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How should organizations approach the DevOps movement?

Is DevOps just a buzzword or will it have long-term consequences for IT operations?

There's been a lot of talk over the past few years about the future of IT, the rise of cloud computing and what many are calling the DevOps movement. One of the troubles is that there are about as many definitions for DevOps as there are confused organizations trying to understand what it means for them. On a very basic level, the idea is to simplify or smooth the way developers and different branches of IT operations work together. But, the DevOps movement is more than just holding hands and singing songs, it's about improving app delivery and breaking down barriers that prevent IT from quickly responding to business needs. So this month, we're asking our Advisory Board to take a critical look at the topic, and discuss whether the DevOps movement is an unrealistic ideal, just a passing buzzword or the real future of IT.

Brian Kirsch, Milwaukee Area Technical College

In today's world it is not simply a software-driven data center, it's a software-driven world. Applications have become the cornerstone of the modern world, making software the focus over hardware. On the surface, it would appear that DevOps is not simply a buzzword, but the future of IT in general. Data centers, network engineers and systems administrators have gone the way of the Dodo bird in favor of the cloud, right? Fortunately, that has not happened and most likely won't.

DevOps is critical to many businesses, but it is not the future of IT. DevOps is a critical piece to the overall IT structure and strategy, however, IT must be balanced to promote overall business health. Security must balance with agility, elasticity must balance with resources and costs. DevOps is not new to IT, but its importance has grown. That doesn't mean it's the only future. Much like virtual desktop infrastructure, people have to realize DevOps and the cloud will not solve every problem. In fact it may even create a few new problems.

While no one will dispute the importance of DevOps, it is a piece of the overall IT ecosystem that is designed to support the business. The DevOps share of that puzzle has grown, but so has all of the pieces needed to support it. Security and infrastructure have to exist to support this new focus. While the spotlight may be illuminating DevOps practices, that doesn't mean those other supporting pieces have gone away. In fact, as the DevOps movement continues to grow, so does the infrastructure needed to support and secure it. Everyone deserves their 15 minutes of fame, and recently it's been the DevOps movement; look for security to get that same nod in 2017.

Jim O'Reilly, Volanto

What is DevOps? The answers -- and there are quite a few differing views -- are a bit like listening to a Deepak Chopra seminar. The definition is really what the listener wants it to mean. That's not to say there isn't value in the concept, however. That's because a large part of the DevOps movement is tied into fuzzy things like organizational culture and philosophy.

Applying the DevOps approach to IT in general means the teams have to figure out cooperation, even to the point of forming task forces that cross silo boundaries.

There are multiple stresses coming together to create DevOps ideas. First, in many larger IT organizations, people have fallen into the silo model of operating. Borders are well marked and even better guarded, resulting in an uncooperative or even combative spirit among teams. One aim of DevOps is to shake this up and refresh the way things are done and who does them.

Next, the cloud is causing quakes in IT. Many staffers worry about their jobs and being seen to be "with it," is a good idea today. DevOps harnesses this sentiment and gives the organization a way to evolve without self-destruction. For example, a CIO who is legacy-based and a bit set in his ways may set in motion a quiet revolution toward commercial off-the shelf products without having to bring in a guillotine.

Finally, we have the "agile" movement. While this has somewhat reached a level of cult status in programming, there's no denying it works to speed delivery. Still, we have to remember the agile approach was structured to pressure developers to deliver product in short increments of time, rather than going over schedule while over-polishing the product.

Docker and Jenkins are speeding up development even further, impacting quality assurance as well as coding. This means imbalances between aggressive development organizations and the operations side are increasingly likely. So a motive for the DevOps movement is to bring agile practices to the whole operation.

Applying the DevOps practices to IT in general means the teams have to figure out cooperation, even to the point of forming task forces that cross silo boundaries. Procedures need to be rewritten to eliminate bureaucracy and territorial protectionism. Most important, all the teams must learn flexibility in how they operate and how they interact.

The concept of cross-functional cooperation must reach out to the paying customer. If the intent is more agile and friendly operations within IT, the real value of the approach is satisfying those who use IT. With the cloud, independent thinkers are looking at running their own IT, perhaps renting software as a service apps in the process. If central IT is to maintain its dignity, the answer lies in a customer-friendly approach and carrying DevOps values across. Failure to build a flexible rapport with departmental customers will ultimately lead to the complete ascendancy of shadow IT.

As with most cultural changes, gurus have risen up to bring words of wisdom. These may or may not help forward motion, but none of them have a canned solution for the IT organization in need of a major do-over. In the end, it is the recognition of the need to change and the willingness of the team to evolve that builds a DevOps mindset.

A piece of advice, having gone through several of these types of exercises in past years: Appoint a leader or coordinator for the effort who can devote full time to understanding the issues and bringing change. Then, support that individual.

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