physical infrastructure, with applications and workloads running on both.
But, as you know, another hot topic in the business and IT press is how the cloud hasn’t necessarily delivered on these promises. When companies get there, many quickly realize how complex and costly the cloud can be. They need deeper knowledge and tooling to manage it effectively. They can’t spin up additional environments quickly, there are too many features and too much functionality, and they don’t know how to manage the cloud for an app environment. Security isn’t as easy as expected.
Be sure to join Zanaris CEO Paul Rix for “The MSP’s Guide to a Multicloud World,” part of the MSP/CSP education track on April 19 at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. Register now!**
Therein lies our dilemma. Your customers are in an app-dependent world, but there aren’t enough people or money to support life there. And what they thought was a silver bullet – the cloud – is not.And every time they make a change, the infrastructure gets more complex.
The cloud can be ideal for an app-based world, but it requires a switch from an infrastructure mentality to an app mentality. The mistake many companies make is to take their traditional infrastructure processes and approaches and simply move them to the cloud. If it was on the server, now it’s in the cloud. They’re not changing the way they automate, scale or test.
That won’t work. An app mentality demands a shift from scaling your environment with humans to scaling with technology. And the most effective way to do that is with DevOps.
What do we mean by DevOps? Here’s an in-depth primer, but short answer, DevOps is part philosophy, part tools and part processes, all combined into a new approach to deliver apps and services at hyperspeed. It incorporates popular frameworks and methodologies to run in tandem across the entire systems-development life cycle. This means you can have agile development, continuous integration and continuous delivery.
In other words, you can keep pace with an app-based world.
The difference DevOps can make in deployment times is dramatic and measurable. In one organization we worked with, DevOps decreased deployment time from seven weeks to less than seven minutes. In another, deployment times went from one month to 90 seconds with a push of a button.
Some of the measurable benefits of DevOps
And some of the intangible benefits
One of the biggest upsides of DevOps is cultural.
If you’re familiar with development and operations teams, you know a top source of angst in the app-delivery process is the communications gap between the two.
Developers want to use the latest tools, languages and frameworks. They want to move fast. But it’s becoming more and more difficult for operations to support their work and allocate the right resources.
On the other hand, operations feels like the dev team doesn’t provide enough notice when requests and changes are coming, so they can’t be as responsive as dev would like. Each team feels like it’s working too hard to overcome the requirements imposed by the other.
DevOps can smooth that out; after all, these teams often have a common antagonist in the shadow IT groups (unless developers are the shadow IT group.) Partners are painfully aware that line-of-business types are finding ways around IT, muddying the environment and creating security and compliance issues.
Development and operations have other pressures in common. Business units press tight timelines to get environments staged, releases tested and apps rolled out. And both teams are held accountable. In other companies, the complexity of the environment is a challenge that both groups are wrestling with.
To handle these pressures and have the agility necessary to stymie rogue groups, development and operations teams must work in concert. DevOps processes and tooling can make that happen. In addition to improving processes, the two groups can take a team- and small-project-based approach.
With a DevOps model, it’s possible to build repeatable processes that are faster, more efficient and highly scalable. Just look at usage. Many customers don’t know how much they’re spending on public cloud-computing services. There’s a tremendous amount of waste – some estimates are as much as 35 percent – from companies not tracking usage or forgetting to shut down instances when they’re not needed.
With DevOps, your customers can employ tooling, automation and scripting to put parameters in place to auto-provision storage as users demand it. They can get additional capacity at certain times of the year/month/day to quickly spin up new environments just in time and scale back down when not needed. They can automate the orchestration of updates, break/fixes and security patches to speed time to market. And DevOps can manage versions: how often they’re implemented and refreshed and how code gets deployed.
Another benefit of DevOps is the ability to work at the application level down, using an agile, continuous development methodology, where applications drive the platform and business operation needs.
With an understanding of languages used at the application level – typically Java and .NET – protocols can be managed up and down the stack. This makes vendor-specific OS knowledge unnecessary; it’s possible to manage with generalists, which allows for more scalability.
So how do you know if DevOps is the right path forward for your clients? Here are a few things to listen for:
I want to consolidate and modernize my infrastructure to achieve efficiency, improved performance, and lower costs.
I need to determine which applications, data and workloads I can move to the cloud.
I need help picking the right infrastructure for my critical applications and workloads.
I want to migrate critical applications and workloads to AWS, Azure or Google.
We are having difficulty managing and scaling our multicloud services, and that’s impacting our ability to support internal business drivers.
I want to leverage cloud to improve application scalability and performance at certain critical intervals tied to peak times in my business and customer demands.
We need to deploy multiple instances/application releases consistently every day, week, or month.
My operations team and applications development organizations aren’t in sync.
All these are signals to explain how DevOps or DevSecOps (security embedded into the DevOps workflow to automate tasks) can solve problems and save money.
As a partner, becoming more proficient in the DevOps domain will put you in a better position to help your clients with their IT transformation, acceleration, and maintenance.
For the transformation piece, as a trusted adviser, you can guide your clients through an audit of their application architecture and software-delivery process and provide a holistic, well-documented view of their current state.
On the acceleration piece, you can help your clients choose a platform- and technology-agnostic provider. A next-generation service provider can work with your clients on application configuration management using tools like Chef and Puppet.
On the maintenance piece, your service-provider partners can provide insights and expertise around scaling, as well as assisting with changes in the application environment.
For IT consultants, solution providers, channel-sales experts and agents, there is plenty of value and opportunity in the cloud for large and small customers. Whether a company is in a hybrid environment or just starting on the cloud, DevOps is an area of growing investment as customers – and their budgets – pivot to more agile technology management to increase speed to market and app-delivery capabilities.
With development and operations teams working together through DevOps methods, you can help your customers not just keep pace with the world of digital disruptors, but thrive in it.
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