What Is DevOps?

DevOps is a term for a group of concepts that, while not all new, have catalyzed into a movement and are rapidly spreading throughout the technical community.  Like any new and popular term, people have somewhat confused and sometimes contradictory impressions of what it is.  Here’s my take on how DevOps can be usefully defined;

I propose this definition as a standard framework to more clearly discuss the various issues DevOps covers. Like “Quality” or “Agile,” DevOps is a large enough concept that it requires some nuance to fully understand.

Definition of DevOps

DevOps is a new term emerging from the collision of two major related trends. The first was also called “agile system administration” or “agile operations”; it sprang from applying newer Agile and Lean approaches to operations work.  The second is a much expanded understanding of the value of collaboration between development and operations staff throughout all stages of the development lifecycle when creating and operating a service, and how important operations has become in our increasingly service-oriented world

DevOps Tools

Tools you’d use in the commission of these principles. In the DevOps world there’s been an explosion of tools in release (jenkins, travis, teamcity), configuration management (puppet, chef, ansible, cfengine), orchestration (zookeeper, noah, mesos), monitoring, virtualization and containerization (AWS, OpenStack, vagrant, docker) and many more. While, as with Agile, it’s incorrect to say a tool is “a DevOps tool” in the sense that it will magically bring you DevOps, there are certainly specific tools being developed with the express goal of facilitating the above principles, methods, and practices, and a holistic understanding of DevOps should incorporate this layer.

In the end, DevOps is a little tricky to define, just like its older brother Agile. But it’s worth doing. When left at the pure philosophy level, both can seem like empty mom-and-apple-pie statements, subject to the criticism “You’re just telling me ‘do my job better,’ duh…” But conversely, just the practices without the higher level guidance turn into a cargo cult. “I do what this Scrum book says so I’m doing Agile” is as erroneous as “I’m using Chef so I’m DevOps right?” To be a successful Agile or DevOps practitioner is to understand all the layers that go into it, and what a given DevOps implementation might contain or not contain. In the end, what DevOps hopes to bring to Agile is the understanding and practice that software isn’t done until it’s successfully delivered to a user and meets their expectations around availability, performance, and pace of change.

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