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

These days, everybody seems to want to discuss devops. I wish I could. To do that, though, I'd have to know what we're talking about.

The basics are plain enough. Devops purports to align software development ("dev") with IT operations ("ops"). But we've heard about these kinds of alignment initiatives before. Remember back when everything was about "aligning business and IT"? And how, at the end of the day, that phrase meant almost nothing? Until someone shows me something concrete, I'm going to assume the same is true for devops.

[ InfoWorld columnist Eric Knorr makes the case for devops in "Devops and the great IT convergence." | Columnist Savio Rodrigues shows why devops may not give developers what they really want. | See if you can pass InfoWorld's programming IQ test, round 1 and programming IQ test, round 2. | Get software development news and insights from InfoWorld's Developer World newsletter. ]

Mind you, there's no shortage of theories about devops, nor a dearth of opinions. Maybe that's why there's so much talk about it: Everybody else is trying to figure out what it's supposed to mean, too.

Defining devops: A moving target
If you ask some folks, devops is nothing but a blatant land grab by overambitious developers looking to horn in on traditional IT functions. Particularly in light of modern agile development processes, these discontented programmers see operations procedures as unwelcome impediments to efficient software delivery, and they want out.

Other folks say devops originated with a group of "sysadmin coders" and the ops side is using it to gain the upper hand. They hope to claim a bigger stake in the application development process and hold developers accountable for how easy their code is to deploy and maintain in production environments.

Some say devops is about cross-training developers and IT staff so that each can take on some of the responsibilities of the other. Others say it's a brand-new, distinct discipline. Still more say that some cross-training is fine, but even if you have a few devops generalists on staff, you should hang onto your development and operations specialists for when the tough problems crop up.

It's not even clear what has brought us to this turning point. One theory is that the proliferation of SaaS (software as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service) has made devops possible by increasing the level of automation of IT tasks. Another theory is that SaaS and PaaS are in the process of eliminating the traditional IT operations role altogether, meaning devops is essentially dead on arrival, too.

Who are we supposed to believe?

Companies capitalize on the devops trend
Given that there is no clear definition of what it actually means to buy into devops, it's difficult to say how widespread it has actually become. Metrics, certainly, are out of the question.

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