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As enterprises adopt DevOps to speed up software delivery, the database can prove to be the process choke point. The field of database DevOps aims to change that situation and channel partners are beginning to play a role in the technology.
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IT departments face multiple challenges as digital transformation takes center stage, cloud computing becoming ubiquitous, and new applications alter the way enterprises engage with customers and business partners. To accommodate these changes, IT managers want to automate their operations and accelerate the release of applications. The goal is to shorten the time -- from weeks to days to hours -- it takes to handle such tasks as uploading and organizing data and more accurately forecasting business trends. To help customers achieve those objectives, database DevOps vendors are relying on resellers, systems integrators and consultants to coordinate and manage projects, as well as implement their tools at customer sites.
Vendors like Redgate Software Ltd., a Microsoft SQL Server tools vendor based in Cambridge, England, depend on partners' IT expertise to help customers tackle database DevOps engagements in conjunction with digital transformation, migration or modernization projects, said Cassandra Lloyd, Redgate Software's regional partner manager.
"Working together, Redgate Software and our partners can help improve the efficiency and quality of software delivery for our customers," Lloyd said. "When our customers are able to optimize productivity, agility and performance across the full database lifecycle, they are able to maximize the value and become a truly high-performing IT organization. This end result is how we are measuring the value of our relationships with our partners."
While vendors' tools can deliver critical capability to enable DevOps development, delivering a successful DevOps project also depends on helping customers work through process design, tooling implementation and knowledge transfer, said Justin Langford, commercial director and co-founder of Coeo Ltd., a Berkshire, England, company that provides database services. Coeo partners with Redgate Software.
"We focus on two areas: enablement engagements to demonstrate the art of the possible to new customers, and projects that accelerate the journey for organizations who have established the need for DevOps," Langford said.
He added that once customers are running with database DevOps, his company offers ongoing coaching to provide an external view and guidance to help organizations enhance and improve their processes.
"DevOps projects and solutions can't be sold as a software license purchase alone or a simple training course," Langford said. "Successful implementation requires a multifaceted project, which requires tooling, design, planning and consulting."
IT solution providers can help guide companies into DevOps projects that are particularly difficult to implement and involve high levels of collaboration and visibility across a company's IT enterprise, explained Ben Geller, vice president of marketing at Datical Inc., an Austin, Texas-based database release automation vendor.
"When you talk about solving the data challenges of DevOps, you have to realize this does not just end with one group," he said. "We are not just working with the data team we are working with developers, testers and line-of-business owners."
Geller added that systems integrators are well-suited to deliver the kind of change DevOps requires at large enterprises. He said vendors like Datical also leverage partnerships with systems integrators that bring in process reengineering across a customer's IT enterprise, as well as development talent.
One Datical partner that is looking to help customers with DevOps projects is Capgemini SE.
In his evaluation of the nature of the work, Rishi Singh, director at Capgemini, said DevOps projects are impeded when they confront legacy applications built on mainframe or AS/400 systems that use age-old methods of development, archaic tools and monolithic code with no way to deploy them as stand-alone systems.
"Teams working on distributed applications are able to address the continuous delivery on the code side, but when it comes to the database, they seem to struggle," Singh said. "Database automation is more often than not excluded or considered as an afterthought when standing up the DevOps pipeline."
The significant problem with database DevOps development is the lack of end-to-end visibility across the pipeline -- which impacts everything from the way requirements are evaluated, the way code is written, the way tests are performed and the way code is moved around, Singh said. He added that database administrators need to pay attention to these issues to envision a single click deployment.
Rishi Singhdirector, Capgemini
Describing what he is seeing at customer sites, Singh said many companies with large IT enterprises that embark on database DevOps engagements are challenged when developing digital applications that connect with back-end systems of record in order for the app to execute some form of functionality.
"This has been the basis for two-speed IT," Singh said. "However, things are changing and companies can visualize a steady velocity across the value stream."
Rishi also noted that when one database change impacts four or five applications, each of which is essential to the software cycle, database administrators need to figure out what the impact will be and how they'll coordinate among line-of-business managers to mitigate the impact of the change.
"Most large or midsize companies with large enterprises have departments that are pretty much siloed," Singh said. "If you have multiple applications across different lines of business using a shared code base and each of those applications has its own release cycle, then you can expect at least a week or more for the release to occur."
Database DevOps: Risks
Speeding up the release of applications to meet the fast-paced requirements of large businesses in sectors such as healthcare, banking and manufacturing helps these enterprises build on previous IT investments. But there are risks involved in database DevOps engagements primarily because these projects involve working with a company's data assets.
Ben Geller, vice president of marketing at Datical Inc., pointed out the majority of the application changes developers make result in corresponding changes that must be made to the database. Organizations may experience a number of bad outcomes if those changes aren't done correctly:
- The database change can make its way into production and could ultimately degrade the performance of an application, diminishing the user experience.
- A change may become so debilitating that it causes the application to crash, resulting in lost revenue or higher costs.
- A change that isn't handled correctly can expose a company's data to nefarious actors who can execute a breach.
Database DevOps projects not only present big opportunities for partners, said Derek Hutson, Datical's CEO, but vendors like Datical also benefit. Partnering lets vendors avoid the cost of building a service component within their businesses. Working with partners also enables vendors to broaden their marketing and sales efforts. To those ends, Datical recently launched the Datical Partner Program.
"Datical is not trying to build a large services organization," Hutson said. "We want to build a partner program that includes systems integrators like Capgemini, Accenture and other partners who can implement Datical's software and integrate it with an entire ecosystem of DevOps or automation solutions that deliver value to the customer's long-term objective of increased software development velocity," Hutson said.
As companies resell Datical software or implement it in their DevOps projects at customer sites, Hutson said he expects systems integrators to help the company grow its customer footprint and increase the number of projects that add Datical's software to database DevOps projects.
When asked why a partner program was strategic to Datical, Hutson said that as enterprise customers drive digital transformation initiatives the effort to increase the velocity and automation of software development is key.
"We believe IT solution providers must partner together to deliver full automation across the software development lifecycle to maximize value for our collective customers. This is why a robust partner program is so vital," Hutson added.
Redgate Software's Lloyd, meanwhile, said the company's partner program is evolving amid demands for collaboration, communication and process change on DevOps projects.
"Whilst supporting our reseller partners on the transactional side of the business is very important to Redgate, the growth area and focus for us is now to ensure we are aligned with partners who can, via their subject matter expertise, help us support our customers who want to realize their DevOps transformation," Lloyd said.
Lloyd added that introducing database DevOps involves a change in processes, as well as tooling, and partners have a lot of work to do to help their customers effectively implement DevOps projects.
"Even though Redgate's tools integrate with and plug into the same infrastructure used for application development, users still need to be shown how to, for example, version control their database code, as well as their application code," Lloyd said.