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Other Voices: Is DevOps Subversive?


Jake Sorofman is chief marketing officer for rPath and can be contacted jsorofman@rpath.com


If you follow DevOps, you're probably familiar with the sentiment that this burgeoning movement could have mildly subversive motives. As a solution to the dev/ops bottleneck, one advocate recently proposed:

"Hire wicked smart people and give them all access to root."

While this may be a rally cry for radicals and revolutionaries, it does tend to trivialize roles and processes in IT and probably doesn't engender trust with the mainstream -- nor does it correct the perception that DevOps may breed a cowboy culture.

To be clear, I don't at all believe that DevOps is meant to be subversive. In fact, I believe deeply in the premise of DevOps and see it as a necessary evolution for IT. But I can certainly see how some are led to fear what it stands for.

To some, DevOps seems to minimize principles of governance, repeatability, separation of duties and other good practices of mature IT organizations. To these folks, DevOps seems like the oil to ITIL's water.

I came across a post by John Vincent that does a masterful job of describing why DevOps -- for all its goodness -- collides headlong with certain enterprise realities.

Advocates for DevOps often unwittingly fuel the perception that this worthy movement is one giant end run around traditional IT operations. While I'm certain this is not the intent, we're all familiar with the maxim that perception is reality.

Like many anti-establishment movements:

  • DevOps is super-smart. DevOps focuses on the contributions of the most gifted few to make IT run --the script wranglers, the mavericks and artisans. It often minimizes the fact that genius is neither scalable nor repeatable.
  • DevOps is provocative. DevOps advocacy sometimes pokes its collective finger in the eye of the IT establishment, galvanizing the support of the few who 'get it,' but perhaps alienating those who don't—those who represent the IT majority.

Of course, smart and provocative are not bad things; in fact, they're essential to any movement for change (can you imagine the American Revolution led by passive everymen without conviction and a strong point of view?).

The secret is using smart and provocative as a bridge instead of a wedge.

Today, DevOps is gaining traction in the world of web ops but hasn't found its home in traditional enterprise IT. At the risk of some heckling, I'll go out on a limb and suggest that, for some DevOps advocates, this fact is worn as a badge of honor: Mainstream attention means that DevOps has jumped the shark.

The principles of DevOps are undoubtedly right on: Compounding scale, accelerating change and contracting budgets are forcing IT to the brink. At the same time, public cloud is emerging as a model for the future of IT: self-service, automated and elastic. The universally accepted truth is that IT is under pressure to change. Is DevOps at the heart of this change? I certainly hope so.

But the question remains: Will the revolution take hold or will it become a footnote in history -- a fringe movement that fails to connect with the mainstream?

In my view, the future of DevOps depends upon cooperation with mainstream IT -- perhaps DevOps thought leaders collaborating with (gasp!) ITIL thought leaders.

Maybe there's a way to turn oil and water into peanut butter and chocolate?

I think it's worth exploring. What do you think?


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