Operation labs, or “OpsLab,” as Amount team members call it, allows employees to experiment with new approaches or technologies that might benefit the organization long term.
The digital bank solutions provider is in good company. NASA’s OpsLab is made up of projects focused on augmenting astronaut performance and using mixed reality software to simulate walking on Mars.
According to VP of Technology Operations Mike Esler, the immersive strategy is a good way to slowly phase in updates and ditch ideas best left on the whiteboard. It also minimizes high-risk launch days.
“Burying your head in the sand and pretending that new methods and tools aren’t emerging exposes the company to risk,” Esler said. “You risk not taking advantage of innovation and efficiencies that your competition surely is.”
Esler, who is responsible for Amount’s application infrastructure, network and IT environment, said that over time, the business has made more and more of its software infrastructure immutable. Doing so, along with practicing Infrastructure as Code (IaC) helps the team scale as they innovate.
What DevOps best practices have been most impactful for your team? How have they evolved over time?
The most impactful practice is IaC. This allows us to unify the change management and approval cycle across development and operations. It also helps us scale, enabling rapid spin-up of new environments in a reliable state. As an AWS customer, we started with CloudFormation. Since then, we have made Terraform our standard, enabling us to take a more cloud-neutral approach to IaaS.
Our initial focus was on getting the infrastructure defined in code and improving our review cycle. But over time we’ve made more and more of our infrastructure immutable. The next big step for us is setting up CI/CD for our infrastructure changes.
Ultimately, you can’t avoid risk. You have to manage it.’’
How does your team balance a need to incorporate best practices into their work with the desire to try and test new methodologies or tools?
You absolutely have to do both. If you misapply new methodologies, tools or strategies, you expose the company to risk: risk of a bug, risk of an outage and risk of a vulnerability. However, burying your head in the sand and pretending that new methods and tools aren’t emerging also exposes the company. You risk not taking advantage of innovation and efficiencies that your competition surely is.
Ultimately, you can’t avoid risk. You have to manage it. For Amount, this starts in our OpsLab environments, which are essentially sandboxes where teams can experiment with things. Ideally, in this environment, we build up a new set of best practices related to a new approach or technology. Eventually, it will need to make its way into production. We try to de-risk before it gets there using traffic steering to slowly build workload over whatever time period we think is appropriate.