How an Enterprise-grade Release Management Solution Can Avoid a Botched Software System Update

release management

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– Greg Sikes, Serena Vice President and Product Officer for the Release Management business, says:

Why an Integrated Process and Deployment Automation Solution is a Must-Have for Mission Critical Businesses

Recently in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, the heavy rail Bay Area Rapid Transit system, better known as BART, experienced an unexpected shutdown in morning commuter train service following what BART engineers described as a “regular” system upgrade. BART routinely transports just under 400,000 passengers every weekday so you can only imagine the logistical nightmare of a system shut down that managed to strand thousands of passengers for hours.

According to BART engineers, the problems began after installing a configuration update to computer network server that allegedly had a glitch that spread through the system. Stranding and inconveniencing passengers are definitely an undesirable outcome and not good PR. But at least BART’s software glitch was resolved in less than 24 hours and they were able to continue their course of business. Such was not the case of another organization that experienced a similar software upgrade glitch.

In August 2012, Knight Capital Group, an American global financial services firm, performed a software release upgrade that unintentionally triggered trades that resulted in a pre-tax loss of $440 million for Knight Capital in a single day! It’s been reported that Knight Capital’s software release update had missed one server in a cluster and this had been the culprit for the unintentional haywire trading that hamstrung the company, resulting in 75 percent of its equity value erased within 24 hours of the software release glitch.

BART and Knight Capital serve as cautionary tales to companies in financial services, retail and healthcare, as well as innovative public sector agencies that face similar challenges with respect to orchestrating all the elements of a successful release. Releasing an application for production use is the most critical point of the application’s lifecycle.  Yet IT organizations continue to struggle with managing the flow of change into production. The high rate of change requests impacts many teams that use different processes and disparate toolsets. This environment leads to poor application quality, costly production downtime and even possibly a catastrophic event like the one that happened to Knight Capital Group.

Everyone has a release management process, but the majority of customers we have talked to are unhappy with the current state of release management. That is why the DevOps movement is gaining so much traction. DevOps core principles of culture, automation, measurement, and sharing (CAMS) makes so much sense. Up until now, software vendors have focused solely on solving the “A” part of the problem – automation. Sure automation is important, required, and a great place to start and get some quick wins. But just automating deployments does not address the lack of collaboration, sharing, and visibility. Automating “garbage in” will only make “garbage out” faster. Yes, failing fast is better than failing slow, but I’d rather succeed fast, wouldn’t you?

A complete solution addresses both the application deployment automation as well as the complexity of human processes and covers three major aspects of the software release process:

  1. Automation of application deployments.
  2. Coordination and collaboration for release teams, and
  3. Visibility, control and standardization of the release process,

Implementing a single solution with these three capabilities such as the recently announced Serena Release Manager v5 enables organizations to dramatically improve operational efficiency, be considerably more responsive to their business customers and easily demonstrate compliance.

With the introduction of Serena Release Manager V5, Serena Software becomes the first and only vendor to address the challenges of the complete release lifecycle. Serena Release Manager V5 allows companies to orchestrate their entire release lifecycle by bringing together release process management and application release automation in a single product. Serena Release Manager bridges the DevOps divide by integrating with existing tool chains, and by simplifying and automating handoffs across development, quality, and operations teams. By supporting continuous delivery and production deployments, Serena Release Manager creates a repeatable and consistent release process across distributed, cloud, and mainframe applications

There are many lessons that can be learned from BART and Knight Capital software release disasters, but perhaps the most important takeaway is the importance of having a robust release process as a necessary part of keeping your business healthy that mission critical businesses cannot ignore.

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(2) Readers Comments

  1. I think much of this article is interesting but claiming to be the first is false. Have a look at http://www.urbancode.com recently acquired by big blue.

    Also the UI and certain functionality look to be a copied from http://www.plutora.com

    Across my research I’m not sure serena is actually leading in this space.

  2. Aaron, Serena believes are the first to offer a work management + application release automation solution via a single product. Others, such as those you refer offer release automation as a stand-alone product, or offer a limited work management product separate from release automation. I can assure you Serena did not copy from anyone in the design of v5. Regards, Greg.

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