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Beyond DevOps: WebOps reduces cloud deployment risk

WebOps goes beyond deployment and manages the business activity of the application, ensuring proper infrastructure capacity for that process.

Just what exactly is WebOps, anyway? Many organizations are realizing the DevOps promise to improve deployment and reduce risk, but these are mostly new organizations that deliver Software as a Service. Where does WebOps come in?

This tip covers the WebOps landscape, combining my experiences in this area with those Jason Liu, CEO of UC4 Software Inc., shared with me.

WebOps at work

WebOps is a superset of DevOps, according to Liu. While DevOps just handles deployment, WebOps goes further into managing the business activity of the application. It ensures proper infrastructure capacity for that process, automating systems software in general -- including data base servers, CRM systems and ERP systems.

Given the increasing pressure companies are under to deploy more quickly with less risk, I have to say WebOps has a certain ring to it.

Consider a large retail company with a real back-end: an ERP system to process the work, a CRM system to handle the order, perhaps a fulfillment center and a data warehouse. A typical order needs to do more than process a credit-card transaction; it needs to flow through these systems. Classic DevOps starts and stops at the code deployed to the Web server, so you still have operations people working with developers to build bridges at touch points.

Liu told me that a new movement, WebOps, could automate the message handling all the way down to those other components, eliminating the classic touch-point management that makes upgrading code a painful and risky process. His company, UC4, has been in the IT automation process space for years.

I have heard the argument that DevOps is important only for companies making websites that charge a monthly service fee, such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Liu, however, said that the concept is much larger but needs legs, and WebOps is the answer.

Where WebOps comes in

Liu explained that a service-based business' primary way of delivering services is probably a Web-based interface. "Companies like American Airlines have reached a point where its customers interact more often with a website than a human," he said.

The same thing is happening in banking and financial services, which have become primarily online, not retail, services. "In this world we have a hyper-reliance on the Web and software. At the millions of transactions level, we can't rely on humans to do the processing, and the cost of failure is continuing to increase," Liu said. He noted that there have been quite a few high-profile mistakes, such as Knight Capital, where the company lost $440 million in under an hour.

Liu's example reminded me of my time in a large data-centric IT shop, working in health insurance and financial services, where we were pushing around huge amounts of data that represented the customers' money. At some point, we would replicate the entire production environment in test, simulate business processes around it and, after signup, upgrade production. It had to work, because if it failed our technical staff would have to essentially rebuild the boxes from backups.

The way software has traditionally been and is being developed can set the stage for failures, I told Liu. He believes we are hitting an inflection point, where the supply-side micropatches and minireleases aren't effective. The need to create virtual instances quickly, to deploy through cloud-based methods, creates a hyper-reliance on automation he said. "We see enormous pain and penalties when companies fail to automate these processes -- service outages in the multiple-day range."

Problems solved by WebOps

So, I asked Liu, what problems does it solve that DevOps fails to address? He sees DevOps as a part of WebOps, providing one piece of the solution, but not all of it. Application management offers functionality to allow prevention of crisis and disaster recovery. DevOps tends to do that for some components, but does not address the entire enterprise.

Liu offered the example of people entering information into a website, and that data goes into, say, the CRM system. Then, the CRM system needs to initiate an order. It may need to find out the current order, generate a new order number, tie the order back to a previous order, cancel an order and so on. All these processes run better with automation.

"Historically, behind websites there are a lot of manual efforts, say to change the CRM system's infrastructure, upgrade the CRM system or to download orders and ship them manually," he said. "This is about automation of the way you manage the enterprise -- not just the Web servers."

Thinking back to when I worked in the data-centric IT shop mentioned above, I could see that with WebOps, we could not only automate the ERP process, but create virtual copies of the ERP system before the upgrade and, on failure, restore to it. That means less pain and fewer consequences in failures, which can enable organizations to move more quickly.

Typically, DevOps in the cloud brings automated management capabilities and processes for application instances monitoring, and elasticity, said Liu. Infrastructure process automation, in particular, helps businesses automate addition of resources when current resources are maxed out. "When the server load approaches capacity, your automation can create additional servers in the cloud to guarantee that level of performance -- not just for the Web servers, but any infrastructure component of the company," he said. "A 90% reduction of work effort is typical."

Infrastructure process automation creates a holistic process automation strategy. Process automation has covered traditional IT work like job scheduling, application Automation and managed file transfer.

"The problem is that we have considered that sort of work separately from automating the infrastructure -- VMs, cloud-based deployments and so on -- and release automation," said Liu. "When you put all three together, you can streamline and automate the vast majority of routine business processes, and also have a picture of the entire enterprise IT in one place. If a new rollout fails, you can roll back."

Given the increasing pressure companies are under to deploy more quickly with less risk, I have to say WebOps has a certain ring to it. Consider WebOps as an orchestrator for moving from enterprise DevOps to integrated cloud-enterprise application management. It could make moving the entire infrastructure to the cloud and automating it less scary.

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