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How telecom operators should approach devops

Telecom, the biggest adopter of devops

The devops model is being heavily adopted by telecom companies during the industry’s ongoing transition to virtualized networks. In a 2014 report by CA Technologies, telecommunications led all other industries in devops adoption, with 88% having already transitioned, or looking to make the change to the new business model. The cultural movement is particularly relevant to telecom as the industry as a whole is moving toward virtualizing its networks with hardware giving way to software. Historically, changes in network operations unfolded over decades, whereas changes in IT software environments is considered more agile. Combining development with operations is expected to allow network changes to occur without risking security, reliability or performance.

source: CA Technologies
source: CA Technologies

AT&T, with it’s Domain 2.0 initiative, has 2,000 engineers focused on software-defined networking (SDN), with thousands of others participating in the effort. The Domain 2.0 initiative was created in order to cut costs and increase the efficiency of updating services. Devops is a business mindset that goes along with virtualization by combining software development best practices with network operations. AT&T realized early on the benefits of abandoning their waterfall methodology for something more agile and dynamic. From AT&T’s Domain 2.0 Vision white paper from 2013:

“There remains much to do before this vision [Domain 2.0] can be implemented, including pivots from networking craft to software engineering, and from carrier operations models to cloud ‘devops’ models. We also see an important pivot to embrace agile development in preference to existing waterfall models.”

According to Red Hat, embracing the devops business model can bring a number of benefits, including:

  • Greater collaboration between different stakeholders, leading to cross pollination among teams
  • Risk mitigation around critical delivery deadlines
  • Ability to push out changes to applications faster
  • Path offered to reduce technical debt
  • Increased efficiency around automation

But just because a lot of companies are doing it, doesn’t make it an easy process. In our article 3 challenges facing telecom operators in shift to devops we outlined a few barriers of entry into devops that require flexibility, new knowledge and communication skills.

source: CA Technologies
source: CA Technologies

How telecom operators should approach the change

Here are a few key approaches telecom companies need to take in order to seamlessly transition their legacy business models.

Education leads to dedication

There are myths revolving around devops that suggest the model only works for unicorns and startups. If that is the case, telecom is in trouble. Generally speaking, telecommunications companies are running off of decade-old business models and equipment. Developers and operations staff have been using the waterfall methodology for years. Switching to an agile devops approach means being flexible enough to learn new skills in order to stand behind operational change, even if it means working with someone whose job title you have stereotyped since the day you chose sides.

It is imperative that telecom companies educate their workers about the benefits of switching to a more agile business model in order to complete tasks quickly, and reduce the security risks associated with dated software.

Breaking down silos

This is really what devops is all about, and it is crucial that this step is fully realized. Traditionally, companies have put their developer and operations teams in separate silos, isolating the work groups.

source: CA Technologies
source: CA Technologies

But devops asks that the two teams work together from start to deployment of an application. It calls for developers and operations managers to get out of their comfort zones and interact with one another. Breaking down the silo walls will require strong communication skills and flexibility on the part of employees, but it is a necessary step to truly establishing the devops model.

Telecom operators can’t afford to rush this processes. It can end up being more delicate than it may sound, so it is important to get operations and devs interacting with one another as soon as possible.

Providing the tools

Telecom operators will need to educate themselves on what the goals are for each devops team, and provide them with the tools needed to reach that goal.

Docker, Chef, Git, New Relic – there are a number of different software tools designed for specific tasks that fit the bill for devops.  You need the tools that support your teams in accomplishing their goals, but you might not know which tools will work best. You will probably need to do some trial and error, and that is OK.

Figure out if it is working

Thanks in large part to telecom, we’ve entered a world of unlimited data. It is time for telecommunications companies to take advantage of that data by determining whether their transition to devops has been successful. Once you have established an environment where developers and operations staff are working together, find out what is working and what isn’t, make adjustments, and don’t be a hypocrite – it is time to be as flexible as your devops employees.

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