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Published December 15, 2020

Speed is King in COVID-19 Times

Speed is King in COVID-19 times

Business agility is critical. It’s shocking and saddening to see the number of large household names that we grew up with going into administration. Companies that have always been there and we thought always would stand the test of time. Companies like J.C. Penney, Sears and Arcadia group have not managed to adapt to the new world. The world of COVID-19, but also the changes that were happening to consumer habits before that. Similarly, we were shocked in 2012 when Kodak filed for Chapter 11 and when, in 1993 IBM posted the biggest corporate loss in American history. And yet some companies have managed to pivot, to “turn on a dime” – Boohoo, Unilever, and Spotify have turned their respective Titanics and become success stories. As Lou Gerstner said of IBM, “Who says elephants can’t dance.”

When my colleagues and I at IBM first developed IBM MQ in the early 90s, we used the waterfall methodology. We collected requirements, wrote the high-level design, then the low-level design, wrote code, unit testing, fixing, functional testing, fixing, system testing, fixing, and eventually, after two years, we released it. Fortunately, it was a big success. Partially because we OEMed a product from the people at Nastel to get us to market quickly while we did this. The product we developed before that also took two years and sold 14 copies because the market and customer requirements moved on during that time.

Now we realize that speed is king. Being able to turn on a dime is everything, so most companies have moved their IT to the agile methodology. We use DevOps with automation, continuous integration, continuous deployment, and constant checking that the solution matches the requirements and that the requirements are still valid. Taking the example of IBM MQ V1 to extremes, we release products in much more frequent, but smaller increments. With agile, companies reduced the time from two years to six months. With DevOps it went down to a month, and now adding in cloud, companies like Netflix and Eli Lilly can get from requirements, to code, to test, to production in an hour.

We can remove the hardware acquisition and deployment time with cloud. We remove the development/test/deployment handover time using DevOps.

Now that the process is speeded up, it can be much more iterative. Rather than lots of separate releases, it becomes a constant cycle of monitoring the deployed software in test and production for errors and improvement opportunities and feeding them back into the development process for fixes and new releases.

Nastel has a complete integrated solution, Navigator X, to handle these agile needs, enabling fast, secure, robust delivery and support of middleware-centric applications.

Navigator, AutoPilot, and XRay were always components of one solution, running on one shared architecture, but separated out for the different user roles. With DevOps the roles of development and operations merge and so we’ve recognized the need for a combined offering, Navigator X, which gives users access to all the functionality. For convenience we still refer to them by their different names, but the real strength comes from combining them.

In the middleware development lifecycle, Navigator is used to create, migrate and administer the middleware configuration and messages. It has a strong security engine which restricts access to a fine granularity of objects according to roles and profiles, and it audits all actions. This is accessible via a GUI and also via automation from Jenkins, Ansible, Puppet etc. This security means that access to the environment doesn’t have to be restricted to middleware administrators anymore. Application developers can view the status of their own queues and messages, configure their environment, and fix any errors or issues. This secure self-service adds governance and removes layers of approval steps and bottlenecks improving the much needed speed to market.

Four Navigator X components are useful in the testing phase. Navigator can put test messages, AutoPilot can validate that the configuration performs correctly without channels failing or queues filling, XRay can give an end to end transaction view, and CyBench automatically checks the performance of the Java based applications and compares them with previous tests and expected outcomes. Failures can be investigated and fixes fed back to the development phase. With the support of cloud and containers, a test environment can be automatically spun up, tested, and destroyed in a matter of minutes. Again, this automated testing is key to speed and gaining the business agility.

Despite the name, the automation that AutoPilot delivers is often overlooked. It can automatically deploy configurations and updates, remotely and securely as well as proactively fixing issues found by monitoring.

And finally (although there is no end in continuous integration/continuous deployment), we have monitoring. XRay gives full observability of the end-to-end business application in production. It can identify issues with individual transactions and then let you drill down to the root cause, find and fix the problem. Whilst many products are available for high level monitoring, speed is king. Ease of fixing issues without war rooms and handovers from support back to development is time critical. As business requirements change it is crucial to be able to change the dashboards and alerts in line with this. XRay is built with this as a core focus, with the time series database, the dashboard and alerts all integrated together. Very often the dashboards are dynamically created and changed automatically as the infrastructure and message flows change, requiring minimal time for set-up, with monitoring not being a blocker to business.

So now, more than ever before, speed and agility is critical. Our customers are moving their middleware centric applications to new methodologies, cloud, containers, and automation and Nastel is here to help.