In the world of DevOps, on-call is an integral component. On-call is the practice of designating employees within IT, developer, support, and operations teams to respond to and resolve unforeseen events. Those parts of the team are expected to be available 24/7, in rotation, to offer round-the-clock service. Every engineer, at some point, has gone through an on-call engineer rotation. From a business perspective, it is a necessity to have a backup solution to resolve any incident that can potentially affect customers. If a server comes down, it has the potential to affect millions of people in real-time. However, for employees, being on-call has mostly been an unpleasant experience.
Understanding on-call DevOps
Businesses are now moving from a product-first approach towards a customer-centric model with a focus on smaller release cycles, better product quality, and effortless collaboration across DevOps teams. To that end, responding to glitches and incidents with an on-call incident team has become imperative. DevOps teams collaborate to identify vulnerabilities and prepare methods to handle any incidents using alert and monitoring tools. Organizations have an emergency on-call DevOps team to remove silos within the organization. Instead of some engineering handling incidents, it is routed back to the developers to resolve. Ideally, there are six steps an on-call team will perform during incident response – prepare, identify, contain, eradicate, recover, and learn.
Recent developments in on-call DevOps
While the on-call DevOps team is beneficial to the business, team members have a hard time handling the stress of being in constant beck and call. One of the main reasons for on-call programs having a negative reputation is the lack of work-life balance. A constant sense of need disturbs the engineers’ personal life. Finding the right balance between issues coverage, product scalability, and the team’s quality of life is an ongoing challenge. With the demands of technology, businesses have started to place the needs of the employees while creating on-call programs.
As best practices shift and companies grow, most businesses have started implementing new approaches. In recent years, DevOps on-call has started to witness the following changes.
Compensation fitting to the role – Over the years, on-call compensation has become an important requirement as the dependency grew. Having an on-call compensation plan shows the employees that their expertise and time are appreciated and encourages them to work for the organization’s benefit with a sense of appreciation. A business can adopt different types of compensation plans – incentivized on-call for volunteers, overtime, or compensation for time spent on issues.
Better IT incident management – As robust IT support is critical to the business, companies are focusing on creating a culture where the developers who built the app are the ones to troubleshoot issues. By instilling a sense of responsibility in the developers, businesses can improve the quality of the offering, to begin with, and resolve issues quickly.
Developer-friendly on-call management programs – Instead of simply assigning the on-call duty to DevOps engineers, businesses have started to have a documented on-call plan detailing the team’s roles and responsibilities. The plan will also include a comprehensive list of on-call engineers along with alternative personnel for contingencies. By showcasing the involvement in the process, businesses can create transparency and ensure on-call management is thoroughly under control. These programs also help manage on-call schedules and alerts while maintaining employee satisfaction.
Manage off-hour alerts and resolve time – Thanks to the advent of automation and monitoring tools, the need for a maned dashboard has reduced over time. With the right system in place, on-call policies can be mended with only high-priority issues for human intervention. These tools also help proactively communicate incidents, thus increasing control.
Best practices to adopt
Have a clearly defined escalation policy. The policy must clearly state when the on-call team should be contacted, various categories of incidents requiring human intervention, and how they respond to an incident. These policies help remove alert fatigue and ensure that on-call team members only respond to high-priority incidents.
Learn and improve on-call practice from previous incidents. Create a post-incident report to understand how the team performed during the time of crisis. This includes detailing the incident duration, customer impact, and nature of the fixes involved. Set up interviews with the personnel involved to understand their point of view. This information can help understand what went wrong and improve the response team’s performance in the future.
Conduct incident drills using simulations. This is a trial run for when actual incidents happen. Even a limited-scope simulation can give the team an understanding of what is expected, and the on-call policy can be modified based on the outcome of the trial run.
Create an on-call team with a defined agenda and responsibilities. Some of the important roles to be considered while setting up an on-call team include Incident Commander, Tech Lead, Communication Lead, Communication Manager, Incident Liaison, Emergency Commander, and Engineering Manager.
Implement a system that can assess the severity of incidents before calling for an on-call team. With this team in place, then the development team can course-correct issues based on repetition. This system will also help set the level for various types of incidents, thus freeing the team from unnecessary calls for minor issues.
On-call teams are an integral component of the success of a business and its offering. It is the duty of the business to ensure the team is equipped with the right tools, training, and guidelines.
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