Technology team members at TASC, a leading administrator of employee health benefits, were feeling the chains of manual processes that kept them from moving software out at more than a snail’s pace. Development, operations, quality assurance (QA), project managers (PMs) and business analysts who were pushing code to test, staging and production environments or performing user accepted testing (UAT) tests needed to forward features through the pipeline much more quickly.
“We were doing one release a month, shutting down the entire website for six to eight hours on a Saturday morning to complete deployments,” says John Gildenzoph, DevOps engineer at TASC.
The company took to orchestrating its pipeline using Automic Release Automation (ARA) to onboard DevOps and catapult software innovations into production.
Before ARA, TASC used Jenkins—that was pretty much its first step into DevOps-style automation. Before that, the company’s processes were, for the most part, all manual, implemented with a source code repository.
“For anyone to deploy the application for development on their workstation, or to a test environment or even to production, they had to go out to the server, check out the source code, build the source code and deploy the artifact,” says Gildenzoph.
TASC was doing that on up to 30 JBoss servers—which were its main web servers—using only two developers. One developer started on the first node and the other started on the last node as they worked toward the middle, updating each server individually and manually, he says. “We came from the Dark Ages where there were really no other products we were using other than the servers and our version control software. Jenkins was the first iteration where we figured out that we needed to be running builds all the time,” Gildenzoph notes.
Uniting DevOps Tools, Filling Gaps
TASC uses ARA to unite a variety of DevOps tools into the pipeline and to fill gaps where there isn’t a specific tool. “ARA is platform-agnostic. You can use it like an assembly line and you can plug the worker applications in along the assembly line as you like,” Gildenzoph says. In one example, TASC uses Jenkins as one of those “worker applications,” i.e., as its build tool: ARA tells Jenkins to build the software, then moves the software along itself to the next tool to do the next job.
According to Gildenzoph, all a company needs to add best-in-class tools at each step in the development process along the pipeline is a command line interface (CLI) or API that enables them to script that tool in to integrate with ARA. That way, if the company decides to use a new tool for any part of the process, it can simply script that tool into the ARA at that point, rather than replace the entire pipeline with one new tool for everything.
TASC uses ARA to create the entire dev, test, staging and production environments where the company will deploy the software. Using the ARA and its automation engine, which is a sort of complex chron that develops the workflows, TASC interacts with its Amazon cloud presence to create the entire application stack.
“We see that Automic is working on its next evolution of the ARA product, which is a provisioning product that will interact with various cloud technologies such as Amazon or OpenStack so we will be able to create that environment in less of a homegrown manner. It will be more of a drag-and-drop capability with run books to interact with your cloud,” Gildenzoph says.
These cloud technologies also will be like the applications/worker setups in Gildenzoph’s ARA assembly-line analogy.
Revving Up Results
“We moved from our original manual scenario to the point where in some cases we don’t need downtime to deploy the software. We have the orchestration in place and it manages to bleed off part of the cluster, update that cluster, and then bring those portions back online so that our customer doesn’t notice,” says Gildenzoph. This benefits internal and external customers who use the site for call center processes and submitting flex claims, respectively.
TASC is more agile since the adoption of Automic, releasing software typically on a weekly timetable. This enables the business to respond to requests from customers for new features, innovations and enhancements to the site more quickly and efficiently.
When TASC purchases another company to add its products to TASC’s, an accelerated pipeline enables the company to onboard that company and products more swiftly and seamlessly.