What Devops Means to Me

I have been in IT operations for over 30 years and I have seen a lot of good and bad ideas come and go.  I have been following the Devops movement for over a year now and I have kept my eyes very focused to the Devops radar.  To me Devops is one of the most interesting ideas that I have seen in the last 30 years.  Like any new idea, Devops is creating some controversy and there are many discussions about what is wrong with Devops.  In fact, many of the recent questions about Devops sound very similar to some of the questions that were being asked about Clouds two years ago.  A lot of those old Cloud questions have now been answered; however, many still remain open.  I believe this is exactly the path that the recent “Devops” questions are following.   I have spoken and interviewed a lot of the thought leaders in the Devops movement.  Here are some of my thoughts based on what I have learned thus far.

Devops is About CAMS

  • Culture

    People and process first.  If you don’t have culture, all automation attempts will be fruitless.

  • Automation

    This is one of the places you start once you understand your culture.  At this point, the tools can start to stitch together an automation fabric for Devops.  Tools for release management, provisioning, configuration management, systems integration, monitoring and control, and orchestration become important pieces in building a Devops fabric.

  • Measurement

    If you can’t measure, you can’t improve.  A successful Devops implementation will measure everything it can as often as it can… performance metrics, process metrics, and even people metrics.

  • Sharing

    Sharing is the loopback in the CAMS cycle.  Creating a culture where people share ideas and problems is critical.  Jody Mulkey, the CIO at Shopzilla, told me that they get in the war room the developers and operations teams describe the problem as the enemy, not each other.  Another interesting motivation in the Devops movement is the way sharing Devops success stories helps others.   First, it attracts talent, and second, there is a belief that by exposing ideas you can create a great open feedback that in the end helps them improve.

Devops is not a plan, it’s a reaction

Devops was not started as a get rich scheme.  It was started as an observation.  Some of the early Devops thought leaders like Patrick Debois, for example, started noticing a trend that was particularly emerging from Agile based web operating (Webops) companies.   A lot of these new companies were building operational organizations that were running their operations very similar to the way they ran their agile development process.  This seemed a great contrast to the traditional mode of processes between development and operations.  The observations were that some traditional enterprises were running Agile and Lean development cycles, but their operations still looked like the waterfall process.  They started writing blog articles and they even created a small barcamp style conference called Devopsdays.  I attended my first Devopsdays in Belgium in 2009 and I could see at that time that the movement had legs.  There were about 50 really passionate people talking about the same problems and sharing new ideas on how to solve these problems.  Some of the attendees were from the UK and Sydney.  I had come all the way from Atlanta, Georgia.  All of us took what we heard and created splinters organizations around the world.  London, due in part to R.I. Pienaar, now has a vibrant Devops group as does Sydney due in part from Lindsay Holmwood.  In fact I first met Lyndsay and R.I at that Belguim Devopsdays meetup.  Damon Edwards, Mark Hinkle and myself helped start the group in the US.  We have run successful camps in Austin, Boston and San Francisco.  The Austin and San Francisco camps drew over 100 people each.  In hindsight, we should have called it Devopscamp.  Damon Edwards and Andrew Shafer have been instrumental in starting a west coat initiative including the most recent DevopsDays USA run at LinkedIn.  Since then, other splinter groups have started in Atlanta, NY, Boston and LA.  In fact, I just attended the first SOCAL Devops meetup last night and over 80 people showed up.  In my opinion, great movements just happen . . . they are not planned.  Almost all of the Devops events have run on shoestring budgets.  Almost all events have used free event-planning tools like Eventbrite and have had zero marketing budgets.  Some events offer free drinks, and in some cases free t-shirts if there is some money left over.  Every Devops event thus far has been successful not due to great planning; however, due to great word of mouth and a lot of pent-up passion.

Devops is not a judgment

The problem with the Devops movement is that all of the people involved in the movement are really excited and passionate about what is being talked about, and that passion can sometimes be viewed as arrogance.  Many of the participants feel like kindred spirits and share the same issues.   Some might be extremely excited about the fact that they can deploy 20 times a day; however, just because they can, doesn’t mean that others should or even can.  When they brag about things like Infrastructure as Code, they are not saying you are stupid because you aren’t doing it.  They are just excited that they can.   The fact that they brag about it, in most cases, is about sharing and less about judgment.  Chris Hoff @Beaker , a cloud and security expert, often points out that there are still a lot of very important areas in NET/SEC that still can’t be automated.   He wants to make sure that we don’t miss that in the Devops movement.  This is true and Devops needs to embrace and invite thought leaders like Chris and others into this movement.  Also, Devops and process standards are not mutually exclusive.  It is true that many of the newer Web Operating models haven’t embraced ITIL.  Not discussing ITIL in Devops, IMHO, is more about maturity than it is about judgment.   Optimistically, I like to think that at some point the traditional enterprise and the newer Webops type companies will start to merge ideas and take the best of both worlds.

Devops is not meant to be an exclusive club

There is no special card you have to show to enter a Devops meeting.  All of the events are free.  DevopsDays USA had over 250 attendees.  One of the glaring things you will first notice about any Devops event is that everyone is having fun.  People are sharing ideas, telling war stories, and in some cases, even hacking on solutions.   Very much like the early days of ‘Cloud”, there isn’t a one stop shop to understand what Devops is.  Therefore, Devops appears as a kind of club that has people who know what it is and people who don’t.  The truth is that no one really knows quite what it is yet.  I like to say I can’t tell you what it is, but I can tell you when I see one.

Devops is not just a bunch of really smart people

Yes, there are some iconic like people involved in the Devops movement.  Also, like any other movement, there are some really bright people who are shining lights.  Sharing is a common theme throughout Devops, and in fact, most of the tools that are discussed are open source based.  Just like open source, the best and the brightest inventions and great ideas come from a a smaller group and then larger groups adopt and benefits.  There are also great proprietary tools that are being embraced in Devops as well.   In fact, I was recently involved in a video podcast at Shopzilla where they discussed how they embrace Devops culture, automation and measurement with a mix of proprietary and open source tools.  The idea that Devops is not scalable because it only includes rock stars and geniuses is ludicrous.   Like any other emerging movement the early adopters will be among the brightest and best; however, sharing is a common thread in the movement and everyone will learn from the early adopters.

Devops is not a product

If a vendor tells you that they have a Devops product or a Devops compliant product, then you will know immediately that they don’t have a clue of what Devops is.   If they tell you they embrace Devops as a possible stitch in the Devops fabric, then they might be on to something.  There will be many charlatans in the next few years proclaiming their Devops product or Devops features.  However, you know the true followers when they start talking about the Devops culture first and then their tool as a second-class citizen behind people and process.

Devops is not a run around traditional IT

When a Devops discussion starts with technology, the conversation is headed in the wrong direction.  If you hear something like “Just hire smart people and give them root”, immediately run for the hills.  Like I said earlier, there is nothing mutually exclusive about Devops and the enterprise process.  In fact, earlier this year I attended an IBM Tivoli Pulse conference where one of the largest banks talked about this very same issue.  This particular bank was a huge supporter of IT Service Management and ITIL based processing.  They were demoing their new use of Cloud technology.  One of the questions came up about change management and self-service cloud provisioning.  Their answer was quite simple.  In their service catalog there is a category for the class of service being provisioned.  The services that don’t require change approval can be auto provisioned in less than 5 minutes, and the services that do require approval will wait (Business as usual).

John Willis