What is DevOps?

Since landing myself in a new and unexplored terrain as a freshly minted DevOps admin, I have been thinking a lot about what exactly DevOps is and how I will translate my skills moving into the position.  I am very excited to have the opportunity to work in such a new and powerful area of IT (and at such a sweet company!) but really think I need to lay out some of the groundwork behind what DevOps is, to help strengthen my own understanding and hopefully to help others grasp some of the concepts and ideas behind it.

I have been hearing more and more about DevOps philosophy and its growing influence and adoption in the world of IT, especially in fast paced, cloud and start up companies.  From what I have seen so far, I think I people really need to start looking at the impact that DevOps is making in the realm of system administration and how to set themselves up to succeed in this profession moving forward.

Here is the official DevOps description on Wikipedia:

DevOps is a software development method that stresses communication, collaboration and integration between software developers and information technology (IT) professionals.  DevOps is a response to the interdependence of software development and IT operations. It aims to help an organization rapidly produce software products and services.

While this is a solid description, there still seems to be a large amount of confusion about what exactly DevOps is so I’d like to address some of the key ideas and views that go along with its mentality and application to system administration.  To me, DevOps can be thought of as a combination of the best practices that a career in operations has to offer with many of the concepts and ideas that are used in the world of development.  Especially those derived from Agile and Scrum.

The great thing about DevOps is that since it is so new, there is really no universally accepted definition of what it is limited to.  This means that those who are currently involved in the DevOps development and adoption are essentially creating a new discipline, adding to it as they go.  A current DevOps admin can be described in simple terms as a systems admin that works closely with developers to decrease the gap between operations and development.  But that is not the main strength that DevOps offers and really just hits the tip of the ice burg for what DevOps actually is and means.

For one, DevOps offers a sort of cultural shift in the IT environment.  Traditionally in IT landscapes, there has been somewhat of a divide between operations and development.  You can think of this divide as a wall built between the dev and the ops teams either due to siloing of job skills and responsibilities or how the organization at broader perspective operates.  Because of this dissection of duties, there is typically little to no overlap between the tool sets or thought process between the dev or ops teams, which can cause serious headaches trying to get products out the door.

So how do you fix this?

In practical application, the principals of DevOps can put into practice using things like Continuous Integration tools , configuration management, logging and monitoring, creating a standardized test, dev and QA environments, etc.  The DevOps mindset and culture has many of its roots in environments of rapid growth and change.  An example of this philosophy put in to practice is at start up companies that rely on getting their product to market as quickly as smoothly as possible.  The good news is that larger enterprise IT environments are beginning to look at some of the benefits of this approach and starting to tear down the walls of the silos.

Some of the benefits of DevOps include:

  • Increased stability in your environment (embracing config management and version control)
  • Faster resolution of problems (decrease MTT)
  • Continuous software delivery (increasing release frequency brings ideas to market faster)
  • Much faster software development life cycles
  • Quicker interaction and feedback loops for key business stakeholders
  • Automate otherwise cumbersome and tedious tasks to free up time for devs and ops teams

These are some powerful concepts.  And the benefits here cannot be underestimated because at the end of the day the company you work for is in the business of making money.  And the faster they can make changes to become more marketable and competitive in the market the better.

One final topic I’d like to cover is programming.  If you are even remotely interested in DevOps you should learn to program, if you don’t know already.  This is the general direction of the discipline and if you don’t have a solid foundation to work from you will not be putting yourself into the best position to progress your career.  This doesn’t mean you have to be a developer, but IMO you have have to at least know and understand what the developers are talking about.  It is also very useful to know programming for all of the various scripting and automation tasks that are involved in DevOps.  Not only will you be able to debug issues with other software, scripts and programs but you will be a much more valuable asset to your team if you can be trusted to get things done and help get product shipped out the door.

Josh Reichardt

Josh is the creator of this blog, a system administrator and a contributor to other technology communities such as /r/sysadmin and Ops School. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.