NexGen Cloud: Huge Partner Opportunities In DevOps As Clients Demand Automation And Speed

DevOps is fast becoming a way for solution providers to distinguish themselves in an era when clients need to more quickly build and change infrastructures and applications to remain competitive.

That's the word from Alex Brown, CEO at 10th Magnitude, a Chicago-based born-in-the-cloud solution provider offering Azure-related services and DevOps capabilities. Brown told peers at last week's NexGen Cloud Conference and Expo about the opportunities DevOps brings and how to get started.

Brown defined DevOps as adjusting the software development and deployment process while changing a company's organization to break down many of the silos that have sprung up in different groups or departments.

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"DevOps is all about speed and agility ... It's all about software and infrastructure, how you get it deployed faster," he said.

DevOps is a huge opportunity for channel partners, with an estimated $2.3 billion spent on DevOps tools in 2015, Brown said.

Brown broke the tools into six different types: infrastructure automation tools such as Chef, Puppet, Ansible, and Terraform; public cloud platforms including Azure, AWS, and Google, CI/CD (continuous integration and continuous deployment) tools like Atlassian and Jenkins; application development tools including Git, Visual Studio, and Xamarin; collaboration tools including Slack and HipChat; and monitoring and remediation tools like New Relic, Splunk, and Stackify.

Solution providers who bring DevOps skills to their clients can take part in a large and growing market; they can help bring transformational benefits to customers and use it as a way to open the door for other services, Brown said. The average engagement size is over $40,000, he said.

Brown said he sees three pillars of change management that stem from bringing DevOps to clients: infrastructure automation to treat infrastructure as code and create versioned, repeatable environments; CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous development) to provide small, frequent changes; and monitoring and auto-remediation to ensure applications and servers perform as expected while scaling automatically.

"This is our approach," he said. "But you may have a slightly different set of pillars. But you need to describe them clearly. If you can't, you will have difficulty talking with customers."

Brown said there are five big indicators, or what he called "flashing red lights" that help solution providers know when DevOps is the right way to approach a customer.

The first is a low degree of automation in a company's IT organization which could signal the need for infrastructure automation or CI/CD opportunities.

The second is a client that requires weeks or months to deliver software changes which could indicate a need for CI/CD tools.

The third is a client needing weeks or months to make changes to its IT infrastructure, an issue that could be handled with infrastructure automation.

The fourth "flashing red light" is when clients take too long to discover problems in their applications. Brown said if a customer says it needs a week or more to find an issue, or finds the issues only after their end-user customers point it out, it may be time for them to implement monitoring and auto-remediation tools.

Finally, when a client's IT department becomes more of a revenue driver than a cost center, it is likely time to bring in all three pillars of DevOps, he said.

Brown said there are some ways in which solution providers can get involved in DevOps which can provide new business opportunities and help them recruit workers. "This has allowed us to bring in talent who otherwise would have been turned off by the old-style organization," he said.

Channel partners should get involved in local DevOps communities, Brown said. He said that every major city holds DevOps days, and that they are worth attending. "We send three engineers there, and we have six months of lunch and learn discussions," he said.

Solution providers should also attend DevOps meetings with clients, and attend conferences sponsored by many of the DevOps tool developers, Brown said.

However, it is not necessary to dive right into the business, Brown said. He suggested starting with one of the three pillars that make most sense. "You need to be concretely defined," he said. "Otherwise, you will boil the ocean."

Solution providers also need to decide which delivery model to monetize, whether its as a strategic consultant, as an implementer of tool-based services, or as a managed service provider. Once that is done, partners can build a cross-functional organization of engaged learners to staff the chosen model.

Every DevOps provider has a slightly different model, said Tom Crowley, director of 8KMiles, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based channel partner which provides DevOps capabilities combined with Agile programming.

Brown's method is to fit in with specific client needs, Crowley told CRN. "We take more of a thought-leadership approach with our customers," he said. "Even our top 10 pharmaceutical customers tell us to be more proactive, and be guiding them."

While Brown's approach is focused on DevOps tools, Crowley said 8KMiles' approach is to combine DevOps with Agile methodologies. However, he said, that does not mean one is superior to the other.

"We will be going back to look at how we can better engage with smaller organizations," he said. "Maybe we can do that with DevOps like Brown describes it."