May 15, 2023

Revolutionizing Database Management with DevOps: A Success Story

Ever wondered how DevOps principles can be applied to database management? This account from personal experience will hopefully provide valuable insights and inspire you to streamline your database workflows. Brace yourself for a thrilling journey through the world of DevOps, agile development, and database management.

The Challenge

In the nascent days of DevOps, before it was even coined as a term, I worked on a team of consultants working diligently to help organizations automate every aspect of the delivery pipeline and become more agile. We tackled the build process with continuous integration (CI) and began automating the release process with continuous delivery (CD). However, the database (DB) remained a persistent roadblock.

A picture showing a team of developers and DBAs working together around a table, papers and laptops scattered around, a whiteboard in the background with scribbles of database schemas and DevOps processes.

I recall working with a major equipment manufacturer in the mid-2000s, where database administrators (DBAs) were physically and organizationally distant from software development teams. DB changes involved submitting tickets and enduring long waiting times. The key to bridging this gap and ensuring consistent database management practices was to enhance collaboration between developers and DBAs.

A mere two DBAs supported ten application teams, resulting in frequent miscommunication and errors. We aimed to reduce manual, error-prone tasks, streamline workflows, and establish a more efficient way to maintain database consistency, integrity, and performance throughout development and deployment. The company’s agility ultimately hinged on reimagining database management.

The Transformation

What if version control systems could be used to facilitate communication using executable “code” instead of lengthy change tickets? My team and I advocated strongly for this approach with DBAs, application teams, and company leaders, proposing that DB scripts be version-controlled like application code to enable tracking changes, effective collaboration, and rollback capabilities.

Fortunately, pioneers like Pramod Sadalage in his book about evolutionary database design were developing this methodology, and tools like Liquibase became the gold standard. Our team leveraged these tools to automate database schema changes and manage environment-specific configurations. Although seemingly obvious in retrospect, this paradigm shift enabled significant improvements.

The Payoff

Initially, the adoption process was slow.  Folks had to learn new tooling and skills. They had to communicate with each other differently about changes to the system. However, after a few iterations, the benefits became evident. We observed increased productivity for both application developers and DBAs, as automation enabled faster testing of changes. The use of DB schema change scripts as a communication medium improved collaboration across all teams.

Faster deployments, minimized downtime, and more efficient database management were made possible by automation, mirroring the positive effects observed in testing, application releases, and environment management. Most importantly, leadership appreciated the enhanced quality and reliability of automated tasks and adherence to best practices, reducing human error.

The Verdict

Was the transformation easy? No. Was it worthwhile? The results speak for themselves… Happier DBAs, development teams, and managers with improved consistency, predictability, and reduced time-to-market were crucial benefits that laid the foundation for a true continuous delivery pipeline.

Although this is a thrilling adventure from days gone by for me, it’s a time-honored journey that teams continue to experience as they embrace DevOps for database management. The tools and methodologies have only improved since those early days, and I hope this account encourages you to embark on your own database DevOps journey.

Want to learn more? See an on-demand demo or schedule a custom demo based on your tech stack.

Paul Julius
Paul Julius
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