Diving into DevOps

Atlassian's DevOps Strategy

Atlassian doesn't bill itself as a DevOps company, but it finds itself in the middle of the DevOps movement. Here's how it got there.

So much effort and investment has been flowing into DevOps over the last few years it's a wonder to me that the definition is still so squishy around the edges. But vendors never make a face when I ask what the term means to them, which I often do. Neither Jens Schumacher, who leads the Software Teams Business group at Atlassian, nor Sean Regan, who is Atlassian's head of marketing for JIRA, Bitbucket and development tools, batted an eye when I posed that question to them during our sit-down at the recent Atlassian Summit.

"I agree it can be hard in the end to define what DevOps really is," Schumacher said. "But we can say that it's not so much about a tool or a process as cross-team collaboration, however you make that happen. That's why, even though it's not really a DevOps tool, JIRA ends up being at the center of DevOps. It helps Dev and Ops to communicate. It brings everything together."

And that explains why, even though Atlassian doesn't bill itself as a DevOps company, it finds itself in the middle of the DevOps movement. Regan explained how his company got there.

"We started out with software developers," he said. "As the cloud and virtualization emerged, those developers started to get closer to Ops, where they could actually start shipping and deploying code. When Dev and Ops came together, their need to collaborate frequently increased incredibly fast, and we helped them to fill that need."

"Actually, I believe there's an underlying idea here that what Dev and Ops had to figure out the rest of the company has to figure out," he added. "In the old world, if your product had a change you had to change the mold and the assembly line, and then ship it to the wholesalers, then the distributors, and then the retailers. But if you want to change a product that's a service today, you can change it in a day -- or less! So business teams, finance teams, and marketing teams have to collaborate with the Dev team to build and ship that thing, fast. Dev and Ops have taught us that virtually all teams in the company need to collaborate on this faster cycle."

JIRA, of course, is the issue tracker and project manager software for which Atlassian is best known. Last year, the company split the open source project into three stand-alone products: JIRA Software, for Agile development teams; JIRA Service Desk, which provides a user-focused service desk for IT and other service teams; and the JIRA Core business management software.

At this year's Summit, the company announced a major update of JIRA Service Desk. As Sidharth Suri, Atlassian's VP of marketing, explained in a blog post, this JIRA edition "can help not only internal IT but also external support teams, including those who want to use customer feedback to guide product development." The tool can now connect IT teams with customer service reps and group customers by organization to better track interactions.

"A bug is just a customer support ticket by another name," Regan said. "If your product is software, the closer you can connect customer support to Dev, the faster you can solve that problem."

Atlassian may have found itself in the DevOps movement somewhat incidentally, but the company is definitely becoming a more proactive participant. In September, Atlassian joined with 13 other companies to form DevOps Express, which aims to "streamline the way enterprises transform their software development and delivery environments to DevOps."

"Atlassian is the developer company that could," observed IDC analyst Al Hilwa, who attended the Summit. "It has been successfully evolving and expanding its reach with its key hit products like JIRA to accommodate more -- a lot more -- than software developers. The company appears to be successfully transitioning from meeting the collaboration needs of software developers to meeting the needs of other business teams in software development companies. In an age where most products are becoming more and more software-centric, this approach looks like a strong formula for success."

To be clear, the company does have an explicit DevOps message and a "How Atlassian Does DevOps" page, where it makes that case that the Atlassian tool stack and its ecosystem support a collaborative DevOps environment. But deep down, Schumacher said, the company is fundamentally about collaboration in whatever form it takes.

"In the 12 years I have been with the company, our mission hasn't really changed," Schumacher said. "We want to empower teams. We started with software teams, and now we are expanding into other teams. But everything we do is around collaboration."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of Converge360.com sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].