Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The opposite of DevOps

I thought about whether or not to write this post but I think it's an interesting example of the kinds of problems that the DevOps methodology is trying to solve.

I turned in my two weeks notice with the paper on Friday. There were several reasons but none of them are a negative reflection on my employer. The role I was originally hired for was no longer valid and there wasn't a transition path because of platform changes in the back office. I could have stayed (and was asked to stay) but there wasn't anything long term where my skill set was useful. As with any key team member, meetings are called to discuss any outstanding issues, transition responsibilities and the like.

In preparation for the meeting today, I drew up a list my responsibilities at a macro level and then broke that down by task. As it's always been for me, that list spanned several "silos" in the traditional IT organization model. Here's a sample snippit:

Subversion User Management, Repository Management
MySQL User Management, Database Management, Performance Management
LinuxUser Management, OS Configuration, Application Management, Code Management
Puppet Configuration Management, Recipe Management
Ruby VM Management, Gem Management

There were also entries for various internal applications that I've worked on (including some development) and supported from an operational perspective. Mind you, I was embedded as an operations guy with a specific development group in the organization. Sort of a DevOps-lite role.

What was really interesting about the meeting was how the lines were broken down. Literally lines were drawn as to where operations would stop supporting something and the group I was leaving would take over. Take the Linux example:

Application Management was intended to refer to software that was "standard" as a part of the distro. Things like Apache or MySQL. Code Management refers to our internally developed code (all Rails applications except for the sexy Sinatra webservice I wrote). In the end, the responsibilities were shifted divided like so:

- Operations Team supported up to the installation and configuration of Apache (including vhosts) with the exclusion of Passenger configuration.
- Passenger configuration and internal code would now be managed by the Development group. They would handle deployments themselves via Webistrano.
- MySQL? Passed on to those currently managing the MSSQL database servers.

That's the very definition of a silo'd IT infrastructure. Everything is thrown over the wall. At least the deploys remain with the development team. There is nothing "wrong" with this model of IT governance. It's not agile but many companies use it. Contrast that to the position I'll be starting on the 6th of July.

An explicit group is being formed inside the company called "DevOps". I know that at this point everyone is incredulous. I can hear it now; "You're doing it wrong!". Interestingly enough, I asked the same question during the interview process. We all know that DevOps is model and philosophy and not a title or department. You don't have two development teams - Agile and Waterfall. You have Developers and they use one methodology over the other. The same goes for Operations. The people I was interviewing with were cognizant of this fact as well. The reason the group is being called "DevOps" is strictly for organizational and political reasons. The goal of the team is to actually develop a set of operational and developmental processes,tools and guidelines that embody everything that DevOps represents.

This is being done inside of one division of the company for now with the Director of Development and Director of Operations essentially sharing a brain and heading things up. The work that this group does will establish and codify something that will be used throughout the rest of the company. We'll be doing development of tools, architecting systems and recommending/implementing solutions that will, among other things, define how the organization operates itself from an IT perspective. Additionally we'll be supporting this as any traditional operations team would but, for now, the group has a distinct title. My title is "Systems Architect" which nice and generic enough to apply to both traditional groups ;)

The only remotely distressing part of the whole thing is that I'll probably have to learn some Python. (tongue firmly in cheek). There's a point to be made that distribution vendors have settled on Python as the Lingua Franca of OS management - excluding things like Chef, Puppet and Nagios which have their own respective DSLs that abstract away much of the language they were written in. Yes, my precious Ruby will still be there when it comes to extending, say, Puppet. I'll probably still write quite a few service checks for Nagios in shell (should Nagios be the best fit).

But language wars aside, I think this gives a clear picture of exactly the types of problems the DevOps methodology is trying to solve. Agility and flexibility across all branches of IT produces a leaner, strong and faster organization that can spend less time "in the muck" (as John Willis likes to say) and start making the company more money.

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