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How BizDevOps can “shift left” using SLOs to automate quality gates

Automating quality gates creates reliable checks and balances and speeds up the software delivery process by avoiding manual intervention.

As more organizations respond to the pressure to release better software faster, there is an increasing need to build quality gates into every stage of BizDevOps processes, from early development to deployment.

At Perform 2021, Dynatrace’s Kristof Renders, Services Practice Manager for Autonomous Cloud Enablement, joined Sumit Nagal, Principal Engineer at Intuit, to demonstrate how service-level objectives (SLOs) and business-level objectives (BLOs) can “shift left.” This means building quality gates earlier in the software delivery life cycle before a small problem in the development environment builds into a wildfire in the production environment.

What are quality gates?

Quality gates are benchmarks in the software delivery lifecycle that define specific, measurable, and achievable success criteria a service must meet before moving to the next phase of the software delivery pipeline. Quality gates include technical, operational, and business indicators that enable consistent, automated, and continuous evaluation of software quality to ensure it meets the objectives of all Biz, Dev, and Ops stakeholders.

Establishing clear, consistent, and effective quality gates that are automatically validated at each phase of the delivery pipeline is essential for improving software quality and speeding up delivery.

Quality gates survey
According to the Dynatrace ACM survey, just 10% of organizations have implemented automatic quality gates; 48% run manual quality gates.

Using quality gates for measurable impacts

The “shift-left” mindset seeks to harness the data generated by applications and processes, and makes full use of it earlier in the production cycle. This includes automatically stopping a continuous delivery pipeline if the quality gates detect an error, enabling a team to quickly fix it before it causes more trouble later.

Renders explained how BizDevOps teams and site reliability engineers (SREs) can use Keptn, Dynatrace’s autonomous cloud control plane, to automate quality gates for every build during development instead of quarterly or annually in production.
Keptn closes the loop of planning, testing, deployment, and analysis in Agile-like environments with the help of quality gates defined by service- and business-level indicators. Keptn integrates seamlessly with Jenkins and other deployment tools.

Keptn orchestrates quality gates
Keptn automatically orchestrates quality gates based on service-level objectives defined throughout the delivery life cycle.

Automating quality gates creates reliable checks and balances and speeds up the process by avoiding manual intervention. With these automated measures in place, teams are much less likely to skip steps or introduce potential issues.

Delivering to customer expectations with SLOs and BLOs

The ability for BizDevOps teams to deliver to SLOs and BLOs is vital for software projects, but application performance reaches well beyond development. As digital transformation increases, end-user expectations place ever-increasing demands on cloud applications.

Organizations can feel the impact of even a minor roadblock in the user experience. For example, improving latency by as little as 0.1 seconds at e-commerce websites increases the average size of shopping carts by as much as 9.2%. Meanwhile, in the U.S., latency is the number one reason consumers abandon mobile sites.
These issues are especially troublesome when they impact legally binding agreements such as service contracts. Requirements surrounding the availability of both services and data are common, and they clearly define the consequences for failure to perform.

The value of fixing issues up-front

Despite the well-known effect of poor quality control, many organizations fail to take on the challenge of creating solid processes to assure that software lives up to expectations. Nearly 42% do not perform manual or automated checks.
For many organizations, the work needed to establish SLOs and BLOs and set up testing quality gates based on these standards can be daunting. An up-front investment of time and money can seem impossible given the size or age of a project, and the array of tools and data gathering required for a conventional approach to establishing SLOs and BLOs makes it even more difficult to implement.
Still, the cost of defective software dwarfs the cost of implementing effective quality gates. According to Six Sigma Daily, poor testing leads to overruns amounting to up to 40% of an operation’s budget. It is more expensive to fix issues later than to test early and often.

Enforcing benchmarks in real time

Dynatrace reaffirmed a commitment to simplifying the build process in Keptn, helping companies overcome barriers to introducing adequate controls in their processes. Quality gates allow teams to bring the concept of shift-left testing to an automated platform. BizDevOps teams specify SLOs and BLOs, which guides Keptn to ingest useful information developers can apply to automatic testing at nearly every stage of the software release cycle.
When teams implement this automated approach thoroughly, issues seldom reach the end-user. These practices shift testing toward earlier stages where BizDevOps teams can fix issues in development before they can progress undetected into production environments.
Keptn continues to improve with new features that turn build data into actionable insights. Monitoring and an increasing level of intelligence will mix business and development in meaningful ways, adding more value to the BizDevOps flow.
“You can now define SLOs directly in Dynatrace,” Renders said. “We have the concept of tracking the status and the error budget, and we can also add it to a dashboard.”
Data from the build process feeds impactful analytics from Davis AI to detect the precise root cause if software fails to meet specific benchmarks. This intelligence enables organizations to monitor and measure service-level and business-level goals and enforce them in real time.

DevOps loop with quality gates
Dynatrace enables automation at every phase of the software delivery lifecycle, assisted by Keptn at the testing and operations phases.

Dynatrace plans to make this even easier with powerful visualizations that cut through clutter to give an accurate overview of the health of the build process. Fine-tuning the service-level indicators that make up quality gates will improve with the help of upcoming features.

How Intuit puts Dynatrace to work

For global technology platform provider Intuit, any failure impacts customers in a profound way. The company is already saving time and effort by shifting the enforcement of SLOs and BLOs earlier in the build process.

Intuit’s Sumit Nagal explained how his team uses quality gates and key metrics to process build data using Dynatrace to ensure SLOs are met. The company also uses Keptn to ensure the health of its large build process, which spans many applications of various sizes. Accuracy and ease of use are key considerations for Intuit.

Quality gates flow chart
Intuit achieves distributed load testing with automatic quality gates orchestrated by Keptn throughout the delivery pipeline.

“We have a bunch of services pushing data to Dynatrace,” Nagal noted when discussing the build process supporting the financial services company. “Thanks to the Keptn declarative pipeline, we have put in changes to our customization. Now we have our own declarative function, which is actually using a few of the capabilities from Keptn-Jenkins declarative line.”
Intuit combines Keptn with load balancing tests in continuous load-testing tools, build tools, and workflow orchestration frameworks, such as Argo, to ensure the quality of their applications through a declarative pipeline. Dynatrace integrates flawlessly with monolithic and small projects to keep Intuit’s customers’ finances running without a hitch.

Shifting quality control left with Dynatrace

With the help of the Dynatrace, organizations can proactively catch issues early to improve efficiency and eliminate complications through a shift-left approach to BizDevOps.
To discover how using quality gates can help your organization meet its BLOs and SLOs, watch the full Perform 2021 session below. Want to learn more about Keptn? See What is keptn, how it works and how to get started.

Join us for a Dynatrace Performance Clinic, Why Devs Love Dynatrace – Episode 2 – Intelligent Quality Gates on May 20, 2021.