Monday, March 29, 2010

DevOps and NoSQL - bad naming leads to confusion

I've recently started following a few new topics (where recently means over the past year). Both of them have the potential to be paradigm shifts and, unfortunately, both have somewhat vague names that evoke responses on both sides of the issue.

The one I'm going to focus on right now is DevOps. I intend on doing another post on NoSQL but that all depends on how much free time I can finagle between setting up the nest for baby number 2 and work projects.

I should clarify my background because that plays a large part in how I perceive both of these issues. I'm a systems engineer. No, I don't have a degree in engineering but I wouldn't call the work I've done over the years any less than that. I've been the intermediary between DBAs and Developers. I've spent 20+ hours on my feet in a frigid datacenter racking servers. I've done high-level architecture of disparate system integration. I've done low-level implementation of disparate system integration. I've been up at 4AM to do deploys of new code during the 30 minute maintenance window. I've been the guy getting the pages and been the guy calling people who we're supposed to get the pages.

I've been in big shops and small shops. I've been responsible for systems that pass millions of dollars and systems that are critical to education.

I don't say all this to toot my own horn. It's just background that is relevant to the discussion.

So what's this DevOps thing that people keep throwing around? Well there are tons of opinions and all of them are like certain sphincter muscles. Not one is entirely on the money but the background work has been done here:

So what is it? I think at the core it's about closely integrating the "SysOp" silo with the "Developer" silo as a methodology. But why is this important?

SysOps have always been apart from the rest of the IT department in a sense. While many groups have frequent overlapping areas, the operations team has the final responsibility. As I like to put it, they're the folks getting the phone call. Unless the organization is small, most developers aren't even in the loop unless a bug report is filed after an outage. As it was put elsewhere, many times software is thrown "over the wall" to be deployed. But why is this? I think that's key to the whole issue.

Roles, Responsibilities and Titles
I'm not a stickler for titles. I've held many over the years for Administrator to Director. In one interesting case, I was given a title (and the subsequent responsibility) simply for the purpose of interacting with a client who had firm opinions about only interfacing with someone at the same level. This didn't take away any responsibilities; only added to them. Titles, roles and responsibilities are all different things.

In this way, the organizational title for "IT Operations" denotes a clear differentiator from "Developer". There are certain expectations from your operations team. Production stays stable, for instance. Many times the goals of the Operations team are in direct opposition to those of the Development team. Make no mistake, however. The developers are part of revenue generation while those of operations are not. Operations exists as fire fighters. If Operations is doing its job properly, they aren't actually doing much of their primary responsibility. They have quite a bit of downtime.

So why is there a need for a DevOps movement?
I think on one hand, there is an increasing frustration from the end-user (in this case development) in its interaction with operations. Development methodologies are changing rapidly. Some changes are for the better (less bugs, more testing) while others create friction with how a production environment operates (frequent releases). Another aspect is people transitioning from one role to the other. You have people moving into development from an operations background and vice versa. People change. They discover that they enjoy X more than Y. With each of these transitions, a mindset and attitude is brought along. An Ego.

The developer who moves into production operations laments the slow sluggish pace at which things move. The operations guy who moves into development loves the fast and fluid nature of Agile development. Both feel the need to reconcile the two worlds thinking they can impart some sort of wisdom from one side of which the other was not aware.

Additionally, in times where the leanest team that is first to market often wins many people are wearing multiple hats. See the rise of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), Amazon Web Services, NoSQL and other technologies where traditional roles are eliminated.

Both sides have a lot to learn from each other and both sides need to understand the constraints each team has. This is where I feel DevOps has the most to offer as an ideal. Integrating operations into development and letting development be a part of operations. The specifics are still up in the air but I think there are some key areas that each side needs to understand about the other. I'll follow those up in the next post to for logical grouping purposes.

As always, comments are welcome!

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