Deep thinking on complex systems: A devops reading list

As I wrap up my series digging into the relationship between complex systems, devops, anti-fragility and IT systems, I wanted to give you a set of resources that you can use to explore this subject in much more depth. As I hope you’ve picked up from the series (which I’ve linked in its entirety below), these concepts are critical to the new agility that many enterprises are realizing from service-based IT models.

Getting started

Before you do anything else, if you haven’t already read The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win, by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford. If you don’t absolutely identify with the pain felt by the characters at the beginning of the book, or with the wisdom of the approach introduced by the end, then this concept probably won’t click with you. However, if you’ve spent any time involved in enterprise IT at all, I’m betting this book will hit home, both intellectually and emotionally.

After that, the previous posts in this series provide some good background, as well:

Complexity and anti-fragility

Although I don’t love everything about Nasem Taleb’s Anti-Fragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, it is undeniably one of the most important books I’ve read in a while. The reason for this is that it articulates a key concept that is often missed by those of us that seek resiliency in systems: that there is a class of systems that show a behavior that actually gains from randomness. In other words, they tend to move toward a “better” state over the course of both positive and negative variation in their environments. The post on risk and anti-fragility that I link to above covers this concept in more depth, but the book explores the concept in many different contexts.

The best book on complex systems that I’ve read to date remains Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, by M. Mitchell Waldrop. The telling for the story behind the founding of the Santa Fe Institute, still considered the hub of complex systems science, Waldrop’s book covers much of both the concepts and the methods of exploring complex systems (and its critical subset, complex adaptive systems). It is a little out of date now, however.

If you prefer to learn by doing, Margaret Mitchell’s “Introduction to Complexity” course through the Santa Fe Institute is an excellent 101- level course on the subject, though tilted heavily toward the academic study of the subject,. The only focus on practical applications comes via interviews with famous complex systems scientists.

Devops and continuous integration

For devops, in particular, there are a lot of great sources available online, as well:

I hope everyone has gained something from these posts. I certainly believe this shift in focus — from risk avoidance to anti-fragility, from a focus on stability to a focus on resilience, and from a focus on large-grained contextual systems to small-grained composable alternatives — will and is opening a whole new world of agility, experimentation and execution for enterprise IT. It’s a critical subject for every IT practitioner to understand.

This is, of course, only a partial list of the many amazing books, web sites, blogs and events that I’ve used to explore this topic. I encourage you to add your favorites to the comments below, or share them with me on Twitter, where I am @jamesurquhart.

James Urquhart is vice president of products at enStratius and a regular GigaOM contributor.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user Linda Parton.