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Tip of the Week 47 - HowTo DevOps

How DevOps started

In the past times system administrators mostly managed their infrastructure in a manual pattern: provisioning systems using CDROMs or USB sticks or - if you were already lucky to have larger infrastructure - you might have used a provisioning system like FAI or Cobbler. Afterwards people logged into the system using SSH and configured them according to some documentation or tickets or they had some shell or perl scripts which did the initial configuration.

When developers changed from waterfall to agile methods, system administrators were facing new issues: they needed to build systems faster as developers were pushing out code faster.

That was the point where DevOps started. Ops people learned that communication and collaboration with developers gave them insight in upcoming development. As a nice side effect they were able to gain knowledge on new systems already during development phase. They learned about developers’ methods like version control system and adopted them to their needs. On the other hand developers got an understanding of system engineers needs and frustrations.

This collaboration of development and system engineering is since then called DevOps.

But what does DevOps do? How does it work? What else did it change?

What is DevOps?

Some companies still try to sell their ‘DevOps products’. You can find evidence especially at enterprise level as one can see at the landing pages from IBM or CA. Others have understood that there are no DevOps products like the Atlassian description of DevOps.

There already is a description on what DevOps is since 2010 when Daemon Edwards and John Willis gave a talk at DevOpsDays Mountain View. They describe DevOps using the CAMS acronym. These are:

  • Culture
  • Automation
  • Measurement
  • Sharing

Another summary of terms would be:

  • People
  • Processes
  • Platforms
  • Participation

HowTo DevOps?

Automation and Measurement are the parts which you can easily make available to you and your teams by searching for products. For Configuration Management we can choose between tools like Puppet, Chef or Ansible. All mentioned tools are aimed at teams managing IT infrastructures like servers, routers, storages and mostly use a declarative system description.

When it comes to metrics, we must first analyse which are the important informations. Here we see different needs for different departments. IT Ops wants to see whether server usage is within normal limits, Product Owners want to see customer process and Management wants PKI information. When collaborating with the application developers it is easy to also fetch application specific data into a central metrics collection system like Elasticsearch (formerly known as the ELK stack - Elastic, Logstash, Kibana) from Elastic or Prometheus.

But how to implement ‘Culture’ and ‘Sharing’? This is not something which you can just shop and ‘buy’ as this is people and not products or processes.

The most important task is to tear down any barrier which exists between developers and operations. Usually we see that these two departments are part of different C-Level stakeholders, especially at large companies: Development usually is located within Product, whereas Operation is handled within Technology. You will always fight battles between the CPO (Chief Product Officer) and the CTO (Chief Technology Officer). Both have different goals: the CPO wants new features and products to be available for customers as soon as possible, whereas the CTO sees a desire for stable platforms. In this case the whole DevOps approach must be fully supported by the whole C-Level team.

The next barrier which shows up are mid-level managers. Usually these are former technology people (either from development or operations) which have been given a team or even department lead. In this position they are responsible to C-Level management for performance and results. Now these people have to adopt to a new role as team coach or leader. Their new main responsibility will be to remove any kind of issue their team has, they have to coach their staff to learn new technologies. This will take some time, as they first have to gain knowledge on how to fullfill the new role.

During these phases, C-Level management gets an extra task. They have to prove to their technical team members that they fully support the company and culture change. This can be achieved by finding or getting the right people and support them directly while your mid management is on training courses. Make the technicians a team which is directly under your control. If you haven’t talked directly to your employees for a while you might want to change that now.

Ensure that you have smart people. Don’t only listen to the loudest. Listen also to the silent ones. If you want to hear both, let them make discussions based on Fishbowl Conversation. Everybody in your team is your favourite player. Only working together as a team will bring you success in implementing DevOps.

We don’t need DevOps?

In the past few years we have seen plenty of tools and terms coming up within the DevOps area. The one with the most momentum is Docker. Docker allows you to easily build systems running as Containers but on multiple architectures and operating systems.

Some people even say that when using Docker there is no need to an IT operations team. An idea, which I don’t share:

  • who is responsible (technical experienced) contact to your Container Platform supplier?
  • who is able to understand a decent way to manage containers and get important data from them?
  • who will define and verify whether your container is created as a secure system?

Another term which is used often nowadays is Serverless which describes a way to run systems in cloud architecture. But serverless does not mean that you run a platform without operations. It is just a wording saying that you run your platform on other company computers. Even when using any kind of cloud you will have the need to manage (operate) your cloud access and configuration.

Both still require to have people with good knowledge on network, storage and application management around. The only difference is that we just don’t have hardware in our own datacenter. The need for operations and therefor for collaboration between developers and system administrators is still there. So is the DevOps idea.

The future of DevOps

As we are mostly within different customers, we see different stages of DevOps implementation. Some companies are already deep into DevOps whereas others are starting or evaluating DevOps principles.

Customers who do DevOps for quite some time already found, that they should not limit DevOps to developers and operation. They start to adopt the principles and ideas also to other departments, mostly loosely coupled to technology. Within the past months several other implementations of DevOps already came up:

  • SecOps - Collaboration of IT Security, Operations and Development
  • NetDev - Collaboration and automation between network engineers and other departments
  • BizOps - Shared responsibility between product management or other business units and other teams

Even though that these re-use the DevOps naming conventions these enablements are not just a 1-1 correlation. The best term describing what we see as the future of DevOps might be something like: SecNetDevBizOps.

That’s why is probably better to keep on calling all this just DevOps :-)

Martin Alfke