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Security, Automation and Developer Experience: The Top DevOps Trends of 2024

If you ask most folks to describe the top DevOps trends in 2024, you’ll likely hear buzzwords like AI or DevSecOps.

Those are certainly trendy topics. But based on my everyday work helping businesses plan and execute DevOps strategies, I’m noticing a different set of salient trends in DevOps. Although much is being said about how technologies like AI might impact DevOps, the biggest changes I’m seeing right now involve other types of solutions and techniques.

Here are what I view as the three most important current DevOps trends, along with a breakdown of how they may change DevOps tools and processes.

Policy-Based Management and IaC Drive DevOps Security Innovation

Security has always been a priority for DevOps practitioners. But right now, I’m seeing DevOps teams adopt new strategies to improve the security of the applications and environments they support.

One large-scale change is the greater use of cloud-based policy management to enforce security best practices in cloud environments. Teams configure cloud services and resources using the code-based configuration frameworks that cloud providers support, then scan the configurations to detect risks.

This approach makes it possible to enforce cloud governance consistently, centrally and automatically. Instead of simply writing governance policies and hoping that engineers remember to follow them when they configure cloud resources, businesses are building automated governance guardrails via policy-based management.

In a similar vein, more and more of the DevOps teams I work with are embracing static code analysis of infrastructure-as-code (IaC) templates as a means of detecting risks. As with policy-based management of cloud resources, an IaC-centric approach to infrastructure provisioning makes it possible to automate infrastructure management and identify security risks earlier in the development lifecycle.

Some teams use cloud policy and IaC code scanning to warn one another about security policy changes that might cause an application or service to break. They do this by inserting configuration changes into their code using “audit” mode if their configuration framework supports it, or by configuring IaC scanners to flag changes if an audit feature is not available. This allows engineers to detect whether a change might cause a problem for an existing deployment.

This is important because security and application teams operate separately in many organizations. When the two groups lack an efficient way to communicate about changes, they can disrupt each other’s operations – the “right hand/left hand” problem. Configuration scanning provides a systematic way to ensure that each group is on the same page when it comes time to introduce changes – and the “audit” mode approach provides a grace period that allows time to react before a change takes effect.

Doubling Down on DevOps Automation with GitOps

Another overarching trend currently reshaping DevOps is using GitOps to make DevOps automation more efficient and consistent.

GitOps is the use of Git (or a similar source control system) to manage automated DevOps workflows. It involves defining configurations using code and applying them through features like GitHub actions.

When you opt for GitOps, you move DevOps automation controls from individual workstations to centralized source control repositories. The result is the ability to track and manage all automated workflows via a central hub. Doing so increases efficiency and mitigates issues like different engineers working with different versions of the same automation frameworks on their personal desktops.

In addition, GitOps automatically generates records of what changed and how it changed, because every action is logged through the source control system. This isn’t exactly documentation in the traditional sense and means that GitOps comprehensively documents every change – which is beneficial because human engineers tend not to be so thorough when documenting their actions.

To be sure, GitOps is not without its challenges. Implementing GitOps effectively requires additional skills – namely, expertise with both IaC frameworks and source control systems – that not all DevOps engineers possess. I also notice a tendency on the part of some teams to set up GitOps pipelines but rely on manual approvals instead of automated actions to trigger changes. That approach largely undercuts the value of automating pipelines in the first place.

However, these are challenges that teams can solve through education and by fully leaning into GitOps. In addition, techniques like automated testing of GitOps configuration code can help to build teams’ confidence in automations and reduce reliance on manual approvals.

Going forward, expect to see more adoption of GitOps techniques among teams seeking to level up their approach to DevOps automation. Automating individual DevOps processes (such as software testing and deployment) won’t be enough; truly efficient organizations will turn to GitOps to automate their entire DevOps workflows, from end to end.

Investing in Developer Experience

Making software delivery processes more predictable and efficient is merely a step toward DevOps’s ultimate goal, which is to help developers become productive and satisfied with their jobs.

To that end, I’m noticing interest and investment in developer experience right now. This is playing out through two interrelated initiatives.

One initiative is platform engineering. It involves creating DevOps teams that specialize in certain functions, such as network management or security. Those teams are designated to support those functions throughout the organization. This approach reduces cognitive overhead for developers by freeing them from the need to handle types of work outside their main focus. In other words, instead of forcing developers to be DevOps generalists, platform engineering lets different teams focus on doing what they know and enjoy best – leading to greater productivity and higher levels of job satisfaction.

The other major developer experience trend currently playing out is developer self-service. This means developers can obtain the technical solutions they need on demand without a complicated procurement process. In most cases, organizations enable self-service by implementing internal development platforms (sometimes called internal developer portals) (IDPs) which host ready-made infrastructure resources and software environments that developers can deploy on a self-service basis.

There are risks inherent in these trends. They require specialized types of skills. When poorly implemented, platform engineering and IDP solutions can create more problems than they solve. However, when you ensure that your teams have the requisite expertise, and deploy a carefully planned IDP that gives developers access to the resources they need, you’re likely to see a significant reduction in friction within your organization and a boost in developer productivity and happiness.

Real-World Changes, Beyond the Hype Cycle

Admittedly, discussing DevOps trends centered on security, automation and developer experience may not be as exciting as debating whether AI will take away DevOps engineers’ jobs. But if you want to know what’s truly changing in the world of DevOps – as opposed to which conversations are most hype-worthy – these are the places to look.

Security, automation and developer experience are also among the domains of DevOps where there is a great deal of opportunity to innovate – and, indeed, where adopting new tools and techniques will be critical for organizations that don’t want to be left behind as DevOps evolves.

Derek Ashmore is Application Transformation Principal at Asperitas Consulting.

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