Understanding FlexOps® Q&A with Sierra-Cedar’s VP, Cloud Solutions

Five years ago, Sierra-Cedar began to re-invent the way it delivers managed services. Our vision: to create a managed service for cloud platforms that focuses on performance, risk-reduction, improved efficiency, and cost-optimization. Almost immediately, our cloud architecture and development teams realized the immense benefits of automation on a cloud platform. Innovative, reusable solutions were designed and built to work together, resulting in a new platform for Sierra-Cedar’s managed services delivery. We call this platform FlexOps® and it has transformed the way we serve our clients. We caught up with Kurt Bachelder, Sierra-Cedar’s VP of Cloud Solutions, to understand more about FlexOps® and the value it brings to the cloud ecosystem.

Q. What is the history behind FlexOps®?

A. In late 2015, the Sierra-Cedar team began to look at how to automate tasks in the cloud. Many tasks are achievable through the cloud console but require a time-consuming series of manual steps, which aren’t efficient and are prone to human error. A simple configuration misstep (such as leaving a port open to the internet or using the wrong instance size) can damage the level of service or be a potential security risk. Our clients needed speed, efficiency, and risk reduction, and a good solution didn’t exist in the market. So we created one!

Q. What is FlexOps®?

A. FlexOps® is our way to control the deployment of infrastructure and applications in the cloud, reliably and efficiently, at scale. The idea that became FlexOps® started with a focus on automating infrastructure deployment in the cloud, leveraging infrastructure as code (IaC). As we began to amass a vast quantity of code, the Sierra-Cedar team realized the need for an effective way to manage the code, contributors, and history. This brought us down the common-sense and industry-standard path of integrating versioning, enabling us to see who changed a piece of code and when, and to easily revert to a prior configuration. We now have a complete audit trail at our fingertips! That naturally led to the question, “What if someone makes a change to the console out-of-band? How do we find out if what is in the code matches what is actually deployed?” This was the inception of drift detection code. We compare the last known “good state” versus the actual “deployed state.” If it does not match, we identify the drifted resource(s) and alert on it. And then, that sparked the question of, “What do we do with the drifted resource(s)?” The answer is in automated remediation, which creates a fix that realigns code and infrastructure. This fix is pushed to the version control system and alerts a Cloud Operator to review the issue. And to round out the core of FlexOps®, we wanted to segregate the responsibilities of “developer” and “deployer,” so the person coding the infrastructure isn’t the same person that deploys it. We solved this by implementing a change control system to ensure changes are approved via a workflow. FlexOps® meets our goals by adding guardrails around developers, engineers, administrators, and operators, and decreasing the risk of error while improving efficiency and speed.

Q. In your opinion, what is the #1 benefit of FlexOps®?

A. FlexOps® manages the entire infrastructure lifecycle in the cloud. There are a number of great products in the market that excel at managing the individual parts of the system, but FlexOps® glues all of it together – versioning, change control, infrastructure deployment, drift detection, and finally, automated remediation. The FlexOps® lifecycle provides consistent and competitive delivery of services to Sierra-Cedar’s clients. Even better, FlexOps® is a key component of Sierra-Cedar’s ecosystem of services that assist clients in migrating to the cloud and provide ongoing maintenance and support. It’s Sierra-Cedar’s “secret sauce.”

Q. What is your favorite feature of FlexOps®?

A. I am amazed at how much we can do with FlexOps®. One of my favorite things that FlexOps® does really well is it shows the planned changes that it will make to the infrastructure before anything is actually changed. We can review the changes for unintended effects before they ever impact the deployed infrastructure. And if something happens to go wrong, we can easily revert to a previous version, look at what code was the culprit, and use git functionality to determine who made the change, when, and why. We’ve never had capabilities like this for the infrastructure layer before.

Q. What was your “a-ha” moment when creating FlexOps®?

A. Our big win was setting up a PeopleSoft environment with our automation platform. By looking at our ticketing system for traditional hosting, we determined the average build time for a PeopleSoft environment from start to finish was 43 days. To reduce this build time, we wrote code for FlexOps® to create the environment. The average build time for one PeopleSoft environment using FlexOps® was roughly two days, including writing the net-new code to incorporate a client-specific configuration. Once we have the initial code defined for a client environment, we can replicate it with a simple copy-and-paste, resulting in roughly 20-minute build times. Reducing delivery times from 43 days to 48 hours to 20 minutes blew away my expectations and demonstrated the level of efficiency that cloud automation can produce. It is an amazing feat that our cloud teams are proud of and that our clients appreciate.

Q. What do you want CIOs to know about FlexOps®?

A. For CIOs looking to get into the cloud: Sierra-Cedar is solving problems you did not realize you had. For CIOs already aware of the challenges in operating in the cloud: FlexOps® allows you to gain control and bring efficiency to cloud environments, while also being cost-conscious.

It is one thing to migrate to the cloud, but another to truly take advantage of cloud services and effectively manage ongoing operations such as patching, compliance, and governance. FlexOps®, like every tool, is most useful when it is combined with experience and skill. At Sierra-Cedar, we have skilled, certified Solutions Architects, SysOps Administrators, and DevOps Engineers with the experience to design and execute client migrations to the cloud and provide ongoing support. No matter where our clients are on their journey to the cloud, Sierra-Cedar’s Cloud Solutions team, using FlexOps, reduces complexity and maximizes value.

Mr. Bachelder is VP of Cloud Services at Sierra-Cedar. He joined Sierra-Cedar as an Oracle DBA in 2006 and his experience has grown with technology by serving in roles of Enterprise Architect, Database Services Manager, and Enterprise Architecture Director. Mr. Bachelder thrives on designing efficient, scalable, highly-durable, and cost-effective architectures on cloud platforms.

Contact us to learn more about FlexOps®, how to move your infrastructure to AWS, and Sierra-Cedar’s Complimentary Cloud Readiness Workshop.