Considering that we live in a fast-paced world centered around rapid technological change, it is little wonder that the agile methodology of software development has taken predominance over other deployment methods. More so, while developing mobile applications, the primary aspect to be factored in is continuous delivery. Given the proliferation of mobile devices and people’s preferences for accessing information on the fly, there is an urgent need for businesses to focus on devising rapid deployment methods for the development of mobile applications. It is therefore imperative to affirm that we are in the age of the customer where enterprises and businesses have a particularly challenging task ahead of them, to stay competitive!
With the mobile application market reaching an exciting stage of maturity, it is the right time to adopt a more comprehensive process for software development of mobile applications. That’s when DevOps comes into play. As an offshoot of devising a rapid development framework, DevOps emerged to bring development and operations onto the same page. As a modern software development approach that places adequate focus on effective collaboration between project managers, developers, and other operations personnel, DevOps seeks to align the entire application development process with the enterprise’s business objectives.
The need for a DevOps framework
The conventional techniques used before the DevOps approach were lacking seamless coordination between various functional departments of an enterprise. Typically, before the emergence of DevOps, enterprise organizations were categorized into specific development teams and operations teams. However, the lack of communication and collaboration between teams acted as a roadblock to growth and innovation in the enterprise. Even if an enterprise adopted the agile methodology for application development, the separation of development and operations did not seem to cater well to the overall business vision of an enterprise. The DevOps movement started to address this specific need, with dev and ops teams coming together to take on the challenges of continuous application delivery more effectively.
By involving the operations team early in the software delivery lifecycle for mobile applications, DevOps seeks to make the entire mobile application development mechanism more process-driven. By fine-tuning developers to code applications with operational concerns in mind from the beginning, DevOps coordinates the interests and knowledge sets of developers and operations managers. It is in this context that the principles of lean development take center stage to make the process of continuous integration and continuous delivery more efficient.
Let us now take a look at a typical DevOps workflow that comprises of specific steps such as rapid iterations, reinforced best practices, and automated processes to reach the end goals of security, auditability, and efficiency.
• Creating a local production environment
Local development is the first step in a robust DevOps workflow to improve developer efficiency. The developer works with a local copy of the project on his computer instead of on the live system or website in production. This ensures a robust, portable solution that is controlled right at the source. Local production development is one of the most critical steps in the DevOps workflow. It factors in the overall mobile application development through specific sections working in tandem to meet the end goal.
• Automating testing and version control
Test-driven development is an integral part of communicating the intent of the code and the project to all stakeholders. The primary function it serves is that it eliminates errors very early on in the project development. Developers can run tests on their own, and this prevents code from becoming stale while a test instance is requested. In the same vein, allowing developers to keep tabs on version control through a good version control system (VCS) such as GitHub allow the team to work collaboratively and provide a safe environment to make and roll back changes. It also allows specific developers to take ownership and credit for a particular task.
• Keeping documentation through project management
Since knowledge sharing and transfer is an integral part of a collaborative process, supporting it through relevant documentation keeps a project on track, thereby saving time and resources. DevOps allows shared documentation that can make the process of onboarding new team members a lot less of a hassle, reducing the time spent trying to figure out intent, or details on the previously used tools, and much more.
• Monitoring and logging
Through frequent logging in of changes, analysis, and reporting, DevOps makes for a system that seeks to monitor the progress of a project across various levels, such as system infrastructure, resource usage, and database function and so on. This way, potential trouble areas are brought to notice to every stakeholder in the project, and this helps in undertaking corrective measures.
Specific challenges for mobile application development
Whether it is an enterprise web app that you are developing or a standalone mobile app, DevOps employs the same basic principles irrespective of the kind of end product you are looking to build. However, there are certain specific challenges that developers face when developing a mobile application, primarily as a front end to existing applications or services, irrespective of the end user.
Need for multi-platform support: We all know that most successful mobile apps are not restrictive and therefore seek to target multiple environments. With new releases happening ever so often, it is essential to factor in a wide variety of technical specifications while developing a sustainable mobile application. One must stay updated on developments across multiple platforms and variants of OS versions and form factors. To complicate this, we have other issues such as fragmentation of Android by every device vendor such as Kindle Fire, Blackberry, etc. based on their specific needs.
Mobile app delivery characterized by aggressive timelines: Because of the strong business motivation to deliver mobile applications to market quickly, mobile development projects usually are driven by extremely aggressive timelines. The launch-to-delivery period can be weeks to a few months. The pressure to deliver mobile apps is, therefore, one of the most critical factors that make project managers turn to DevOps.
Need for deployment on app stores: With the app store intermediary in existence, it is almost impossible to deploy a mobile app directly on to a device. With Apple’s app distribution model, the rules have become very stringent in that it prevents installation of apps directly by app developers or vendors. Further, the app store functions as a checks and balances system that monitors app performance and typically carries performance reviews openly, thereby forcing mobile app developers to run extensive functional, usability, and performance testing for quality assurance.
What competitive edge does DevOps offer to mobile application development?
Using DevOps for mobile application development enables equal distribution of responsibilities among different teams and clear visibility of application progress as well as performance. DevOps addresses some of these challenges when used for mobile application development.
Facilitating rapid development: With speed becoming a vital parameter concerning determining a development process’s success rate, adopting DevOps methodology helps in reducing the time from conceptualization to actual delivery. By automating key aspects of development in the software development ecosystem, one can mitigate a large number of risks, have a quicker deployment and enable easy integration of the various systems. With this, enterprises can adopt either a proactive or reactive approach, depending on their specific set of needs.
Cutting down on silos: Mobile DevOps is a practice of bringing the different disciplines involved in developing, testing, releasing, and operating software onto a single table thus ensuring closer collaboration and improved feedback. It removes all silos and streamlines the process between the build and the production (including testing and deployment) phases. The developers (Dev) and operations (Ops) teams together can deliver their product based on rapid levels of feedback and iteration.
Enabling continuous integration: When you need to deliver a mobile app rapidly with continuous updates, DevOps is your go-to solution. DevOps for mobile apps works on the principle of continuous integration, right from the building of source code. Every release should undergo a real device testing. The testing setup should include a large number of real mobile devices used by the target audience. Mobile DevOps ensures a stable release environment. Big giants such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook typically don’t wait until they’ve built what they think is the perfect product only to find out that what they’ve done isn’t what the customer wants. Instead, they start with a minimal implementation and build it incrementally.
Automating app testing: Mobile app testing is one of the most critical stages in the application development process as it is one of the time-consuming processes. DevOps for mobile apps automate the entire testing process thus saving precious time depletion on manual testing. Developers can go in for a testing-as-a-service strategy that allows them to test the entire app or selected features as and when required.
Working on and addressing continuous feedback: Converting user feedback into enhancement requests and user stories is one of the ways developers can take advantage of the unique feedback mechanism that mobile apps offer via app stores. It is possible to tap a dynamic feedback loop for mobile apps as a potential source of possible feature enhancements and user stories.
Although there is no hard and fast DevOps approach to developing mobile applications, it is no surprise that the DevOps approach works across multiples platforms, be it for the development of web applications, separate standalone components, or middleware. DevOps is the way forward to make continuous delivery and integration your enterprise’s hallmark!