Devops gets developers and admins on the same page

Agile and other modern development methods mean programmers need to move fast -- but ops often won't let them

Your developers want to deploy a variety of dev and test systems yesterday, and your IT admins don't have time to do all that work so quickly, and they don't want a motley collection of dev environments growing like fungus on IT's resources. That's where devops comes in. The term acknowledges the divide between the software development and IT operations sides of a business, with developers eager to implement their latest creations but stymied by cautious IT personnel focused on keeping systems up and running. Both people- and technology-oriented approaches are emerging to bridge this gap.

To break the logjam, solutions are being pitched that range from better collaboration among parties in a project to implementing automation technologies. Indeed, sensing the opportunity, vendors are starting to jump on the devops bandwagon, with companies ranging from Puppet Labs to Zend Technologies pitching their wares as alleviating the devops burden.

[ InfoWorld columnist Eric Knorr makes the case for devops in "Devops and the great IT convergence." | Get the latest insights on programming issues and trends from InfoWorld's Developer World newsletter. ]

Consultant Patrick Debois, who is credited with coining the term "devops" in 2009, cites the proliferation of agile development, with its more frequent software updates, as a factor leading to the need for devops, as operations staff can't keep up with the number of changes being produced. Cloud and virtualization have also contributed to the need for devops, he says, with IT having to manage more machines and streamline the delivery process.

Web deployments also can cause devops conflicts, says Jesse Robbins, chief community officer at Opscode, which makes the Chef automation tool positioned for use in devops. "Ops has historically been tasked with maintaining website availability, and the challenge with that is the best that you can ever do is 100 percent availability." Avoiding outages prompts the operations team to "become strongly opposed to change," Robbins says.

To protect the infrastructure, IT ops can put in place processes that seem almost draconian, causing developers to complain that these processes slow them down, says Glenn O'Donnell, an analyst at Forrester Research. Indeed, processes such as ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) that provide a standardized way of doing things, such as handling change management, can become twisted into bureaucracy for its own sake. But sometimes, people "take a good idea too far, and that happens with ITIL, too."

Better collaboration advocated
Debois advocates better collaboration as a way to address the devops challenge, with parties collaborating right from the beginning of a project. "That's a shift in mentality," he acknowledges, to collaboration between silos, says Debois. Small behavioral changes can help, he says. For example, "developers are starting to wear pagers [for] when things go wrong, so they actually feel the pain of people supporting the systems. That will improve how they think about it," he says.

"What devops is about is essentially refocusing operations on business results rather than things like processes or tools," says Luke Kanies, CEO of Puppet Labs, which sells a devops tool.

"You've got to get people on both sides to accept that there's a different way of doing things and the other guy is not the enemy -- we're in this together," O'Donnell says. He adds that process improvements are also key to devops: "You need automation to get people out of the equation."

Tools to open the devops flow
Also helping address the devops conflict are technologies that automate application releases "essentially at the click of a button," O'Donnell says. He cites automation tools such as Puppet Labs' Puppet and Opscode's Chef provision servers. Additionally, cloud computing supports automated provisioning, with the extra benefit of not running on IT's production systems.

Chef is an open source systems integration framework for cloud automation. Developers and systems engineers can use it to deploy systems quickly in a dynamic environment, Robbins says. Puppet is similar, providing a systems management platform to standardize how IT staff manage infrastructure in the enterprise and cloud. As a result, more time can be spent on software updates, transparent auditing, and business needs, Kanies says.

Another company pitching wares in the devops space is Electric Cloud. Its ElectricCommander has the software development team define its procedures and tools, then automatically provision those resources from the IT side, says CEO Mike Maciag. Zend also positions its Zend Server PHP 5.5 application server as a devops tool for automated provisioning, says CEO Andi Gutmans.

Old habits die hard, but they need to
Progress is being made in devops, says Forrester's O'Donnell, but "it's going to be a while before we can overcome some of these organizational conflicts." Old habits die hard, he contends: "Some organizations may never make that transition, and they're probably in some serious trouble."

It can be tough to get people to move beyond old ways of doing things. But organizations that can make these changes and get on the same page can set a course for growth rather than stagnation, and thus improve the bottom line for people on both sides of the devops equation, O'Donnell says.

This story, "Devops gets developers and admins on the same page," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in programming at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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