How low-code/no-code platforms may reinvent DevOps

September 30, 2020

Originally published on Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Low-code/no-code platforms have become the sweethearts of rapid application development. Can RAD intersect with DevOps frameworks and survive?

DevOps is quickly becoming the de facto methodology for quickly delivering applications in the enterprise. While DevOps may owe that success to a number of things, the foundation of that success lies with the cultural shift in how applications are developed and delivered, a shift that is embodied by the principles of CALMS (Culture, Automation, Lean, Measurement, Sharing). Yet, for all the frameworks involved, DevOps still relies on the generation of code that can feed a continuous integration (CI), continuous deployment (CD), and continuous testing (CT) pipeline to bring agility to applications.

Low-code and no-code development platforms leverage a host of premade tools that significantly reduce the burden of building an application. The platforms offer a visual approach to building an application and use a graphical user interface (GUI) to ease development. No-code development goes one step further and offers drag-and-drop simplicity to define and build an application. Both a shortage in DevOps talent and the desire to quickly build applications has made the alternative approach of low-code/no-code development of great interest to many organizations, as well as SaaS providers.

For all its promises, DevOps seems to fall short in one critical area: the ability to automate and speed the creation of code. DevOps has fueled a cultural and organizational shift, which in turn has empowered enterprise software teams to deliver better software quicker. However, DevOps practitioners still favor hand-coding applications and rely on automation tools only for testing and deployment. The low-code/no-code movement directly addresses these issues.

Address the hand-coding bottleneck

Simply put, the low-code/no-code platforms that have long populated the fringes of the application development market are a somewhat alien concept to those who code by hand for a living. “DevOps has mainly been focused on a hand-coding mentality,” says Jason Bloomberg, founder and president of industry analyst firm Intellyx. “It’s increasingly difficult to do DevOps without low-code because the hand-coding is the bottleneck.”

In most cases, low-code/no-code platforms have been used in smaller organizations with few development resources. Low-code/no-code tools fit well in those environments, where someone who is often not a full-time programmer can quickly create a custom application to address a particular need. In fact, low-code/no-code tools embrace the concept of waterfall development, where the needs are planned and the application is created to meet those needs and then delivered. Unlike CI/CD, low-code/no-code platforms build applications that are finalized and then delivered, with no solid plans for continuous improvement or enhancement.

While low-code/no-code platforms may not replace hand-coding completely, they have some characteristics that can bring additional value to DevOps. For example, organizations often need to build applications quickly, for both internal and external purposes, but many don’t have the in-house skills and are finding that there is a limited pool of DevOps talent available—a situation that can derail projects. With low-code/no-code platforms, organizations can supplement a lack of talent and enable basic applications to be created and delivered in a matter of hours vs. weeks or months.

It’s about the added value

Take Salesforce, which introduced Lightning Platform Mobile, a tool set that uses pre-built JavaScript components for low-code development. According to the company, it rolled out the platform so users can quickly create mobile applications and address “a significant mobile developer skills gap,” which is at some 48 percent of IT organizations in the market.

Many other software companies are looking to capitalize on the need for low-code/no-code platforms, and most are looking at their platforms as a way to enhance DevOps. “The market should not be surprised by complex technology being distilled into simpler forms,” says Mike Duensing, CTO at Skuid, a no-code cloud app platform developer. “The rise of low- and no-code is comparable to mobile devices being packed with computing power that once resided in mainframes. It is a level of abstraction that keeps going, making something tedious, hard to do, and time consuming much easier to do.”

Of course, there are some big players in the low-code/no-code space, but their focus on DevOps may be a bit cloudy. A case in point is Microsoft, which brought several pre-existing products together to build a low-code tool called Power Apps, which is closely coupled with Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. Oracle offers two low-code tools, Application Express, which is linked to the company’s database management system, and Visual Builder Cloud Service, which is cloud-based but also offers an on-premises deployment. Cloud services provider Zoho has offered Zoho Creator since 2006, and the company claims that more than 5 million applications are running on its platform. Creator uses a proprietary scripting language called Deluge.

Ultimately, DevOps is all about bridging the gap between development and operations. Low-code/no-code development platforms provide a way to cross that chasm with capabilities that can reduce workloads and bring more automation into the process.

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