Bridging the IT – Development Gap

In the last year I have increasingly run into a new character in application development shops – IT.

IT is not taking over coding tasks, but they are certainly taking a much more active role regarding where application development tasks get run.   This is no surprise, as software development has an insatiable appetite for compute resources.  Whether it is vast clusters for testing, dozens of machines to run ALM tools, or the incessant requests for “just one more box,” development teams are always asking for something.  Multiply this by the number of development teams in your company, and it is easy to see why this is a big job for IT.

IT’s response is to increasingly look at centralizing where development tasks are run.  The logic is that with a cloud of development resources, they can get more efficiency in sharing them across groups and offer their customers (development) more resources than they would otherwise get.  However, IT’s goals are largely different than those of the development teams.  IT organizations measure their success by how efficient, smooth and cost effective their compute environment is. They want a large, identically configured, scalable, uninterruptible environment that consistently delivers established levels of performance to the downstream customer.  In other words, the more that they can make things the same, the more efficient they can be.

On the surface, these goals are at odds with development.   Development teams are measured on software output and quality, not on resource efficiency.  Each development group often has unique needs to achieve peek productivity and quality.  The matrix of test environments never shrinks, in conflict with IT’s desire to standardize.  If environment customizations and optimizations make development more effective (which they often do) they want their own resources, even if it means they get fewer of them.

How do you bridge these competing goals?  The wrong answer is compromise: it’s not about finding the midpoint that’s just useless enough to each party’s goals that everyone is unhappy.

The right answer is to define an environment that can deliver against both goals simultaneously.  Allow IT to provision the compute cloud – these are the areas where homogeneity and efficiency shine.  This allows IT to meet development’s needs for peak resource demands by sharing across large pools of compute resources while reducing cost.  Virtualization is an important ingredient in the solution because it meets IT’s need for homogeneity and development’s need for configuration specialization.   However, virtualization is not enough.  What is really needed to bridge the gap is a framework that allows development to maintain control of what processes get run, who runs them, and how and when they end up on the compute cloud.

Is this possible?  Our most successful customers have used ElectricCommander to do just this.

For IT, ElectricCommander enables software development to happen in one large, scalable, reliable development cloud.  For development, they get all of the control that they need, only with a heck of a lot more compute resources.

Visualizing Build Processes

The other day I was waiting for my continuous integration build to finish. Think about that a minute. See anything wrong with that statement? I was waiting for a continuous integration build to finish. The whole point of continuous integration is to detect integration errors as quickly as possible. After years of growth, our builds are too long to really live up to that definition.

Obviously I have to do something about this, but what? Where do I start? The build is composed of several distinct phases: checkout, compile, unit test, package, install and system test. In addition, the complete process is actually replicated on several platforms simultaneously. In total, the process encompasses over 200 distinct steps, running in parallel on dozens of machines.
Read the rest of this entry »

Enabling Agile Software Development

Agile is great.  It seems that everyone is either adopting or talking about it (of course many of those will probably be perpetually adopting and talking).  However not everyone is succeeding with Agile.  One reason is that in order for Agile to work well you need highly experienced developers that are familiar with a broad range of skills and the processes involved in software development.  These developers (often the most experienced) are in high demand and short supply.  So what can be done to help ensure that your Agile team is successful even with fewer highly experience developers?  Use tools to export the highly specialized knowledge that those developers bring to the table, and to bridge the gap between the most and least experienced developers on your team.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Myth of Continuous Integration

Would you jump out of the airplane and then check your parachute rigging?
Would you start your scuba dive before you checked that your air was turned on?
Would you do your preflight check during the takeoff roll?

I don’t know anyone who would answer yes to any of these questions, yet most of us still engage in the software development equivalent of these risky practices: we check our code in and then do a production build on it.  We’ve even given this practice a name: Continuous Integration.  It should be called Continuous Build Breakage.

Read the rest of this entry »