DevOps, VSTS, and the Microsoft Stack: A Q&A with Microsoft MVP Wouter de Kort

We recently had a chance to catch up with Wouter de Kort, Principal Consultant DevOps at Ordina and Microsoft MVP to ask about DevOps and Microsoft’s Visual Studio Team Services. This is what he shared.

Question: DevOps seems to be one of those terms that can encompass a lot of different things. How would you define DevOps in general, and more specifically, how do you think Microsoft uses the term within its developer community?

Answer: DevOps is a very broad topic. I liken it to the Indian story about the blind men who try to describe an elephant. Each touches and communicates different his perspective without comprehending the bigger animal. I see the same happening with DevOps. Donovan Brown at Microsoft says “DevOps is the union of people, process, and products to enable continuous delivery of value to our end users” and I like that definition. For me, DevOps is all about optimizing the flow of value you deliver to your customers. Identifying bottlenecks in culture, process and tooling and making sure that you fix these by changing the culture and automating as much as possible.

Question: What, in your opinion, are the most successful or useful DevOps tools in the Microsoft space and why?

Answer: Microsoft has created the Visual Studio family of products. Visual Studio Team Services is a hosted SaaS service and Team Foundation Server (the on-premises edition of VSTS) are Microsoft’s flagship products for DevOps. VSTS allows you to optimize your whole DevOps process for all stakeholders and users involved in creating software. VSTS integrates with other products like Visual Studio, VS Code, Visual Studio Mobile Center and Visual Studio for Mac. The combinations of these products allow you to implement a complete DevOps process.

Question: As an ALM Ranger (a part-time group of volunteer group of engineers who provide professional guidance, experience, and support to the global developer community), can you weigh in on the differences between terms like ALM and DevOps? Is ALM a term that is out of favor?

Answer: DevOps is currently a hot topic that’s on everyone’s radar. That’s why I titled my book DevOps on the Microsoft Stack and why you see Microsoft using the term DevOps more and more in communications. For me, ALM is a broader term that encompasses much more. ALM begins with the very first idea and goes all the way to production and operations. This means that ALM also includes activities like portfolio management and the service desk. Those are not necessarily a part of DevOps but are still an important focus for the ALM Rangers.

Question: Microsoft offers two flavors of Team Foundations Server to its customers. Team Foundation Server (TFS) refers to the on-premises version and Visual Studio Team Services refers to the SaaS hosted version. What are the major reasons for an enterprise to choose one over the other?

Answer: Nowadays I always advise people to use Visual Studio Team Services because it is a hosted SaaS model that is maintained by Microsoft and is always up to date. You no longer have to worry about maintenance and updates, that’s all taking care of for you. The only compelling reason to still use TFS is when security or other restrictions don’t permit using a Cloud product like VSTS. There is also a big group of customers who started with TFS and are slowly migrating to VSTS. From what I understand of Microsoft’s strategy is that TFS will be around for quite a while, and maybe forever, so customers shouldn’t be afraid if they are using TFS.

Question: And do you think it is a goal of Microsoft’s to push all its enterprise customers to the Cloud?

Answer: Cloud is the direction the industry is moving and Microsoft offers both public and private cloud solutions that help customers moving to the cloud. So I won’t say Microsoft is pushing customers to the Cloud. The overall industry and the expectations from customers is what moves enterprises to the Cloud. Microsoft is unique in that it offers a hybrid cloud solution where you can have both an on-premises environment and use the public Cloud in the way that makes sense for you. I do expect that more and more people will move to the cloud but Microsoft will also continue to support on-premises customers.

Question: I recently heard that Microsoft is moving the company to “One Engineering System”, Visual Studio Team Services. The “One” theme seems to resonate across all of the technologies, which I assume can be attributed to CEO Satya Nadella. What are the pros and cons of the entire company using VSTS? Will it be able to meet all the business units’ needs - from OneNote to PowerShell Microsoft Research?

Answer: Reasons for companies to move to one engineering system is to easily allow sharing code and learning across the whole company. You see that Microsoft is investing a lot in this as shown by the recent release of Git Virtual File System to support massive large repositories like they have with Windows and Office. Visual Studio Team Services is used as the basis for the “One Engineering System” and that’s really good for us as customers. Because Microsoft is “dogfooding” VSTS, a term that means using your own product, sometimes in early stages internally at a company, a lot of new features and optimizations are built for Microsoft internally and then released to the public. Satya Nadella is definitely a positive force in these steps and I expect a lot more cool stuff coming from the this “internal trials first” approach approach.

Question: Finally, we have another Microsoft Build conference just around the corner. What do you think will be the big area of focus at this year’s event?

Answer: Build is a huge event covering Windows, Azure, DevOps, Artificial intelligence and a lot of other subjects. The official release of the Creators Update to Windows 10 is scheduled before Build so I expect to see more information about the next updates for Windows. Microsoft is also really involved in Artificial Intelligence and I hope we’re going to see more frameworks and tools that we can use to build our own AI solutions. Previous years Microsoft has also announced new features for Azure and I do hope they have some nice surprises for us. Since Visual Studio 2017 goes RMT on March 7, I also hope we’re going to learn something about their plans for Visual Studio vNext.

About the Wouter de Kort:

Wouter de Kort now works as a Lead Microsoft ALM Consultant at Ordina where he runs a team of ALM Consultants. He helps organizations to stay on the cutting edge of software development on the Microsoft stack. He focuses on Application Lifecycle Management and software architecture. He loves solving complex problems and helping other developers to grow. Wouter authored a couple of books, is a Microsoft Certified Trainer and an ALM Ranger. You can find him on Twitter (@wouterdekort) and on his blog at http://wouterdekort.blogspot.com or at the various conferences where Wouter speaks.

His most recent release, DevOps on the Microsoft Stack, is available for purchase in print and eBook.