March 30th 2022

Application release orchestration (ARO) is fast becoming an essential tool for any modern application, making it possible to centralize and synchronize deployment across any configuration of platforms, technologies, and data centers. While ARO continues to play an important role as a modernization tool for legacy systems, today the need for secure, operations-based deployment is evident throughout the industry. This need is in part driven by the advent and ubiquity of cloud computing, the need to empower operations teams to the extent that the “dev” side of DevOps has already matured, and the embrace of the paradigm infrastructure as code.

The revolution in Release Management

Chief executive officer of ARCAD Software, Philippe Magne has anticipated ARO as the next phase of the digital transformation revolution. Magne also heads the team at DROPS, a powerful single-console tool that has been a stable, secure go-to solution for ARO in the IBM i space since 2015. Magne shares his thoughts on the origin and maturation of application release orchestration as the critical link between development and operations beyond legacy systems, and why a use case for release orchestration now extends beyond legacy applications.

“The roots of ARO can be traced back at least as far as the origin of DevOps,” says Magne. The term “DevOps”--a portmanteau of “development” and “operations”--was initially coined back in 2009 by Belgian engineer Patrick Debois, and entailed a set of principles “designed to reconcile the development and operations sides of an enterprise”, with the principal aim at getting code to production as quickly as possible. The success of DevOps led to the rise of the CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous delivery) pipeline.

But perhaps because DevOps has its origin in development teams, “the vast majority of the DevOps transformation has come from the development initiative. Apart from the most mature organizations, who have set up DevOps leaders as an independent bridge between development and operations, DevOps naturally sidelined operations teams’ priorities a bit. Now, however, that is beginning to change,” continues Magne.

Release management evolves to meet hybrid and multi-cloud

In a way, since the inception of DevOps, the need for complex application release orchestration has simply been delayed. DevOps was particularly well adapted to the business practices of so-called Unicorn companies of a decade past, when relatively simple infrastructure would suffice for safe application release. DevOps made good on the automation aspects of CI/CD and has reached a certain level of maturity. But today, with enterprises needing to integrate cloud infrastructure into other technologies, exceptional automation tools such as Jenkins or Ansible are still not capable of coordinating complex deployments.

“Release management is highly linked to continuous delivery,” adds Magne. DevOps successfully made the CI/CD pipeline a reality. “But now there is such a strong diversity of infrastructures in the industry, new challenges arise which must be met with a return to balance between development and operations. And for what it’s worth, legacy systems and data centers have not disappeared and will remain a major player in the development sector for at least another decade.”

Magne adds that having an ARO system in place becomes of ever greater importance when coordinating deployment across multiple infrastructures and application architectures.
Whether a company is working with legacy (client/server-type) applications or an application whose codebase is entirely modern, most companies today have at least a foot in the cloud–either private or public–and so also have to deal with a variety of related data centers.

Integrating with existing pipelines – Jenkins and Ansible

DROPS software tool, having proven its stability in the legacy sector, is the ideal solution for companies ready to mature from automation to orchestration, and to build on top of the current capability provided by flagship automation tools like Jenkins or Ansible. Magne, the business line manager for DROPS explains that the tool “doesn’t replace a well-configured CI/CD pipeline–it builds upon it. Because no single technology can adapt to each and every platform, orchestration is necessary.” ARO software like DROPS, however, is a full multi-platform tool, capable of orchestrating complex deployment activities between private and public clouds, or any type of data center, web application, or legacy application.

Priorities for operations teams and release managers: security and reliability

ARO tools empower operations teams and release managers to be effective in their role by centralizing deployment operations and controlling all necessary technology synchronizations. Operations teams are, after all, levied with the paramount responsibility of keeping production machines up and running without a hitch.

In other words, while everyone in an organization may be driven toward the ultimate success of the company, development and operations teams’ interests will be inherently different. Codebase architects may dream up a variety of ingenious solutions and scripts for automation, but operations personnel are heavily vested in predictability and standardization–and the peace of mind that nothing’s going to crash, and if it does–there’s a rollback option.

Magne illustrates the position operations-side managers are in: “Because operations teams carry a significant portion of the liability when it comes to production deployment, they need a system that ensures stability and security. DROPS–as any good ARO system should–has 24/7 instant rollback capability. DROPS rollback mechanism is system-wide, simple, and straightforward to use, giving operations teams the assurance they need with overseeing deployments.”

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Modern release management must be enterprise-wide

Additionally, operations teams benefit immensely from having a clear enterprise-wide picture of all the applications that enterprise encompasses, along with which teams and technologies overlap those applications. Every release is a delicate ballet of assembly, sending different components toward different targets, with application and release dependency chains syncing appropriately. Release managers require an exquisite level of control at the point of origin.

Repeatability and Traceability: Infrastructure as Code (IaC)

Application release orchestration also leads into the concept of Infrastructure as Code (IaC), the practice of building application infrastructure directly into configuration files, as opposed to managing infrastructure externally. The IaC movement really took off with the expansion of cloud computing, but has spread across the industry. On-the-fly, undocumented changes to codebase infrastructure are now widely seen as unacceptable.

Version control is an essential aspect of IaC, with git being the de facto system to facilitate the ability to manage even large, complex applications from a single repository. At a foundational level ARO makes use of a single-repository structure, as the deployment system must have traceability on any change and in any type of configuration. In cloud environments, infrastructure changes daily. In such a rapidly changing environment, a high level of automation is necessary, but an ARO tool builds upon automation by including traceability.

Segregation of duties: Roles and Responsibilities

Along with a robust version control system, ARO provides tools to facilitate a rigorous organization of scripts, and aid operations managers in overseeing various cross-team DevOps roles and responsibilities.

Operations is back in the spotlight

In summary, in the early days of the digital transformation, focus had been on the dev side, but that focus has been progressively toward operations. Philippe Magne concludes, “Some companies have attempted to put aside legacy systems, others have realized they need to move toward a convergence, and many more are fully modern. But regardless of the technology make-up, companies are embracing the value of having a standardized, centralized means of product delivery.”

In this interesting new era, having already proven successful in the legacy sector, the now open-source DROPS tool is poised to become the standard ARO tool for any enterprise looking for a secure solution to application deployment. DROPS is a deeply strategic tool that goes to the heart of the concept of “digital transformation.”