Serverless Technology and Integration with DevOps: An Interview with Glenn Buckholz


Glenn Buckholz, a technical manager at Coveros Inc., discusses methods to gain an understanding of serverless technology, the motivation behind businesses moving to serverless technology, and how a serverless infrastructure changes your testing strategy and bug reports.

Jennifer Bonine 0:07

Glenn, thanks for joining me.

Glenn Buckholz 0:08

Thank you for having me.

Jennifer Bonine 0:09

And you work for Coveros?

Glenn Buckholz 0:12

I work for Coveros.

Jennifer Bonine 0:13

Maybe for folks that aren't familiar out there, can you give us just a short spiel on Coveros and what you guys do?

Glenn Buckholz 0:19

So Coveros is a boutique consulting company, and we help a lot with agile transformation and DevOps transformation. Basically, we like to take the latest technologies on the table and help people accelerate their delivery through automation and a change in culture through DevOps and agile.

Jennifer Bonine 0:37

Perfect. Now, one of the things you'll be talking about here at the event this afternoon—and it's not one of the ones everyone gets to see, so we want to make sure they get a flavor for what it is—because it's quite interesting, and it's one of the newer technologies around with DevOps, going to a serverless environment for DevOps.

Glenn Buckholz 0:55

That's right. We're seeing a trend where more and more companies are moving towards what we call serverless technology. Now, it's a bit of a misnomer. There are actually servers. That's one of the things that go in to the talk, how does a serverless infrastructure change my testing strategy? How does a serverless infrastructure change bug reports? How does serverless infrastructure change what I as a tester have to know so that I can, you know, deliver and help make sure the quality product is coming out? What are the motivations behind businesses moving to serverless technology because not everything fits the serverless mold? So you want to be able to recognize whether or not your particular niche, if people are going to be looking at serverless to replace what you're currently doing.

Jennifer Bonine 1:51

And are you guys helping with assessing or understanding for companies that are saying, "Hey, we're having some challenges, does this fit me?" Understanding if it is a fit for them?

Glenn Buckholz 2:02

Yes, typically what we do is we take a look at what we believe of you through experience serverless technology is supposed to accomplish, and see whether or not your business goals are aligned with that. Yeah, and give recommendations. Also, we at Coveros use serverless technology as a tool to aid in automation and testing. And we go over examples of that in the talk later today.

Jennifer Bonine 2:26

Perfect. So if someone's saying this sounds really interesting, explain to me some of the business drivers or motivations for serverless, what are some of the things you guys see for why you would primarily go "yep, that's for us. We should do this."?

Glenn Buckholz 2:44

So ultimately, everything revolves around money. However, that's a bit too broad. Oh, yeah, save money. Well great, everything's supposed to save money. Specifically, what service serverless technology allows you to do is it allows you to limit the number of staff you need to maintain an active and running application. Now, this is not for free, you do have to cede some freedom, you don't have as much control over what you're doing as if you had everything in house. But for most people that fits their business case. So you can leave things like a good portion of security and a good portion of maintenance and updates and security patching and OS patching all to the cloud vendor. And those are no longer responsibilities, you have to take on yourself, so that if you can do majority of your work on a serverless infrastructure, you can shift those roles more towards development and testing to make sure that you're delivering features faster and that they're of high quality.

Jennifer Bonine 3:44

You mentioned, what do you have to do from a testing standpoint to ensure as you're making that move, so, two things and it does that look the same as you're transitioning, right. So obviously, as you're transitioning from a more traditional architecture to a serverless architecture, any tips or techniques for people, if they say "I'm doing this right now. We're actually starting that transition," and what they need to look out for as opposed to "I'm transitioned, I'm living in this world, what changes day to day for me?"

Glenn Buckholz 4:13

So, there are a couple of things here. If you fully embrace the DevOps mindset, which not everybody has, you should probably think about moving more in that direction. The reason being, if you have a very qualified DevOps team, you don't have to worry about changing skill sets: these people will be able to handle and deal with the technology, because it looks very similar to a lot of the things that they're already doing. So that would be one thing is that you should value your DevOps team, because they're going to be instrumental into easily transitioning you over to a serverless world. And then, the second thing is be cognizant of what the limitations of your cloud providers serverless technologies are. It's not a fit for every single application out there. For the ones it is, it's a great advantage. But for the ones it isn't, you need to know up front, so that you don't have a false start where you get 80% of the way, and you're like, "Oh, well, it can't do this one thing" and that one thing is business critical, so you have to scrap the whole effort.

Jennifer Bonine 5:21

And then you abort, basically going that direction. So are you seeing that trend in early adopters of this right now—and it is very new—but who are some of the folks that have jumped on board right now and that are kind of looking in that direction?

Glenn Buckholz 5:40

Enterprises that have large scalable workloads is one set of customers, because the serverless technology allows you to scale the application with only having written it correctly. You don't have to worry about racking more servers or recalling AWS or Azure and increased core limits and stuff like that. It all just kind of happens and you pay the bill at the end of the day. You can also set up guards and alarms, so you don't get overcharged as well. So it's people who are looking to scale easy and people who have embraced microservices, because at least on the AWS and Azure side of the world, there is sort of a mapping between microservices and the serverless infrastructure.

Jennifer Bonine 6:25

Now are there some things where you'd say "this may make sense for you because you need the scalability, you need some of these things, but if you haven't committed and embraced DevOps?" For example, if you haven't embraced microservices as a way that you're structuring your applications and how you're operating, are those precursors or things people need to step back and make sure they do first before this is a fit?

Glenn Buckholz 6:49

DevOps helps with process and people. You're going to have a much easier time understanding the technology internally if you've already gone in that direction in terms of your people, but it's not necessarily a requirement. However, serverless technology does require that you break down your application into tiny bits. And if you haven't already taken that as a design consideration in your architecture, then it's something that you are going to have to do as a prerequisite.

Jennifer Bonine 7:21

Good to know. So as people are considering this, you may go, "yeah, this is on my roadmap. I want to go to this, because it's going to make sense from a scalability standpoint, and being able to grow the organization and a cost perspective. But in order to do that, I have some investments to make, you know, in the architecture around the microservices, getting to that point, some prerequisites before I'm ready for it."

Glenn Buckholz 7:44

Right, and also, one of the things that you can keep in mind is that it can also be an iterative approach. The services do integrate as long as you're web-based and what you're doing, okay, a lot of these services do just integrate with what you're doing. It's just another website or another REST service that goes on top of it. So you don't need to actually have it as a prerequisite. But when you're moving forward with implementation, it is something you have to be cognizant of.

Jennifer Bonine 8:13

What are you seeing as the biggest challenges with the folks you're working with right now, as they're implementing? Are there any things that you've said that's something we need to consider?

Glenn Buckholz 8:24

Yeah, people don't fully understand what the technology is capable of and what it's for. So the biggest issue that I have is education. And actually, we've had several excellent fits for where that technology would have saved a client a significant amount of money, but they decided not to go with it, because they didn't have a clear understanding of what was going on. Sometime you only have the elevator pitch to make your case, but it requires more than that when you're trying to describe what this stuff does.

Jennifer Bonine 8:57

Just like with a lot of the new concepts that we see around machine learning, AI, lots of things, just name anything. Right? It's education first. You first fundamentally have to understand what it is and how it works. And a lot of times, people if they don't have a full understanding, maybe have a fear of it without knowing exactly what it is. So creating that education. Some other places that people are saying, this sounds interesting, I want to know more, where are good resources for people to go get more information to get educated on serverless and if that's something for them?

Glenn Buckholz 9:31

Honestly, right now, there are a couple places, but Coveroes does offer the ability so that you can go out there and educate yourself. We have people in training that we would be happy to provide. But outside of that, AWS has a great list of workable examples that you can look at, but that's very technologically oriented. They have a couple of white papers that also help for business analysis as well. And I've seen less documentation on the Azure side, but that's rapidly changing. Azure is exploding right now, and so I'm sure you just have to wait 10 minutes and they'll have something out there.

Jennifer Bonine 10:11

By the time we're done, maybe they'll have documentation that you can go find. But so going to AWS, obviously going to Coveros, Azure soon, you'll have more documentation. Maybe do a little homework on it, so hopefully, if nothing else, today, we've piqued some interest in going to learn more about it and figuring out more about that. Let's shift just slightly not completely away from serverless, but to the DevOps realm. What are you seeing in terms of this conference and this year in 2018? Are the questions the same as they were last year? Are there different themes that you're feeling around?

Glenn Buckholz 10:48

I wouldn't say the questions are the same. I see basically, more people embracing both automation and I see the word DevOps around the area a lot more, which is exciting to me, because that's what I do.

Jennifer Bonine 11:02

Right? It's the space you live in. It's great to see it, you know, getting that broader education and adoption. So that's great. Any final thoughts? We're almost done, it goes so quickly. But any final thoughts for folks on advice or places to go? Where they could get some more information on DevOps and where you kind of go for your resources? Is there anyone in particular you follow around that space?

Glenn Buckholz 11:29

For DevOps, there are a couple of different things. One is, of course, I have to mention my colleagues first. Coveros does have DevOps training, and we do have certain nationally certified courses out there. So if you want to learn about DevOps come to us, but also some of the people that we look at Gene Kim. The Phoenix Project and a couple of other books in that area are definitely things to consider when you're trying to get a 10,000-foot view of what's going on.

Jennifer Bonine 11:55

Yeah, the Phoenix Project, that's a great book for folks. We've mentioned it before in some of these interviews, but if you have not heard of that or seen it, I would definitely go out there and look at that. So well where time is up, but thanks again for being here with us. I appreciate it. And hopefully you guys go check out serverless technology integration with DevOps.

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