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How to Add Incident Alert Management to Your DevOps Pipeline

DevOps pipeline

DevOps pipelines enable teams to implement continuous software development processes, often by using automation and collaboration tooling. The overall goal is to quickly release software products, updates, and fixes. 

To ensure a DevOps pipeline works well, teams add management and monitoring tooling to the pipeline. This includes incident alert management, which supports the team’s efforts in monitoring the security of various software and environment components.

What Is a DevOps Pipeline?

A DevOps pipeline is a set of tools and processes used by DevOps teams to develop, test, and deploy software. DevOps teams are combined teams that include development, operations, and software testing members all working collaboratively to create software. Pipelines are used to facilitate the continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) of code, provide visibility into workflows, and enable teams to automate many routine tasks. 

DevOps pipelines are central to many organizations that are producing software. This vital nature makes monitoring and incident alerting key. If something goes wrong in a pipeline it can have significant impacts on a team’s ability to ensure application availability. It can also enable outside manipulation of code and systems, harming customers and companies. To help avoid these threats, you should ensure that any pipeline you deploy has effective alert management.

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Stages of a DevOps Pipeline

Before you can understand how to integrate alert management into a pipeline, it helps to understand the various stages and processes that need monitoring. 

  • Development—involves the creation and review of new code. This stage requires access to codebases, version control systems, development environments, and code authoring tools. All members need access to tooling in this stage. Additionally, security teams need to be able to implement and manage tooling such as static code analysis tools and user permissions.
  • Build—involves basic testing and building of submitted code changes. This stage is entirely automated, making it easier to monitor and requiring less real-time access to tooling or processes.
  • Testing—builds are tested with automated testing suites and manual tests. This stage often requires multiple environments, numerous integrations, and access from many team members. It may also include external access by customers for user acceptance testing.
  • Deployment—involves the packaging and deployment of functioning product versions to staging or production environments. This stage includes many automated configuration tasks and may include connecting environments to customer accessible endpoints.

How to Add Incident Alert Management to Your DevOps Pipeline

Adding incident alert management tools to your DevOps pipeline is one way of improving the performance and security of your operations. However, you want to make sure that when you add these processes, you do so effectively. The following tips can help you ensure that any addition you make has a positive impact.

Prioritize Team Management

Any incident alert management processes you include should take into account the structure of your team and the responsibilities of various members. It does you no good to alert testers to issues in source control integrations or developers to misconfigurations in production environments. Even worse, it may cause members to start ignoring even relevant alerts.

To avoid this, make sure that your alerts are going to the right members. If you have several members that need to receive the same alert, make sure it’s clear in the notification who is responsible for the alert and what needs to be done. This helps ensure effective collaboration and reduces the chance of duplicate or conflicting efforts.

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Track Communications

Alert information should be clearly tracked and readily accessible to all relevant team members. Part of keeping communication effective includes having clear histories of alerts and responses. 

If a member takes action it should be documented in the associated alert details. This helps team members inform others of their efforts as needed and enables those who aren’t affected to continue their own tasks.

Clear tracking of communications ensures that pipeline visibility is maintained. It can also reduce duplicate communications or lack of certainty over an alert’s status. One way of accomplishing this is to integrate alert tracking with your workflow management tools, such as Kanban boards or issue tracking systems

Connect Your Systems

If you have alerts coming from every component in your pipeline, you are likely to see many duplicates. You are also going to receive alerts with incomplete information that take longer to resolve because responders have to track down details. 

Rather than forcing teams to waste time identifying new alerts or gathering alert details, make sure to centralize your monitoring. You may have to use multiple tools to collect logs and event data from your various components but you should avoid working with these tools directly if possible. Instead, consider adopting a solution that is able to ingest data from all of your various systems. 

Centralizing your monitoring data enables you to analyze events in context and generate more meaningful alerts. It also provides a single source of information that teams can turn to when investigating alerts. This reduces the time that investigation takes and can help teams respond to root causes rather than symptoms. 

Perform Regular Testing

However you choose to set up your alert management tooling, make sure that you are periodically testing your configurations. As teams adapt to changing workflows, integrate new tools, or change team structure you may begin missing alerts. To ensure this doesn’t happen, you should periodically test your system to ensure that alerts are sent appropriately. 

To ensure testing is done, it can be helpful to create specific policies defining how often alert systems are audited or updated. For example, specifying targeted audits each time a component is upgraded. Or, auditing alert recipients any time team members are added or dropped. 

Conclusion

A DevOps pipeline is a workflow that enables teams to quickly and efficiently release software products. There are certain standards a pipeline should meet to be considered for DevOps work, such as the implementation of efficient tools for automation and collaboration. However, these are mere skeletal foundations, on which each team can build. 

When creating a DevOps pipeline, the goal is to design a pipeline that suits your needs, rather than forcing general standards on your workflow. This means you need to consider the needs and skillsets of your team, and find the tooling that can support each role. This includes management suites, security tools, and collaboration tools.

Since the top priority of DevOps pipelines is quick product release, adding security tooling is critical. There are many security tools that can meet your needs, including incident alert management. When adding incident alerts, you should create prioritization policies that ensure your team does not get overwhelmed by alerts. Remember that the goal is to continually revise the pipeline, to ensure developer productivity always improves. 

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