Devops and the great IT convergence

IT struggles endlessly to get technologists in very different disciplines on the same page. Devops advocates cross-pollination to heal one of IT's greatest rifts

By now you've probably gotten wind of the phenomenon known as devops. It's a curious grassroots "movement" that has the general intent, as the name implies, to bridge the gap between app dev and operations. More and more, I see devops as a sign of the times for IT.

How hot is devops? According to a friend in the space, all you need to do is walk through Silicon Valley and shout, "Devops," and 300 people will run to a meetup. There's even a devops song.

[ See "Rethinking application development in light of 'devops'" by InfoWorld's Savio Rodrigues. | For a bottom-up, realistic view of next-generation data center, plunge into InfoWorld's Private Cloud Deep Dive by contrubuting editor Matt Prigge. ]

The first thing you need to know about devops is that it's a philosophy with practical implications that apply mainly to ops; the dev side of devops was first established over a decade ago when the Agile Manifesto was written. But agile development is all about change -- faster time to market, smaller and more frequent builds, a welcoming attitude toward new requirements. All that change creates gobs of work for operations, to the point where some argue that ops' inability (or reluctance) to keep up has prevented Agile from realizing its potential.

Devops is about dev and ops coming together, with both sides learning what the other does but with the main intent of making ops as agile as Agile. It's also about putting automation tools in the hands of developers, so they can provision and reprovision their own dev, test, and deployment environments without bugging ops at all. (Some argue that the devops philosophy even applies to how business should be run, although the agile folks have already tried that one.)

The automation component has a direct tie-in to cloud computing -- both the private cloud and PaaS (platform as a service). After all, virtualized dev and test environments, whether they reside on, say, VMware's CloudFoundry, or locally using, say, CumuLogic on top of Eucalyptus, hold enormous potential to reduce wasted motion.

As I've speculated before, I believe developers will be the big winners in the cloud era. But one thing that strikes me about devops is the "why can't we all get along" tone (something that, as Neil McAllister observed last week, the development community could use more of). I may be naïve, but I think devops could be an example of IT people across various roles pulling together in the face of economic adversity and the threat of consumerization.

Here's another way devops may be indicative of the times we live in: It asks that ops and dev people go beyond their comfort zones and, to some degree, learn each other's skills. Just as workloads are moving to shared infrastructure and infrastructure itself is converging, IT roles are consolidating. As the private cloud takes root in the data center, not only will it be difficult to maintain a separation of roles among network, system, and storage admins, but it will also be hard to escape a working knowledge of virtualization management.

One of the healthiest aspects of the devops trend is its emphasis on agility in service of business objectives. True, this no doubt derives from devops' apparent origination in large-scale Web application companies, where product and technology are inseparable. But agility, as cliché as that may sound, is still the greatest single benefit IT can bring to business. In tough times like these, both business and IT need to be light on their feet to survive.

This article, "Devops and the great IT convergence," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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