Adopting DevOps means changes from how you build software to organizational processes and cultural behaviors. Large enterprises have even greater challenges to overcome, including supporting a large number of applications and addressing technical debt while also taking on new development initiatives like digital transformation.
What can we learn from experienced DevOps practitioners?
In this DevOps Chat we spoke with Mark Levy, director of strategy, software delivery at Micro Focus, covering seven keys to successful DevOps implementations at large enterprises.
As usual, the streaming audio is immediately below, followed by the transcript of our conversation.
Mitch Ashley: Hi, everyone, this is Mitch Ashley with DevOps.com, and you’re listening to another DevOps Chat podcast. Today, we’re tackling the topic of large enterprise adoption of DevOps—no small task, for sure.
I’m very happy to welcome Mark Levy from Micro Focus. Mark, welcome.
Mark Levy: Thank you, Mitch, and glad to be here.
Ashley: Would you just tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at Micro Focus?
Levy: My name’s Mark Levy. I am a director and working in the product marketing organization, and I focus a lot on strategic marketing initiatives as an evangelist, a DevOps evangelist. I develop and write content and commentary about the DevOps market. I’ve had a 25-plus-year career, and like many people, I’ve had many positions. I started out as like a sysadmin and was a developer and managed dev teams.
But, in 2007, I started to focus exclusively on application delivery. And so, that has been—this whole area of application delivery, software delivery is something that I’ve been really focused on for the last 10 or so years.
Ashley: Well, tell us briefly, a little bit about Micro Focus. Not all of our listeners might know what you all do.
Levy: So, Micro Focus has also gone through this major transformation over, I would wanna say, the five to eight years or so. You know, we’re a global enterprise software company. We were established in 1976, we have 14,000 employees and 40,000 enterprise customers, about 4,800 software engineers, and we really focus on large enterprises, helping them run and transform their business. We have sort of focused on four key areas of how do we support our customers through their digital transformation journey, and enterprise DevOps is one of them.
Ashley: I imagine that our folks, listeners that are from large enterprises are gonna be particularly interested, and I’m sure there are learnings and information that will be useful to other folks as well.
So, you talked about playing in the space with large enterprises. I imagine that’s probably some global international companies, maybe some that are both European or U.S.-based as well. How would you describe how you differentiate what you do as Micro Focus as compared to other folks? There’s a lot of companies, of course, working to try to help enterprises adopt DevOps.
Levy: Yeah, of course. And that’s sort of what I’d like to do first maybe is just sort of set the stage, because I always look at this, especially in the enterprise IT world, it’s so interesting. You know, Gartner made this sort of—you know, their strategic assumptions. And they said something like, through 2021, at least 80% of the DevOps initiatives will fail.
Ashley: I have not seen that, no. Interesting.
Levy: I don’t know if you’ve heard that, but—yeah. So, it’s interesting. What does that tell me—tell us, I believe? One is, the business is already in the fight. The enterprise, the business side is already in this digital economy and fight. We see that on the streets.
And the other thing is, you know, IT is sort of behind the curve. And the reality is that our customers, the IT customers, the IT organizations have this incredibly complex hybrid landscape, it spans mainframe, mobile, on-prem, off-prem, and while the principles—the main DevOps principles—are similar to what the unicorns, so to speak, are delivering, that it’s really a whole different challenge.
Because what’s critical is that there’s this above the line mandate to drive new digital revenue, but at the same time, you know, optimize the enterprise. And, you know, I sort of—I like one of my colleagues, his reference. It’s like, redesigning a jet plane while you’re flying it, you know? And so, I think that’s how, you know, what’s critical with large enterprises is that they’re trying to transform themselves and at the same time run the business.
Ashley: Yeah, I would almost describe for a large enterprise, it’s like trying to build or transform the entire fleet of planes while you’re building it.
Levy: Yes! Exactly.
Ashley: Talk a little bit about—I mean, we all, I think, can appreciate in every business, especially large enterprise, they’re saddled with technical debt; they, of course, are working on operational efficiencies; they have applications that they’re trying to support and maintain.
How do they take on something like a DevOps initiative successfully, as you were pointing out earlier, so that it doesn’t just stop at one group and kind of fall off from there, they really wanna be able to transform their part of their business? How do you do that?
Levy: Right. So, I think one of the key things that we focus on enabling our customers to build on what already works, okay? They have all these core investments, and how can they take their core investments and leverage the ROI that they’re already having today, but implement new technologies and DevOps practices and capabilities? And I think that’s critical. I mean, how do they implement and scale DevOps practices, for example? It’s very, very important, and it’s hard.
And so, we look at it from the basis of, how can our solutions and our products help them really get from point A to B? What is their current state now? Which is what they really need to understand. And it’s amazing how many companies really don’t have a current understanding, detailed, of their current state.
Ashley: Mm-hmm, or a common one. [Laughter]
Levy: Or a common one, because, you know, it changes a lot, but how do they deliver value to the customer? You know, what are their value streams, and what are the processes and the flow of artifacts? And so, they need to understand their current state.
And then, they need to do a number of things that I know the people that are helping the DevOps community, the DevOps community have been evangelizing for a while—I think critical, especially in large organizations and enterprises, you know, they need to first really create this culture of continuous improvement. I think that’s critical.
Levy: You know, they need to enable, motivate and empower the teams, and the leaders really need to get on board, right? Without the leaders, it just will not work.
Ashley: Yeah, I can speak from personal experience—instituting a continuous improvement culture is no small task in and of itself.
Levy: Right, and you know, the thing is, the leadership style must also change, right? I mean, command and control really doesn’t work, decisions—it’s about empowering your product teams to drive as much decision making as possible. And that sort of has gone contrary to, you know, the organizational structure of the large enterprises.
Levy: So, that, I think, you know, is one of the critical challenges that these companies are faced with. Edward Deming made a great quote, “A bad system will beat a good person every time,” right?
Levy: And when I think of a bad system, I think, in its largest sense, the system. And this is where I think Micro Focus can help quite a bit is, anyone wanting to change this culture really needs to define the actions and behaviors that they desire and then design sort of the work processes that are necessary to reinforce those behaviors.
So, you know, systems, processes, tools, help with and enforce good culture. But you know, if you have a bad system, it’s not gonna work. So, I think, you know, these are areas that we can help on the cultural side. I come back to thinking about the idea that, you know, sort of the general friction between dev and ops teams, where ops teams are really, initially, only measured by mitigating risk, and dev teams are only measured by delivering change. You know, there’s the conflict that has to be resolved. That’s critical.
Ashley: You’re talking about culture; the other thing that occurs to me is, there can also be inherent or built in incentives that are counter to the culture that you’re trying to create. That friction is a good example for one. But, you know, there may be past punishment for failures or, you know, emphasis on down time, so the answer is always minimize change or whatever it might be. You’ve gotta take those things head on.
Levy: Exactly, yeah. And so, I think, you know, you ask sort of where people start. I think, you know, you need to start—and everyone, a lot of people talk about this, and it is true. You really need to start instituting this culture of change, because DevOps drives a lot of change. It’s a transformational journey in the enterprise.
Ashley: When you said, the number one thing you said was, “Leverage what works.”
Ashley: What do you look for? What kind of things are you trying to say, “That’s a practice you do well, and let’s keep that, or let’s build upon that”—what do you look for?
Levy: Well, you know, I think about, there’s a lot of legacy systems, core investments that these large enterprises have had and invested lots of money and time into it. And take, for example, COBOL, okay? That language, I think people are not necessarily aware how invasive it is. There’s still about 250 billion lines of COBOL around, right?
Ashley: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Levy: It drives 70%, they say, of all business transactions—still, in the world.
Ashley: That’s amazing.
Levy: It is amazing.
Levy: And so, you know, I’ll give you an example of sort of what we’ve done and we’re, you know, we are very good at managing and understanding those environments. We have, you know, that’s a big part of our business. So, we can, you know, lift—if we can lift and shift, you know, COBOL workloads off of, you know, sort of the more legacy platforms into, let’s say, AWS, you know, that’s a big win for our customers.
As an example, we had one customer that basically had—it was a major global insurer, had about eight different IT environments with a back end COBOL app sitting on the mainframe and then front end and WebOps. And basically, each environment cost about $3 million a year. And, to request that environment, to provision that environment, took six weeks.
Ashley: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Levy: And so, we built, through our solutions, we were able to lift and shift that workload to AWS and reduce the cost from 3 million to 120K and reduce the provisioning time from six weeks to two hours.
Ashley: And I wanna mention, too, to our listeners, too, we just had a webinar in the last week talking about mainframe APIs and frameworks specifically to mainframe environments to make it a little bit easier to adopt WebOps. So, though it doesn’t get the kind of sex appeal that necessarily new technology does, it is a huge, huge issue for enterprises and how do you bring the mainframe environment with the rest of the cloud and everything else.
Levy: Right, it’s—you know, back to the theory of constraints. I mean, in your value stream, if—you know, you can develop and you can be an agile team, but if it takes six weeks to provision, you know, your mainframe environment?
Ashley: Where do you suggest people get started? Is it go pick a new, from scratch greenfield project, or pick something that’s, you know, reasonably mission critical so we’ll get the support?
Levy: Yeah. Well, I think one is, I like, initially, to set up a lab, like taking a greenfield. You need a place to learn. A lot of these things aren’t easy, or they’re not, people are not, the teams are not used to. So, like, I love the idea of what a lot of the community’s doing with DevOps dojos and building sort of a team level, maybe CI/CD, have a place to experiment and take that.
But then, you know, ultimately, in large enterprises, they’re gonna come up. They might get easy wins early, right, but the challenge is, once they scale, they’re gonna run into some of the more challenging times. And that’s where, back to what they have to really start doing is taking this broader, system level view of the enterprise.
So, you know, if they understand how they’re delivering value to their customers—and in enterprise, there’s many ways to do that—then they need to understand and prioritize according to the business objectives. Let’s say one business objective might be, we need to recapture value. Maybe our IT budget isn’t really growing, but we need to drive for more innovation. So, we need to—our objective is to recapture that value and redeploy it into delivering value and innovation. And so, that would drive a lot of your decisions in where you optimize.
Ashley: Speaking of budgets being flat or not growing, digital transformation is all the rage, that’s what many, many companies are taking on, not just in customer experience, but across the enterprise, bringing them into the digital world. How does that fit on top of this if you’re trying to introduce DevOps?
Levy: I don’t see how they can really run their digital transformation without DevOps. I mean, software today—you know, I talk about this a lot where business innovation and software innovation are generally becoming one and the same, right?
Levy: And going quick, innovating faster with less risk is critical. And so, IT is, you know, it’s imperative to really deploy DevOps practices to support the digital transformation of the business. So, I think, you know, the IT organizations that implement DevOps, those people are the drivers.
Ashley: Well, and it’s hard to imagine how you were gonna transform systems and applications you already have as well as ones you might leverage as SaaS services or create yourself without an environment to integrate those altogether due to continuous integration testing, etcetera, as well as be responsive to the business.
Levy: We’ve seen enterprises, they will typically start out, right, with their team level implementation and they might do really well, and it might be a greenfield app. Maybe it’s a new growth app, which is great, and they may get some early wins, which is super, but it’s still not their core business.
Levy: And so, they have to, ultimately, really transform their core business in order to be competitive in the market.
Ashley: Mark, what’s the one thing organizations should not do when they’re looking to adopt DevOps—don’t make this mistake?
Levy: I think the idea that they can just automate their way out of it, I think, is something that could get them in trouble. Because, you know, really leaving out the whole cultural aspect of it, it really is—you know, it’s interesting, if you read Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders every year, he just provides some incredibly insightful, you know, insights on how Amazon runs. He talks about this accelerated decision making process that they run, and they make these decisions, really, based on only 70% of the information that they need, basically. Whereas, large enterprises wait until they typically have 90%.
And so, they are able to make decisions earlier because of the agility that they’ve built into their system and their culture of change. And this allows them to not only, you know, get earlier into the market, but it allows them to—everyone, it allows them that if they make a mistake, they can recover from their mistakes faster, and the cost of making a mistake actually goes down.
Levy: But this whole idea of organizational agility and providing that—there’s more than just delivering value faster to the customer, because it’s never a straight line, right, to success. So, we make a lot of mistakes and wrong turns in our journey, and being able to identify that quickly and have the agility to correct that quickly is actually more of a differentiator than just delivering fast.
Ashley: It’s certainly required for any kind of agility. It’s not just getting things and getting decisions made faster, but changing when things aren’t headed in the right direction—or change.
Levy: Right, right. And so, this is where, you know, if people are looking at DevOps, they’re saying, “Okay, well, we’re just gonna automate the deployment pipeline and we’re done?” No, there’s no “done,” it’s about really, ultimately, improving as an organization, right, and having that continuous improvement, the Kaizen kind of mentality of the organization. And that, to me, is what is so transformative as a company.
Ashley: Going back to what you said in the beginning about having a culture of continuous improvement.
Levy: Yeah, absolutely. And that, it would be, you know, frankly, the most powerful thing leaders can do—is that change. Because it really just changes the whole business. The business, then, gets more confidence, which is critical, right? With all this change, sometimes they’re not confident to make business decisions, but if you can provide them the confidence to go out there and really be aggressive, you know, that’s—you’re gonna see, you know, a whole bunch of positive results on the revenue side, on the public side of the business that’s been driven from, traditionally, the back office IT organization.
Ashley: Well, Mark, I’d like to thank you. I’d like go for another 30 minutes, [Laughter] but I’d like to thank you for the time on the podcast. You know, I walk away with several things from our conversation. The things you shared that I heard were leverage what works, define your current state, create a culture of continuous improvement, command and control doesn’t work—you’ve got to empower product teams. Start with a lab or a dojo, some learning environment. I think your premise of, you can’t do digital transformation without DevOps is pretty intriguing. And last but not least is organizational agility, being able to make decisions quicker, get out ahead of things without having to have 100% of the information, kinda the Amazon model.
Well, and that should wrap things up. I’d like to thank Mark Levy from Micro Focus for joining us. This is Mitch Ashley with DevOps.com, and you’ve listened to another DevOps Chat.