Testing the Mind

Why I hate DevOps

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DevOps. The latest software development fad. Now you can be Agile, use Continuous Delivery, and believe in DevOps.

Continuous Delivery (CD), the act of small, frequent, releases was defined in detail by Jez Humble and Dave Farley in their book – Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases Through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation. The approach makes a lot of sense and encourages a number of healthy behaviours in a team. For example, frequent releases more or less have to be small. Small releases are easier to understand, which in turn increases our chances of building good features, but also our chances of testing for the right risks. If you do run into problems during testing then it’s pretty easy to work out the change that caused them, reducing the time to debug and fix issues.

Unfortunately, along with all the good parts of CD we have a slight problem. The book focused on the areas which were considered to be the most broken, and unfortunately that led to the original CD description implying “Done” meant the code was shipped to production. As anyone who has ever worked on software will know, running code in production also requires a fair bit of work.

So, teams started adopting CD but no one was talking about how the Ops team fitted into the release cycle. Everything from knowing when production systems were in trouble, to reliable release systems was just assumed to be fully functional, and unnecessary for explanation.

To try to plug the gap DevOps rose up.

Now, just to make things even more confusing. Dave Farley later said that not talking about Ops was an omission and CD does include the entire development and release cycle, including running in production. So DevOps and CD have some overlap there.

DevOps does take a slightly different angle on the approach than CD. The emphasis for DevOps is on the collaboration rather than the process. Silos should be actively broken down to help developers understand systems well enough to be able to write good, robust and scalable code.

So far so good.

The problem is we now have teams saying they’re doing DevOps. By that they mean is they make small, frequent, releases to production AND the developers are working closely with the Ops team to get things out to production and to keep them running.

Sounds good. So what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is the name. We now have a term “DevOps” to describe the entire build, test, release approach. The problem is when you call something DevOps anyone who doesn’t identify themselves as a dev or as Ops automatically assumes they’re not part of the process.

Seriously, go and ask your designers what they think of DevOps. Or how about your testers. Or Product Managers. Or Customer Support.

And that’s a problem.

We’ve managed to take something that is completely dependant on collaboration, and trust, and name it in a way that excludes a significant number of people. All of the name suggestions that arise when you mention this are just ridiculous. DevTestOps? BusinessDevTestOps? DesignDevOps? Aside from just being stupid names these continue to exclude anyone who doesn’t have these words in their title.

So do I hate DevOps? Well no, not the practice. I think we should always be thinking about how things will actually work in production. We need an Ops team to help us do that so it makes total sense to have them involved in the process. Just take care with that name.

Is there a solution? Well, in my mind we’re still talking about collaboration above all else. Thinking about CD as “Delivery on demand” also makes more sense to me. We, the whole team, should be ready to deliver working software to the customer when they want it. By being aware of the confusion, and exclusion that some of these names create we can hopefully bring everyone into the project before it’s too late.

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