What is devops? Not even 'leaders' and 'practitioners' can agree

Delphix's first 'State of DevOps' report finds even the definition of the word is in flux among its practitioners

What is devops? Not even 'leaders' and 'practitioners' can agree

Data-as-a-service company Delphix has launched its first annual "State of DevOps" report, which attempts to gather data from "leaders and practitioners" across North American and European enterprises on how they see devops.

One of the biggest questions, Delphix believes, is the very definition of the term: What does devops stand for among its implementers, what is the term meant to encompass, and how should it be handled?

Leaders, practitioners, and everyone in between

Delphix's survey breaks devops people into two camps: "leaders" and "practitioners." The former includes those who self-identify as being part of a "a strongly defined and successful series of DevOps initiatives." Only 10 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as leaders; another 59 percent identified as practitioners who were involved in ongoing devops work or planned on starting such work. (The remaining 31 percent evidently didn't meet the criteria for either category.)

Much of the rationale for seeing devops teams in this binary fashion is the belief that while there are plenty of definitions for devops, few are in agreement. The ones who have the sharpest definition of the term, claims Delphix, benefit the most simply because they're able to better describe the missions at hand.

However, not everyone feels an exact definition is needed. Adam Jacob, CTO of Chef, has likened devops to kung fu: The implementations vary, but those who practice the art recognize its other practitioners as well.

Data, devops, and cloud deployments

Delphix's background in data virtualization influenced the report's approach. One section, entitled "The State of Data in DevOps," covered how devops teams deal with live data. Ninety percent of the respondents cited limitations with their testing environments due to data management issues, saying they needed full production data to do devops work and more often than not simply gave developers unaudited access to production data. (The report doesn't attempt to connect such behavior to data leaks, but asserts that "companies are opting for agility over security.")

Even aside from Dephix's theses about devops, the data gathered about specific devops activities is intriguing. The most often cited reason why organizations embrace devops (true for 70 percent of leaders and 59 percent of practitioners) was pressure from other parts of the organization to deliver -- to get products out faster, to reduce defect counts -- far more than the need to accomplish more with less.

Another intriguing finding concerns what types of devops projects get the lion's share of attention. The lowest-ranked item in the report was "deployments to private cloud," cited by 29 percent of leaders and 47 percent for practitioners. "Testing" and "continuous integration" both ranked only incrementally higher. The reason for the private cloud's low ranking wasn't teased out in the report, but may reflect how the ops side of devops is potentially endangered by cloud; those with major cloud initiatives already enacted simply have less for their ops teams to do.

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