Rethinking application development in light of 'devops'

Is your IT organization prepared to tear down the wall between development and operations?

Devops, a term coined to describe the expanding reach of developers into areas typically considered operations tasks, is still viewed as a trend found only in early-adopter enterprises -- but for how long? What can you do to prepare? What should you look for in technology that enables the devops model?

The developer land grab that is devops

The desire to release new functionality faster to users is high on every developer's wish list. However, most enterprises have multiple layers of processes assigned to separate roles, which often increase the time between a new feature being developed and made available to users. However, most IT managers would agree that these processes and the separation of roles were instituted to increase the quality and uptime of IT environments and ultimately improve the user experience.

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The growing access to automated, self-service provisioning of IT resources and environments is enabling developers to flatten the roles, if not processes, between a developer and the user.

RedMonk analyst Michael Cote suggests that devops can be viewed as a land grab by developers, writing, "after ejecting every function except writing code, development teams have been bringing those roles back to the core team, starting with QA, then product management, and now operations."

Not surprisingly, devops is taking hold primarily in startups or smaller companies where the separation of developer versus operations roles is ill-defined by necessity.

The changing role of operations in a devops world

In larger enterprises with established separation of roles between developers and operations teams, the "devops" term may be counterproductive. It can suggest that as developers undertake tasks previously owned by the operations team, operations staff become less critical to the IT organization.

The reality underlying devops is far from that mistaken belief. Cote describes the changing role of operations staff in a cloud-driven devops world:

Rather, it means that as with QA and product management, their role moves from "keeping the lights green" to "delivering good, productive experiences." Operations becomes one of the product owners, not just the "monkeys" who hook up wires to servers and increase disk space.

The 451 Group's Jay Lyman shares a similar view in his research on devops:

However, in the larger picture and in the long run, particularly at greater scale, there is undoubtedly need for system administrators. One of the bottom line findings of my research on devops is that the trend is very much about a dramatically changed purpose and role for system administrators, who are typically freed up of mundane OS maintenance and other tasks, but who must also embrace openness and transparency in their operations and scripts, which can be very foreign.

Far from developers replacing operations staff, and thereby accepting some of the manual tasks required to keep an environment up and running, new cloud technology removes the need for these manual -- and at times, mundane -- tasks in the first place. As these tasks are removed, operations teams are able to better contribute to the value that their business and users perceive to be coming from IT.

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