The company has completely replaced its technology stack and is in the process of revamping its seven consumer sites to take advantage of the new platform. The first cab off the rank is the Be entertainment and lifestyle site, but “the rest will come pretty quickly,” according to CTO Paul Russell.
“We had an aging website based on a proprietary framework,” he said, which has been replaced with a platform based on node.js and other open-source frameworks, including the Yahoo-backed Screwdriver continuous delivery platform.
There is also a focus on adopting reusable components across all the sites. It is more efficient to select, for example, an image gallery that gives the best user experience and deploy it across all the sites. That doesn’t mean all the new sites will have the same look; it is still possible to have distinctive layouts for each of them, Russell said.
A move to cross-functional teams and Scrum “was a pretty big change for us” that took approximately two years, he said. There are three teams, each with four or five developers, a product owner, a tech lead, a Scrum master and a tester. A user experience specialist is added when required.
The reorganization required “a mindset change,” but having people doing different types of work side by side did help. But the adoption of common KPIs “really has made a big difference,” as it keeps people focused on the things that really matter.
“We’ve got a fairly mature DevOps model” and the current project is the company’s latest step, said Russell.
Augmenting Screwdriver with automated performance testing on a range of metrics including latency and the number of requests per second that can be handled captures any problems at the early stages. This was “a really big step for us,” he said, especially as Yahoo7’s news content leads to significant spikes in demand, and also because the entire stack was being replaced.
The scope of the project meant it was important to have experienced staff (top engineers were needed to pull everything together under Screwdriver, he noted), although some PHP developers were cross-trained for the technical skills required for the new platform. Russell said he is prepared to train people who come with the right attitude, but even though Yahoo7 is regarded as an attractive employer, “it’s definitely a challenge” to get the right people.
Functional testing is being automated for some of the more complicated parts of the site, such as the video player, to improve confidence in each release.
Russell believes organizations need to be clear about what they expect to accomplish by adopting DevOps practices, and warns that it requires a change of mindset which is unlikely to be achieved unless the people involved buy into the concept and are all on the same page.
In particular, the idea of allowing the development team to run releases can be challenging to those used to traditional operations practices, but “it’s absolutely worth it,” he said. For example, the increased release pace means the company can respond more quickly when opportunities arise; Yahoo7 now can deploy two releases per day when necessary.
There are also benefits from the way the teams take greater day-to-day ownership of the systems they build and run. This—combined, we suspect, with the shared KPIs—brings about a situation where rules imposed from above are largely replaced by good working practices created within the teams.
A final tip from Russell to anyone considering the adoption of DevOps: You need the right tools and practices in place if it is to be successful.