Move to cloud makes DevOps even more important

As companies move more workloads to the cloud, DevOps, the practice where software developers actually work with the operations side of the house — becomes even more important, according to IT executives.

Developers and operations people still work in separate bubbles far too often, said Ben Rockwood, director of systems engineering for Joyent, speaking at the USENIX LISA 2011 Conference on Wednesday.

When the development side and business operations side collaborate, chances are the resulting apps and infrastructure will do what they are supposed to and satisfaction will be higher. That, in turn, can help contain the tendency of employees to spin up applications in the cloud — something IT pros have complained about since the advent of cloud computing. DevOps adoption could also mean the workloads that should be offloaded to SaaS providers, such as CRM), will be, but in a fully sanctioned way.

While a big proponent of cloud computing in general, Capgemini CTO Joe Coyle has one big reservation. “The worst part of cloud is it’s re-enabling the whole shadow IT world in a huge way.  In the old days, you’d worry when ARCnet networks popped up, and the next thing you knew, desktops were running all your mission-critical apps. That comes back with a vengeance now when someone with a credit card and $50 can spin up a bunch of Linux instances out on a public cloud,” he said.

Rockwood agreed cloud has changed the game completely in that developers can bypass IT at will — for better and worse.

On the plus side, developers tend to know a lot more about cloud APIs than inward-focused IT people. On the other hand, bad things can happen.

That’s something Joyent, which offers cloud services to customers, has witnessed first hand.

“A customer can fire up apps that we can flag as abuse,” Rockwood said. In one case, Joyent was about to shut a customer application down because of what looked like rogue activity in their account, but the customer’s development staff intervened at the last minute. “They told us that their internal IT guys suck, so they started up a big project with a private credit card.” That operation was satisfying some very important needs for that customer, but it was done completely outside the purview of official IT.

These communications gaps have to be plugged. The DevOps school holds that the overall process of building software implementations is an evolution and improvements can be incremental. It also needs to be holistic and involve all parties from the get go.

“If you want to start DevOps … take your developers, your management, and your ops teams and buy them a bunch of beers and chips.  You need to open a channel, sit together, ask questions and implement the no  [expletive deleted] rule,” Rockwood told the assembly of systems administrators at the show.

The stakes for failing to do so only get higher as cloud computing takes hold. The lesson IT has to learn is that it can no longer just say no to new apps that a business unit or developers want to try. It’s better off trying to accommodate and foster that creativity in as safe a way as possible.

Image courtesy of Flickr user cliff1066™