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How Real-Time Debugging Improves Reliability

Josh Hendrick | Senior Solutions Engineer

5 minutes

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When designing and building software, service reliability is always at the top of the list of critical focus areas for development teams. Every team that builds software typically has, either directly or indirectly, service level agreements with their customers. These are, essentially, agreed-upon metrics or performance criteria that teams use to measure and ensure the reliability of a software system.

Organizations may measure reliability in different ways, looking at metrics like service availability, mean time to failure or mean time to repair. Regardless of how an organization chooses to measure reliability, you can often assess the health of an organization based on how reliable their applications are. Since we know that reliability issues happen regardless of how well we prepare for them, having tools to solve those issues quickly and efficiently becomes critical to maintaining smooth operations.

The Health of Your Organization

Most software development organizations today have key performance indicators (KPIs) which they measure to understand how well they’re doing and to be able to quickly and easily measure the health of their application development processes. If teams are finding that they are not meeting KPI’s, it’s often a sign that something fundamental needs to change or that new and improved processes need to be put in place. Teams that are constantly measuring what they’re doing well and where they are falling short with a data-driven approach are typically the teams that come out ahead.

In short, a team’s ability to measure and hit KPI’s and service level agreements with their customers directly influences the overall success and health of that team. If an organization isn’t producing applications that are reliable and available when their customers need them, it’s unlikely that company will have customers for very long. When reliability issues do occur, it’s critical that developers can immediately go to the source of the issue in their code to ensure that they can solve those customer issues as quickly and efficiently as possible. One such approach is to give developers the ability to do real-time debugging directly in the environment where those issues occur, without needing to create costly reproduction environments or having to figure out how to reproduce issues locally that are, many times, data dependent.

Reliability is Shifting Left

Historically, software reliability has fallen on the shoulders of operations or production support teams who manage the deployments and runtime of software after it’s been deployed to production (and after developers have thrown the code over the metaphorical wall). Things have changed in the recent years, in that many of today’s development teams are responsible for their applications from development all the way through to running and supporting those applications in production. Because of this, developers have more incentive than ever to ensure that their software has reliability built in, or at least the ability to quickly debug reliability issues when things go wrong.

Real-time debuggers are one such category of tools that development teams are choosing to package with their applications in order to solve those hard-to-address customer issues faster. Real-time debuggers are solutions which allow development teams to gather code-level debugging information such as snapshots of local variables, stack traces, tracing information and profiling data. All of this data (which traditionally relies on developers having the right logs in their code and, if not, deploying new debug builds) becomes instantly available, on-demand whenever an issue arises. This faster approach to identification of issues can drastically improve the reliability of applications by allowing developers to solve issues in a fraction of the time it would normally take.

Teams Focusing on Reliability Move Faster

Many development teams have shifted to an agile approach to delivering software; the goal being to respond quickly to business needs and to get new, valuable features to their customers as quickly as possible. Even though this is a helpful step, unplanned events can and will happen, which need to be planned for as much as possible ahead of time. In a recent Forbes article by Rookout CEO Shahar Fogel, he discusses how businesses should consider these software bugs as mini outages. Any time teams are dealing with software bugs or other unplanned issues, it costs the business revenue and can potentially leave customers frustrated. Focusing on metrics like mean time to repair (and giving developers the tools they need to reduce the mean time to repair) can give teams the ability to better predict how long unplanned issues will take to remediate once they occur.

In the book Accelerate by Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble and Gene Kim, the authors discuss the notion that, by giving developers tools to fix problems when they occur, teams create an environment where developers accept responsibility for global outcomes such as quality, stability and reliability. Investments in technology are also an investment in people. So, it’s no wonder that by investing in technologies that can help improve reliability, teams will be able to move faster. This means happier customers, happier employees and a thriving business.

By focusing on service reliability, development teams are not only able to move more quickly, but are also directly contributing to the overall health and success of their organization. We’re seeing the onus of reliability shifted from operations teams to development teams, which adds newfound importance on ensuring development teams are building reliability into their product. Real-time debugging tools are one potential solution to ensuring that developers have the ability to quickly address unplanned customer issues which can directly impact the perceived reliability of an application.


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