Why you should include the database in your 2021 IT strategy

It’s that time of year when business leaders and managers in organizations of all shapes and sizes are considering what the next 12 months’ strategy and beyond should look like. Given the current business climate where the pandemic has prompted many companies to change the way they work, it’s even more important right now.

Specifically, what does your IT strategy look like, and how does it underpin your business objectives? How flexible should it be, in order to accommodate any further changes in the future? And what are the kind of decisions you can make now that will still be the right decisions this time next year?

If these questions sound familiar, this blog post is for you. If you’d like to know more after reading it, you can also talk to a subject matter expert here at Redgate or read our latest customer stories online.

Keeping DevOps central to the IT strategy

The best description of DevOps, and the one that is most commonly quoted, comes from Donovan Brown, Principal DevOps Manager at Microsoft:

DevOps is the union of people, process, and products
to enable continuous delivery of value to our end users.

The ‘continuous delivery of value’ it generates is the reason it should absolutely be on the agenda of the IT strategy in every organization, particularly at the current time. The automation that DevOps encourages typically reduces errors, while the Agile development practices it enables streamlines workflows and makes responding to change easier.

You can’t simply buy a suite of tools to ‘do DevOps’, however. Instead, you should plan and resource initiatives to enact cultural change and implement best practice to address the people and process part of Donovan’s description of DevOps.

Alongside this, you should adopt the products, or tooling, that will enable DevOps approaches like automation to be introduced. This will set your teams on a DevOps journey to start delivering value and reaping the subsequent business benefits.

While DevOps can be applied to a variety of IT initiatives, it’s most well-known and mature within application development teams. This is despite the fact that as far back as 2018, DORA’s Accelerate: State of DevOps Report identified database development as a key technical practice which can drive high performance in DevOps:

Key technical practices drive high performance. These include monitoring
observability, continuous testing, database change management, and
security earlier in the software development process.

The 2020 State of Database DevOps report from Redgate also revealed that slow development and release cycles and the inability to respond quickly to changing business requirements are widely recognized as the top two drawbacks of siloed database development.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report showed that the top drivers for introducing database DevOps are increasing the speed of delivery of database changes, freeing up developer resources, and reducing the risk of data loss during deployments.

Balanced against that, however, are the challenges of integrating database changes in a DevOps process, the top two of which in the report are synchronizing application and database changes, and overcoming the different development approaches. This is where the products, or tools, that are adopted should integrate with and plug into those already used in application development.

They should also help you focus on and resolve the three issues that are common in many organizations which have yet to adopt DevOps.

Protecting sensitive data

Safeguarding sensitive data is essential, not only for regulatory compliance, but from an ethical and business security perspective. When we think of a data breach, our minds leap to a malicious attack, but human error or internal access are similarly credible threats that could lead to the exposure or misuse of data.

Additionally, customers are increasingly demanding their data is used safely and responsibly. It’s becoming a competitive advantage to manage sensitive data while delivering at speed, and is now becoming a prerequisite from the customer’s perspective.

Protecting sensitive data is also a foundational principle for improving database development processes. By ensuring safe and compliant data at source for developing and testing, you’ll minimize risk and increase trust in database development systems and workflows. With that peace of mind, you can turn your attention to improving and optimizing these processes to meet business demands with speed and agility.

Manual and inefficient development processes hindering speed of delivery

Speed and stability are at the center of the metrics commonly used to measure the success of DevOps initiatives and are not mutually exclusive. With a DevOps approach they are mutually supportive: you can increase the speed of delivery while protecting against the instability of production systems.

That’s because a fundamental approach of database DevOps is to standardize team-based development and automate development and deployment processes. This leads to more efficient development, less time fixing problems, and more time spent on value-added work. Automating where possible further increases the reliability of deployments as they move through the pipeline and reduces the risk of issues in production.

Additionally, communities of practice enable standardization. This culture breeds innovation, experimentation, and shared learning, which in turn leads to a deduplication of effort and the adoption of best practices across multiple teams. It’s also the perfect opportunity to strengthen collaborative and consultative relationships with other teams, rather than having gatekeepers slowing down development.

Pressure on IT infrastructures and the capacity of DBA teams

Perhaps surprisingly, given the current pandemic, there is a general shift towards larger database estates. This was highlighted in Redgate’s 2020 State of Database Monitoring Report, which was based on a large survey undertaken in April 2020. It showed that those respondents reporting fewer than 100 server instances have dropped, while those with over 100 instances have increased. The biggest increase has been in estates with over 1000 instances, which are up nine percentage points year-on-year.

At the same time, there is also a shift in many sectors towards cloud storage, with many organizations using multiple cloud providers based on the different use-cases and costs involved. This is resulting in increasing pressures both on the size and complexity of IT infrastructures, and the ability of DBA teams to manage estates. Teams need to stay on top of the growth to keep pace with increasing demand from the business, and handle the changes that factors like remote working have introduced. All of that, while minimizing the risks to deployments and production environments that go hand-in-hand with more frequent releases.

Given this, it’s imperative that issues can be detected and responded to quickly in order to maintain the stability of business systems. Fortunately, monitoring tools are designed to give you a single view to monitor the health of server environments, as well as pinpoint the impact of deployments and provide the ability to dive into the detail quickly and efficiently, should the need arise. Given the move to server estates that are a mix of on-premises and cloud, look for a monitoring tool that can provide an at-a-glance overview of every server and instance, wherever they are, on one screen.

This leaves your DBA team more time to fix issues and cope with changing demands, while minimizing downtime and protecting your business.

Next steps for your IT strategy

Adopting DevOps is a cultural shift and not a change that happens overnight, but you can start to reap benefits quickly and incrementally. The first step is to ensure DevOps is on the agenda for your 2021 IT strategy, with a proper seat at the table so you can ensure it’s a fully considered, planned, and resourced initiative.

Remember too that the steps you take now will deliver benefits to your customers and advantages to your business far into the future, however the business landscape changes in the next 12 months.

Next, talk to a subject matter expert here at Redgate about your biggest pain points and challenges around your database development processes and SQL Server estate. They’ll advise specifically for your organization and support you with your business case.

Want to understand how other companies are keeping the database at the heart of their DevOps strategy? Read our latest customer stories.

If you’d like to discover how and why a generative culture should be adopted by IT teams for successful organizations across various industries for 2021, you can also join us for the next Redgate Summit on Thursday, December 10. Book your virtual seat.