Untangling (And Understanding) DevOps - InformationWeek

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John Edwards
John Edwards
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Untangling (And Understanding) DevOps

Everybody's talking about DevOps, but how many really understand how to build or deploy an effective strategy?

When Michael Strange, a vice president in the Los Angeles office of technology consulting firm Pariveda Solutions, looks at DevOps he sees a set of practices with significant power and potential buried under a mountain of confusion and misunderstanding.

"DevOps is a series of processes and tools that comes with this high-level moniker that our industry tends to love," says Strange, who will lead the session DevOps: A Practical Framework for Technology, Process and Organizational Change, at Interop ITX on May 18. "We love titles like 'DevOps' and 'Big Data' that are simply massive and overwhelming when you look at the topic as a whole."

Strange believes that DevOps is best viewed as the natural extension of a long series of activities and principles, such as Agile, that have been designed to inspire productivity, efficiency, teamwork and innovation. "One of the fundamental premises of the integration of developers and operational awareness is that developers and their companies should, and could, benefit from greater involvement throughout the entire development chain," he says.

Michal Strange, Pariveda
Michal Strange, Pariveda

Getting started

Although DevOps' intrinsic value is rarely questioned, many enterprises still don't quite understand how to build or deploy an effective DevOps strategy. "When you talk about DevOps, there are so many different components of what that could possibly be, and so many different goals and drivers of what could cause a company to want to explore these topics, that it is very possible to have confusion from the very beginning," Strange says.

As Strange sees it, the biggest adoption roadblock is a failure to zero-in on a goal or collection of goals. "This is not surprising," he notes. "That’s true in the cloud and true in lots of things."

DevOps goals can be as simple and fundamental as improving quality or cutting costs. Yet some enterprises also seek more elusive targets, such as ownership, accountability, or role definition. "It could be the elimination of key-person dependence or, in the case of a technology company like Google, a desire to foster innovation," Strange says. "There's a whole series of possible goals, and the way to ready your organization for DevOps completely changes based on those goals."

A team journey

After the DevOps goals have been established, the enterprise needs to engage in a period of introspection. "Understanding exactly where you are organizationally in terms of maturity, and what your target maturity is, is super-important to letting out any kind of a realistic plan," Strange says.

Constantly encouraging honest, straightforward discussions among all stakeholders is essential for long-term DevOps success. "You need to leave space for people to have debates," Strange says.  "Pick a couple of topics that very few people disagree with and start there." Strange also recommends implementing Agile, committing to continuous deployment and creating a cloud-based development environment. "Move in this direction, and then work with your own people to decide what matches your culture," he suggests.

A big mistake many enterprises make, Strange says, is approaching DevOps as a project. "DevOps is not a project that you start and end," he says. "It’s a decision to implement a series of processes, roles, tools and methods that are going to be continuously refined."

Strange compares DevOps to Kaizen, the Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement. "That's more a philosophy linked to numerous processes, but it’s a similar kind of a thing," he notes. "You have to continue to explore processes and, for the most part, explore improvements iteratively."


John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic ... View Full Bio
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