Microsoft Move to Agility Hastens Bing's Deployment Cadence

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2016-01-21 Print this article Print
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Microsoft uses a beltway analogy for its agility process, with an inner and outer loop. The inner loop is the loop that spans ideation through code commit. It also includes prototyping, crowd-sourced feature engagement and feasibility studies, the Microsoft post said. The outer loop is the loop that gets committed code out to production.

The numbers are staggering. Microsoft's Bing team deploys thousands of services more than 20 times per week, with over 600 engineers contributing to the code base. The team pushes more than 4,000 individual changes per week, where each code change submission goes through a test pass containing over 20,000 tests. "In short, agility has been a game-changer for Bing," the Bing engineering post said.

Because of that complexity, the move to Continuous Delivery was not simple, and all the obstacles were not technical. The team had to overcome cultural issues as well. For instance, there were conflicting views on how to handle quality and testing—particularly with such a fast-moving process.

"People asked how can you validate the code to be able to push out this often," Miller said. "How can you run your entire test suite? In our case, it's 20 minutes. We run 20,000 tests in 20 minutes. Can you actually do that? People said we needed manual tests. We do not allow a single failure in our test. All 20,000 [tests] must run clean. If they don't run clean, then that check-in is blocked. So you cannot have automation flakiness. We have no manual tests. If you can't automate it, then you have a problem with your feature."

Meanwhile, Microsoft provides tooling to the Bing engineers to allow them to get feedback from external users about their ideas within a few minutes. Experiments are then sent to hundreds of people to get their feedback. Microsoft has its own crowdsourcing platform with a pool consisting of several thousand external people on panel, so feedback from the pool usually comes back within two hours, and it allows engineers to experiment visually instead of questions without any need to write code, the Bing Engineering post said.

However, "I think observation unlocks more truth than just listening," Miller told eWEEK. "That is, we look at what the users actually do. We take their feedback as well, but we really want to look at behaviors and see how we can evaluate [them]. In idea velocity, idea generation, testing at scale, rapid deployment and experimentation are the four core elements to deliver end-to-end ideas with value to your customers."

As far as tooling and support for the move to CD, Miller said the team relied on the underpinnings of Microsoft's Azure cloud platform. They started by leveraging a cloud-based build system, as well as using Azure and Microsoft’s Test Authoring and Execution Framework (TAEF) to build out a custom, highly parallelized and distributed feature-validation system, the Bing post said.

And to ensure that there are plenty of ideas to fuel the changes that are constantly being added to Bing, Microsoft encourages creativity from all engineers through things like Growth Hacks, Hack Days and the Bingcubator—where engineers can pitch ideas and get them funded.

"Within the organization, it's kind of like [venture capital] funding," Miller said of the Bingcubator. "You can say [that] I have this idea I really want to do and put some data together and you come and talk for three minutes, and we decide if we should invest in it. It's an opportunity for individual engineers and product managers to say we should do this and the work couldn't be funded within individual teams for various reasons. It's a way to encourage this culture of creativity."

Miller also noted that a key factor influencing Microsoft's move to Continuous Delivery for Bing development was the group's challenger mentality.

He said the team knows full well, "We're not the top dog; we have to be scrappy, we have to find ways to really be the best. And because we're relatively small compared to our largest competitor, we needed to do things faster and more efficiently than they could. We didn't have the levels of income that they had. And that does alter the core culture that you have and the people you attract. There are people who come here who want to go after the big dog. It's pervasive in us that that challenger mind-set is a core attribute that we have, and we continue to try to foster it."

Ironically, however, the move to CD has not taxed the team any more than the old way of working. In fact, the team's work/life balance is better, Miller said.

"Our work/life balance went from a number I'm not that proud of to where twice as many people said their work/life balance was better when we adopted continuous delivery," he said. "And that's counterintuitive, because people think that means you're on all the time and your code is constantly in production. But in fact it removes this whole element of debating whether you take this code fix or this check-in or not. It removes debates about whether [something] is an important feature or not."


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