Embrace Best-of-Breed Tools for Software Delivery

Written by: Anders Wallgren

5 min read

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When it comes to implementing DevOps in the enterprise, companies face multiple challenges.

One main challenge concerns the toolchain they will adopt in order to achieve the best results. With this challenge, there comes the technical conundrum:  Should they choose an end-to-end “walled garden” solution or embrace best-of-breed tools?

All-in-One Versus Best-of-Breed Tools

End-to-end toolchains do tend to provide more consistency and standardization. However, enterprises are under pressure to innovate fast and frequently, so if their platform approach is not working, ripping out entire toolsets and replacing them is not really an option. It’s always challenging to find a one-size-fits-all that satisfies all needs for the software delivery process … and satisfies them well. Enterprises need to embrace choice among teams, technologies and tools to innovate quickly, safely and effectively.

Walled garden approach 

A one-stop-shop approach to the DevOps toolchain might appeal to organizations struggling to standardize processes across a large number of unique applications. This type of approach can make it easier for operations engineers to jump in and out of projects without having to deal with the intricacies of specific applications.

The industry has made great progress in recent years establishing interoperability standards like REST (Representational State Transfer) and JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). These new formats give us a way to consume APIs that we didn’t have just a few years ago. Standardization of tool formats offers the ability to flexibly juggle resources – adding new tools, switching others, implementing microservices, running workloads in Docker containers, deploying in Kubernetes - and making it all work in your DevOps pipelines. But swapping software tools in and out is not really kids’ play. 

Anybody who’s assembled a DevOps toolchain knows how many moving parts need to be juggled to create a high-quality, coordinated process. Tools help to move applications across a long and complicated pipeline, performing a myriad of functions: version control, continuous integration, artifact management, test automation, environment automation and configuration, release management, log aggregation and search, metrics tracking, team communications and reporting. 

Software delivery is changing fast - and so are the tools used to accelerate and automate it. It’s therefore important to choose best-of-breed tools that are purpose-built for the job at hand and easily integrate into your environment. That way, when a new technology or capability comes along, you’ll be able to add it to your pipeline process with minimal disruption. Simply put, it will add value to your software delivery process. Being stuck with a single, lightweight toolset that does some things well but doesn’t enable you to take full advantage of new tools or technologies can cause a lot of pain for organizations trying to adopt and evolve their DevOps environments.

Best-of-breed Approach: The Advantages 

Avoid vendor lock-in

Having different vendors for different toolsets results in a complicated procurement process - one that is worth it, though. Best tools are for as long as you need them, not just for… procurement day. There’s always a better way to do it tomorrow but if you’ve bought into one vendor, you’ve bought into whatever that vendor comes out with. If that platform a year from now looks the same as it does today, you’re stuck with the same set of tools.

Choose tools that don’t restrict you 

If you are using a single platform solution and want to upgrade to a new release, you might have to upgrade a significant number of other tools and/or custom integrations to the platform to ensure the platform still works properly  after the upgrade. This is how people end up with technical debt. It becomes harder each day to make a switch - and harder each day to accelerate software delivery. What do you do when your toolchain cannot evolve? 

Choose the level of functionality at each spot along the chain

 It’s perfectly fine for your toolchain to include a few stellar performers with deep functionality and others that are slightly more run-of-the-mill. Best-of-breed doesn’t always mean the most expensive or advanced solution. The best solution for you might be one that just does the job for a particular application. You get to be in control of what you choose. When you’re buying into a walled garden, on the other hand, the choice is not yours: it’s the vendor that makes the decision about which functionality is “best in class.” 

Avoid a lengthy and disruptive integration

Whenever you swap one set of tools for another, you have to make sure the outcome justifies it. You have to think of the whole picture. The cost of switching is not just the price to install the new toolset – it’s the price of disrupting your people and their productivity. If you swap out the whole set of 10 best-of-breed tools for a single platform solution, you have to retrain – and reorient – the whole staff. You’re better off being able to switch a single tool out or adopt a new tool, in small batches, team-by-team. Upgrade the tools you need to upgrade today or integrate a new set next year. With a single platform solution it’s all or nothing - and it’s a major disruption to your software, team and organisation. 

Scale your DevOps implementation

Buying a “DevOps in a box” could give an immature organization the ability to launch a DevOps effort quickly and seamlessly. But DevOps is more than that. It’s not about getting a bunch of tools in place as quickly as possible. DevOps is about understanding your process and what you’re trying to achieve, understanding where your cultural weaknesses are, process-wise and tools-wise and making a plan to create a future state where you’re much more productive and much more able to meet the needs of the business. Making all these decisions at once is like creating an outmoded “waterfall” delivery system: You do it and you’re done with it. The problem is though, you’re never done. Toolsets should be set up to evolve, incorporating present technologies as well as future technologies. 

Conclusion

Today’s business environment is moving fast. Enterprises face lots of challenges - and a lot of pressure.  Best-of-breed technologies that integrate with each other and respond to future requirements give enterprises the best chance to meet business’ evolving needs - and alleviate some of that pressure. 

I’ll leave you with this quote, from Gartner Analyst Traverse Clayton: “Consider all the tools you select to be loosely coupled from one another so they can easily be composed to work with other toolchains. Choose best-of-breed tools and ensure that they integrate well with other best-of-breed tools.” 

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