What Makes Microsoft Run: An Inside Look at DevOps

Microsoft's Brian Harry offers a look deep inside the evolution of the company's development operations as it transformed itself into a cloud-centric organization.

The development efforts deep within Microsoft have evolved. Brian Harry gave attendees a behind-the-scenes look at how Microsoft's development operations have changed with his Tuesday morning keynote address. The keynote opened the days' proceedings at Visual Studio Live! in Brooklyn New York on Tuesday, September 29. Speaking to a full room, Harry, a corporate vice president for Microsoft in charge of the Team Foundation Server (TFS) and Visual Studio Online (VSO) teams, provided a look at what he called Microsoft's journey. "Our process has evolved from a waterfall organization to a more agile, iterative organization.

Microsoft has changed its development processes and philosophies to keep pace with the changing development world. "Software development gets harder every year," Harry says. "It's more demanding, partners want more and they want it faster. You have to keep quality high in smaller increments. The tools and frameworks are constantly changing. We're always looking at what's the hot new framework people need to learn and build on."

Not only are the processes changing, but also the pace and expectations. The development teams working on TFS and VSO have moved to a continuous delivery cadence. Microsoft's transformation to a cloud-centric, agile and continuous delivery operation revolved around five aspects, says Harry. Those include:

  • Organization and autonomy
  • Cadence
  • Quality and technical debt
  • Automation and deployment
  • Monitoring and telemetry

Harry explained how each of those aspects contribute to Microsoft's success. They have decentralized development operations and now have relatively autonomous engineering teams. Those teams are typically responsible for owning a particular service from end to end, he says. These changes have even manifest in how the teams are physically arranged. His development teams now sit in team rooms, open spaces with whiteboards on the wall to promote informal collaboration among the team members.

The delivery cadence has been another huge change for Microsoft. "We ship every three weeks," Harry says. "We started at nine months and eventually squished than down." He emphasized that the three-week ship cycle doesn't just mean dropping a hot fix at the end of the three week cycle, but a true developed update.

There's a scoped execution methodology Harry has employed for his teams. That defines the three week development and ship cycle as a sprint. Then a season is a six-month period and the vision extends out to 18 months. "The vision is the North Star for the teams," says Harry. "It helps keep them organized and aligned and able to execute on the three week cadence."

The accelerated delivery pace also affects the testing program. "We used to have a traditional testing regime," says Harry. "We found those tests took too long, they were too fragile and too expensive to maintain." Moving to a continuous delivery cadence meant adopting a testing infrastructure that is a shared service. "The test code is product code, and only the reliable tests survive."

As with every other step of the process, deploying bug fixes is also done in a more immediate manner. "Our goal is 15 minutes to get a fix into production once I've got the fix in hand," says Harry. "This is an important philosophical change for deployment."

Testing the code, finding and fixing bugs, and immediately deploying those bug fixes requires close monitoring of the code. "Our code is instrumented like crazy," he says. "We're tracking 60GB of telemetry per day. We're recording every request of every service. We see everything everybody does."

So being part of Harry's development teams and working on TFS and VSO has changed quite a bit in recent years. The teams' focus is now solidly on remaining agile at scale, continuous delivery, providing actionable insights, working for all apps and all devices and embracing the cloud.

After giving the attendees that detailed inside view of Microsoft's DevOps, Harry gave a brief demo of what's coming in TFS and VSO. The demo focuses on some of the productivity enhancements including team and personal dashboards, the concept of being able to organize development work into what VSO now calls "swim lanes," and vastly improved search capabilities. Harry said these enhancements would be in the public preview available later this fall.

The next Visual Studio Live! event will take place from November 16-20 at the Lowe's Royal Pacific Resort in Orlando, FL, as part of the Live 360! event which combines five conferences, including Visual Studio Live!, SharePoint Live!, SQL Server Live!, Modern Apps Live! and TechMentor.

About the Author

Lafe Low has been a technology editor and writer for more than 25 years. Most recently, he was the editor in chief of TechNet magazine. He has also held various editorial positions with Redmond magazine, CIO magazine and InfoWorld. He also launched his own magazine entitled Explore New England, and has published four editions of his guidebook The Best in Tent Camping: New England.

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