Devops: IT's latest paper tiger

No half-baked movement can solve the broad, complex challenge of bridging the divide between app dev and operations

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That hasn't stopped the media from trumpeting "devops successes" where it can find them. According to VentureBeat, companies such as Dropbox, Facebook, and SmugMug all owe at least some of their successes to the "devops approach" -- despite the fact that all three companies predate the term "devops" by several years.

It seems far more likely that the devops aficionados borrowed some of their ideas and methods from successful companies like Facebook. There's nothing wrong with that -- isn't that how best practices usually proliferate? But we don't usually give them funny names.

The thing about funny names, though, is that once they become buzzwords, dropping those buzzwords becomes a great way to drum up free press for your company. Witness Etsy at the recent O'Reilly Web 2.0 Expo in New York, crowing about its use of "devops-like principles." Wait, devops is a set of principles now? I thought it was a movement. Or a methodology? Or a model? I've lost track.

Once a buzzword gains enough mental capital, in rush the vendors, eager to convince confused and worried purchasing managers that the answer to the latest IT paper tiger is something that can be bought in a box. A number of vendors already claim to be shipping devops solutions, including FluidOps, Puppet Labs, and Urbancode, among others. EMC VMware claims to have developed an entire suite for the task.

A dose of reality
Don't get me wrong. The fundamental issues lurking behind all this talk about devops are important, and seeking ways to address them is laudable. The trouble is, for something that aims to bring disparate groups closer together, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly unifying about devops. We can't even seem to agree on how you "do" it. And once you start talking about who's on the right side or the wrong side of the devops debate within your organization, all you're doing is taking sides -- you're not solving any problems.

The truth is that no amount of sloganeering, hand waving, manifestos, seminars, or user groups will bridge the divide between application development and operations. Magic software pixie dust won't do it, either. Slapping a glib label on a broad set of complex, fundamental process and organizational challenges -- which are surely different for every organization facing them -- does no good for anyone.

While devops remains the flavor of the month and I'm sure we can expect a lot more talk about it, this conversation lost interest for me a long time ago. It's just watercooler chat now.

In the short term, I expect devops will make a lot of hay for pundits, speakers, conference organizers, and vendors looking to cash in on the trend. In the long term, those who are inspired by the devops ideas would be better served to put down the flags, get off the soapboxes, and work within their organizations to effect meaningful change. Unfortunately, this kind of change happens only one step at a time.

This article, "Devops: IT's latest paper tiger," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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