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The Role of No-Code/Low-Code Tooling in DevOps Automation

There are many ways to approach DevOps automation. In this post, we'll talk through why more and more teams are turning to no-code/low-code tools.

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Software teams are often looking to automate DevOps tasks so they can run with minimal human intervention and yield a seamless feedback loop between operations and development. These automated processes are essential for deploying iterative updates to applications in production. 

While the need for automation is clear, how teams decide to automate tasks is a choice they need to make based on their own unique situation. For any one task, they can choose to write custom scripts using a CLI approach or leverage a no-code/low-code automation tool that streamlines workflow development.

Adoption of no-code/low-code tools is becoming more and more prominent across the software industry. According to this Forrester survey, in 2020, 44% of application development involved some kind of no-code/low-code tooling. They projected that adoption would jump to 75% in 2021.

First, let’s review coded automation and why many teams choose this method for at least some of their DevOps and SecOps workflows, and then we’ll explore the no-code/low-code approach.

Common Approaches to Coded Automation

Scripting and Command-Line Interfaces

DevOps professionals must have a solid understanding of command-line tools, since these tools are intended to provide flexibility and make it easy to write commands for powerful scripts. GUI tools may be more user-friendly than command-line tools, but few GUI tools offer benefits of both economy and power like a well-used set of command-line tools can.

For DevOps system administrators, leveraging command-line tools is a great way to get started automating processes. CLI tools are typically free so there’s no cost hurdle to going ahead and writing a small script for a task. It’s also likely easier than programming a custom function into a configuration management tool.

If the goal is to achieve full-stack automation, you’ll find yourself spending most of your time using the command line.

Using Domain-Specific Languages

A domain-specific language (DSL) leverages rules and concepts from a certain field/domain to facilitate programming at a higher abstraction level and is targeted at solving a particular kind of concern within the domain, not outside of it.

Examples of DSLs include query languages (such as SQL and XPath), template languages (such as Django and Smarty), shell scripts, command line-based web browsers (such as twill), data storage and exchange languages (such as XML and YAML), document languages (such as LaTex and HTML), and infrastructure orchestration languages (like Terraform).

Two of the most-used DSLs are Hashicorp configuration language (HCL) and the Chef language, and both are used for configuration. The HashiCorp configuration language (HCL) was originally written for programming with HashiCorp tools like Terraform, but it has evolved to be a general configuration language. The Chef language is a powerful set of technology-independent commands that provide reliable automation for system configuration, testing, and validation. DevOps practitioners can use Chef commands to execute complex functions across devices with little or no coding background.

Critical Challenges with Scripting and Coded Automation

When done right, coded automation enables running scripts in a managed framework to reduce dependency on human intervention for mundane routine tasks. Scripts are relatively easy to create and flexible to fit the requirements of custom tasks. There are risks, however, with scaling a fully scripted approach:

  • Challenging to standardize: It’s hard to standardize scripts, as scripts can be limited in scope and utility. Additionally, while running scripts does help address simple problems and task automation, it generally lacks in the real intuition and perception that humans have, making scripts incapable of systematic development, maintenance, or troubleshooting.
  • Time-intensive: When tasks become complex and require updating of configurations, running scripts can weigh down operations and multiply IT complexity.
  • Fragile and hard to maintain: Even small changes made to a system can result in rework overheads during automated checks, making scripts fragile and cumbersome to maintain.
  • Requires everyone to have a scripting mindset and skill set: Smooth automation requires orchestration of scripts, and orchestration of scripts requires all coders to have a scripting skill set and, perhaps most importantly, a scripting mindset.

For small teams or organizations, these scripting challenges might not be burdensome at all. However, as a company or team scales, it makes sense to consider adopting a no-code/low-code approach. 

Automation with a No-Code/Low-Code Approach

No-code/low-code development tools use a visual interface to simplify steps during  software development. They facilitate rapid application development with pre-built integrations and  configurable  application components. No-code/low-code tools make it easy to focus on the logical steps of a workflow and link them together, which is why they’re often preferred by IT pros and experienced developers.

“Low-code” tools are designed for coders, as the tools require technical knowledge and allow good coders to complete tasks more quickly. The most robust low-code tools provide maximum support to coders for accelerated development. 

Comparatively, “No-code” tools enable non-coders to quickly build workflows and test applications for business purposes. By reducing the barrier to entry on automation, these tools expand the pool of potential automators at an organization.

Why Teams Choose No-Code/Low-Code Automation

Here are some of the macro trends that are pushing teams towards no-code automation:

Increasing Tech Stack Complexity

Complexity will continue to increase as your organization scales. It will therefore become crucial for DevOps to adapt quickly by scaling efficiently, iteratively, and with confidence across web, mobile, email, and chat platforms.

Additionally, centralized and role-based authoring tools will allow DevOps to plant safeguards and manage work. Baked-in DevOps tools will supply power and agility to continuously integrate and deliver at any scale.

Adjustments to New Business Needs

Despite technology consolidation ambitions, mergers and acquisitions are consistently ushering in new technology stacks that require organizations to initiate migrations or accept tool overlaps.

No-code and low-code development platforms can streamline migrations in such scenarios and fast-track integrations, since most no-code/low-code platforms are designed to connect many tools together.

The Rise of the API Ecosystem 

New tools and APIs are always entering the market and being adopted. No-code workflow tools like Blink allow users to quickly plug in new APIs to their automation strategy. The organizations that are only relying on scripting to integrate systems may fall behind competitors who are able to move and switch faster.

APIs are now practically owning organizational strategy. 83% of enterprises now consider API integration to be a mission-critical part of their business strategy — which comes as no surprise given the hyper-competitive nature of the market and the need to remain relevant. But the sheer deluge of APIs can easily overwhelm the most robust of infrastructures and digital ecosystems. Usage, management, and economy of APIs will therefore be essential to reducing clutter and time to complete automated tasks.

Increased Security Threats and Higher Service Expectations

Traditional application security mechanisms don’t easily adapt to dynamic multi-cloud infrastructure configurations. Additionally, new ways of working are affecting IT teams’ ability to detect and remove software vulnerabilities. Fully automated runtime security has now become a critical success factor to DevSecOps and problem management.

If security teams want to automate common checks without spending time scripting, they need no-code/low-code tooling that supports it. 

Resource-Strapped DevOps Teams 

DevOps and SecOps teams are often understaffed and rely on automation to expand the impact they can have. According to JFrog, for every 200 developers, there are only 5 operations engineers and one security engineer.

IT skill shortage and security requirements have reached alarming levels, causing enterprises to despair over maintaining uncompromisable security — while keeping R&D and operational costs low and keeping enough skilled DevSecOps at hand to monitor and remove/mitigate security risks. No-code and low-code tools are a great way for small teams to accelerate their automation coverage.

Standardized and Human-Readable Automation

Because no-code and low-code approaches are modular and visual, they allow professional enterprise developers, citizen developers, and business users to work in tandem toward the common goal. The visual non-coded medium facilitates this type of collaboration, while also reducing variations that might occur in scripting practices.

By using a no-code tool, automated tasks will be displayed in an organized, standardized, and readable way. This accelerates DevOps training for new members and makes it easier to fix and maintain automation over time.

Capturing Usage Metrics and Building an Automation Audit Trail

Unlike running a script in a CLI tool, using a designated automation tool can provide teams with the ability to track change history, usage metrics, and error reports.

Whether you are in a highly-regulated industry and deal with frequent audits or just prefer to have the data to make process improvements, easy visibility into your automation history can be very helpful and save significant time.

Trying No-Code/Low-Code Automation with Blink

As technology stacks get increasingly complex, no-code and low-code tools will undoubtedly play significant roles in enterprises’ automation strategy.These tools don’t have to take over all automation, but they should be included in enterprises’ strategy.

If your team hasn’t tried using a low-code tool before, or haven’t found one that fits your needs, you can easily get started with Blink today. Blink comes with pre-built automations for common DevOps and SecOps use cases, and creating new automations is simple. In a few clicks, you can begin scaling your cloud automation.

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