Customer satisfaction is today’s business battleground. The winners are the companies that deliver the best, highest-functioning software and applications in the shortest amount of time.

ChatGPT® is the latest example of a winning app. In just a few short months, the tool has already reached 100 million users, making it the fastest-growing consumer application ever. Its success has also set off an AI apps arms race, with competitors, including Google® emerging to grab market share as fast as possible. This race illustrates the ongoing struggle companies face to quickly develop highly-performing software and applications that are also highly secure. This is a delicate balance in today’s environment, where trading security for speed could lead to disastrous consequences.

One method that companies are embracing to strike this balance is implementing the “shift left.” The shift left in this context refers to moving practices related to testing software as early in the development process as possible. By embracing the shift left, technology teams—specifically DevOps teams—can identify bugs, errors, and vulnerabilities early on and resolve them, resulting in highly performing, highly-secure software, and applications.

Here are four steps DevOps teams can take to embrace the shift left, improve application performance, reduce vulnerabilities, and win the security battle.

Step one: Define the security strategy

No army worth its salt heads out into the field without a detailed map of the terrain, information on adversaries, and a hierarchy in place with responsibilities for every rank. The same should be true of any DevOps unit shifting left.

Companies should take the time to identify who will be in charge of what responsibilities, determine metrics for success, and formalize procedures. DevOps leaders should build appropriately-staff teams, implement processes that maximize security, and determine what kind of tests they will run and how often they will run them. Businesses should also identify and prepare for specific known vulnerabilities that could lead to issues.

Shifting left involves developing a new set of principles for software delivery and security; thus, planning and defining the strategy is very important. At SolarWinds, we believe security should be a core competency of all organizations and processes, which is why we designed and introduced Secure by Design, a gold-plated cybersecurity standard that focuses on people, infrastructure, and software development.

Step two: Understand the development pipeline and deployment process

As companies shift left, it is critical to have a thorough understanding of the software development pipeline and the deployment process.

This pipeline is the set of tools and processes in place to build and release software and applications. Once this analysis and understanding are complete, DevOps teams can begin carrying out tests in the build pipelines, checking code validity within development environments, and much more.

One solution that is helping DevOps teams map and understand their pipelines and embrace the shift left is observability. With observability, teams can help teams get a single-pane-of-glass view across applications, databases, and infrastructures that can be key to understanding application performance, user experience, and the overall environment required for modern application architecture. Some observability solutions even offer live code profiling that automatically sees potential user issues or performance bottlenecks before code is shipped.

Step three: Include security automation

In enterprise technology, software teams have turned to automation to streamline testing for multiple reasons. First, manually testing software can introduce human error, which companies try to avoid whenever possible. Second, the shift left requires companies to test software as early and often as possible. And while these principles are meant to create more secure, better-performing products, this high volume of testing can also result in overloaded teams, requiring DevOps to manually evaluate every new feature the development team introduces.

To avoid this scenario, DevOps teams should use tools that automate running tests. Doing so will help reduce the stress placed on DevOps teams while also providing faster feedback related to any vulnerabilities that may be found in software code. Generally, automating tests in the development cycle allows organizations to increase the speed at which a product is completed while ensuring that fewer bugs or vulnerabilities are found later.

Step four: Build a culture of transparency

While automation and modern technology can contribute significantly to an organization’s success, a much more human process and trait plays an equally important role—communication and transparency.

One of the key principles behind DevOps is narrowing the divide between development and production. Increasing communication and transparency across product and software development lifecycle stages can help narrow this divide. As it relates to the shift left, involving the appropriate team members as early as possible and during every step in the process is key to increasing transparency.

By prioritizing communication and adding transparency wherever possible to the process, team members will better understand how to test, what vulnerabilities to look for, and how to make software and applications more secure, better performing, and more resilient.

Sascha Giese, Head Geek™ at SolarWinds, holds various technical certifications, including being a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), VMware Technical Sales Professional (VTSP), AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, and Network Performance Monitor and Server & Application Monitor SolarWinds Certified Professional® (SCP). He has more than 10 years of technical IT experience, four of which have been as a senior pre-sales engineer at SolarWinds. As a senior pre-sales engineer, Sascha was responsible for product training SolarWinds channel partners and customers, regularly participated in the annual SolarWinds Partner Summit EMEA, and contributed in the company’s professional certification program, SolarWinds Certified Professional.

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