Microsoft ramps up 'devops' capabilities for developers

Microsoft has added release management, performance measurement and configuration blueprints to its devops arsenal

Recognizing that many organizations are under competitive pressure to evolve their applications ever more quickly, Microsoft has been updating its programming tools to accommodate fast paced "devops"-style development environments.

"Everyone wants to go faster," said Brian Harry, Microsoft technical fellow working as the product unit manager for the company's Team Foundation Server application lifecycle management software.

Devops is an emerging IT practice of more tightly integrating the development cycle of an application with the subsequent operation of that application. It can cut the length of time it requires to update a customer-facing or internal application.

On Wednesday, in an event in New York, Microsoft introduced a number of new capabilities to support today's faster development cycles.

The company has updated its hosted application lifecycle management service, Visual Studio Online, to aid in the process of managing software once it is ready to be deployed. It has also released a plug-in for its flagship Visual Studio integrated development environment (IDE) that could automate the process of deploying applications to the cloud.

Many organizations are under competitive pressure to "tighten the cycle time" of development, Harry said, though different types of organizations have different schedules. A large Internet service, such as Microsoft Bing, may update its service as often as every few hours, while a smaller enterprise may try to shorten its update cycle from six months to a single month, Harry said.

One user of Microsoft's devops tools has been the business services division of French telecommunications company Orange, which develops systems and software for other organizations. One advantage of using Azure-based services is that the software that Orange develops on behalf of its clients can then be easily deployed in an Azure cloud, once ready for production.

"A few years ago, it was the norm to deliver good functionality on time and on budget," said Philippe Ensarguet, chief technology officer at Orange Business Services. "Now, we have to deliver sooner and faster and better."

To aid in devops, Microsoft has added release management capabilities to Visual Studio Online. Release management automates many of the chores that are needed to be done to move a software program from development to production, such as alerting the appropriate managers, and preparing the production server to run the software.

"You don't need to maintain a separate release management server. You can do release management directly from within Visual Studio Online," Harry said. The capabilities come from Microsoft's 2013 acquisition of InCycle. The release management features can work on software projects either in the cloud or on premise. They are now available as a preview, and the full release is expected next year.

Another devops-minded feature Microsoft has introduced for Visual Studio is a new capability called Cloud Deployment Projects, which allows organizations to capture and reuse the configuration settings of new applications, in order to speed the deployment times. The configuration settings, or blueprints, are captured within a virtual machine (VM), which then can be deployed, holding the application, in the Microsoft Azure cloud. Future releases may also support other public clouds, Harry said.

Cloud Deployment Projects is part of the Azure SDK (software development kit) 2.5 tools for Visual Studio.

During Wednesday's presentation, Microsoft also demonstrated its Application Insights software, which the company recently integrated into the Azure Portal. Application Insights provides a way to instrument an application so the developers can determine if it is working correctly, and how people are using the software program. Harry explained this could help developers pinpoint bugs, as well as get early insight into behavioral issues, such as a sudden fall-off of use due to a bad redesign.

Such information can speed the development cycle by giving developers more feedback on potential issues, Harry said.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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