Case Study

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Case Studies
Case One Etsy Uses DevOps for Rapid Deployment
Looking for a unique gift—such as a personalized, hand-stamped fishing lure or maybe
a vintage gold hairpin or even a crocheted hat for your cat? If so, you might want to join
the 24 million active buyers who turn to the Web site Etsy as their source for handmade
and vintage products—ranging from art and photography to clothing and jewelry to
home décor and furniture.
Etsy was founded in 2005 in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York, by a small group of
people who saw a need for an online exchange where crafters and artists could sell their
handmade and vintage goods along with art and craft supplies. The company, which
views itself as a global community of creative entrepreneurs, shoppers, manufacturers,
and suppliers, now has more than 800 employees and a peer-to-peer e-commerce site
that generated close to $2.4 billion in sales in 2015. Currently, the site has over 35
million items available for sale from 1.6 million active sellers around the world.
Early on, Etsy placed a high priority on developing a sophisticated technology platform
to support its business, with an engineering culture centered around a philosophy that
the company has dubbed “Code as Craft” (the company even operates an engineering
blog under that name). However, as with many start-ups, the development of Etsy’s
Book Title: eTextbook: Fundamentals of Information Systems
Chapter 8. System Acquisition and Development
Case Studies
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internal structures was not always carefully planned. As a result, siloes and other
barriers to collaboration gradually developed across the company, affecting its ability to
keep its software development efforts on the cutting edge.
Despite those challenges, the company grew rapidly, and as early as 2008, the
company was deploying new releases to its site twice a week—a pace matched by few
other companies at the time. However, each of those deployments typically took over
four hours to complete, and according to Michael Rembetsy, vice president of technical
operations at Etsy, “Deploys were very painful. We had a traditional mindset: developers
write the code and ops deploys it.” That divide often resulted in faulty releases that shut
down the site for prolonged periods, causing real concern for the users around the world
who relied on the site to make a living.
When Chad Dickerson, who had spent years as CTO at Yahoo!, joined Etsy as its new
CTO, he quickly brought in a new technical management team, which pushed the
company to adopt a more agile approach to software development in order to roll out
improvements and updates with greater ease and fewer disruptions. According to Jon
Cowie, an operations engineer at Etsy, “Bringing that group in is what first planted the
seed of DevOps and the move to a continuous rate of delivery, and it’s all really grown
from there. As the company has grown, this idea that the closer developers and
operations work together and understand each other’s problems, the more the company
can achieve, has really taken hold.”
Like many companies, Etsy was attracted to DevOps as a way to create a more
responsive software development process—one that allows for continuous integration
and deployment. However, adopting DevOps practices has also encouraged a more
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collaborative approach to development—a shift that has been both challenging and
rewarding for the company. Notes Cowie, “The hardest part is getting the business
culture right…. You may have to deal with stakeholders at different levels who may not
like this idea of relinquishing some power or giving people access to systems they
previously haven’t had.”
One of the big rewards for Etsy is that its developers are now able to push code to a
production server up to 60 times a day. Often, the first release is to a limited audience of
employees or a small, randomly selected group of users. With testing and feedback, the
code can then be pushed to the entire Etsy community. According to Rembetsy, “We
started to understand that if developers felt the responsibility for deploying code to the
site they would also, by nature, take responsibility for if the site was up or down, take
into consideration performance, and gain an understanding of the stress and fear of a
As Rembetsy notes, “Mistakes happen, we find them, fix them, and move on. The
important thing is to learn something from the process, and never make the mistake
again in the future.”
Critical Thinking Questions
1. It is perhaps not surprising that Etsy was an early adopter of DevOps. It is a relatively small
company, with a start-up culture, and its move to DevOps was championed by company
leaders. Do you think deploying DevOps practices would be more difficult in a larger, more
established organization? How might a company begin to make the cultural changes needed
to move to the more collaborative, rapid-deployment approach that DevOps offers?
2. At Etsy, new developers are expected to begin pushing code to production on day one. That
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expectation is one way Etsy encourages its employees to embrace change—and a certain
degree of risk—instead of fearing it. Would you feel comfortable working as a business
manager in a company that gives individual developers so much freedom and responsibility?
What would be some of the advantages to a business manager of such a culture? What might
be some of the disadvantages?
3. What would be some of the criteria you would use to measure the success of a shift to
DevOps practices within a company?
SOURCES: “About Etsy,” Etsy,, April 28, 2016; Dix, John, “How Etsy Makes DevOps Work,”
Network World, February 19, 2015,;
Donnelly, Caroline, “Case Study: What the Enterprise Can Learn from Etsy’s DevOps Strategy,” ComputerWeekly, June 9, 2015,;
Heusser, Matthew, “Continuous Deployment Done in Unique Fashion at,” CIO, March 12, 2012,; “What Is
DevOps,” The Agile Admin,, accessed April 27, 2016.
Case Two British Telecom Spreading Agile Development across the
In 2005, British Telecom (BT) took a big risk: the company dropped its use of the
waterfall system development process and embraced agile development. Previously, BT
had outsourced the gathering of system requirements to a third company, which would
typically take three to nine months to meet with customers and stakeholders and create
a requirements list. Next, the project would move back to BT where programmers often
struggled to interpret the requirements and then develop and test the system within 18
months—although some projects needed more time. In late 2005, however, BT took
only 90 days to roll out a new Web-based system for monitoring phone traffic. The new
system allowed traffic managers to change switches and other physical devices more
What Is DevOps?
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quickly in order to handle shifts in load along BT’s telecommunications network. The
success of this initial project reverberated throughout the IT world, as BT became the
first telecommunications giant to adopt agile development—sometimes developing
products in three 30-day iterative cycles.
The new system development approach had other advantages, too: programmers and
customers communicated closely and teams from different locations around the world,
initially the United Kingdom and India, worked together to develop the system. To
overcome customer doubts, BT invited them to development “hot houses” to see how
the agile development process worked. Many customers became such ardent believers
that they adopted the agile approach themselves. In 2010, BT used its new system
development process to create the 21st Century Next Generation Access Network
process, which enjoyed an 80 percent return on its initial investment within its first year.
Today, BT deploys agile development to service its customers across the globe.
In 2014, for example, BT applied the agile approach to deploy telepresence solutions for
the international energy and chemical producer Sasol, a company with over 34,000
employees based in 37 countries. To oversee its operations and interact with clients,
senior Sasol managers based in South Africa were traveling millions of miles each year,
which was not good for the managers, the company’s budget, or the planet. As an
alternative, BT installed telepresence suites across South Africa and in Houston,
London, Calgary, and Hamburg. Sasol achieved a 100 percent usage rate at each of
these suites, and BT secured a five-year contract to provide continued support.
BT had one major concern about agile development: previously, the company had
conducted 16 or 17 types of tests before deploying a new system. Many feared that a
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shorter life cycle meant compromising on quality assurance. However, BT now
continues testing with customers after system setup and finds that testing the product
with customer involvement has significant advantages.
“The main advantage I see is that you spend more time working on the right [system]
features by talking to customers all the time and working on it,” says Kerry Buckley, a
software developer who worked on the initial phone-traffic monitoring system. Moreover,
software engineers working at BT are excited about working on customer-facing live
applications. As one engineer notes, “All your work matters and will be released to the
public.” Agile development at BT has taken system developers out of their isolated
bubble, inspiring them, and proving to the IT world that agile development can work.
Critical Thinking Questions
1. Are there certain personal characteristics one should look for in candidates who will
participate in or lead agile system projects? If so, what are they, and why are they important?
2. How might the establishment of telepresence suites support the use of the agile system
development process? What do you think are some of the capabilities of such suites?
3. How might extreme programming and DevOps provide further improvements in the BT
system development process?
SOURCES: Hoffman, Thomas, “BT: A Case Study in Agile Programming,” InfoWorld, March 11, 2008,,0; Grant, Ian, “BT Switches to Agile
Techniques to Create New Products,” ComputerWeekly, January 29, 2010,
switches-to-agile-techniques-to-create-new-products; “About Sasol: Overview,” Sasol,
profile/overview; accessed July 8, 2014; “Turning a Far-Flung Organisation into a Single Community,” BT, July 9, 2014,; “Software Engineer, IVR at BT (British Telecom),” The JobCrowd, April 23, 2014,,0

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