DevOps Scares Me – Part 2

What is DevOps?

In the first post of this series, my colleague Jim Hirschauer defined what DevOps means and how it impacts organizations. He concluded DevOps is defined as “A software development method that stresses communication, collaboration and integration between software developers and information technology professionals with the goal of automating as much as possible different operational processes.”

I like to think DevOps can be explained simply as operations working together with engineers to get things done faster in an automated and repeatable way.

DevOps Cycle

From developer to operations – one and the same?

As a developer I have always dabbled lightly in operations. I always wanted to focus on making my code great and let an operations team worry about setting up the production infrastructure. It used to be easy! I could just ftp my files to production, and voila! My app was live and it was time for a beer. Real applications are much more complex. As I evolved my skillset I started to do more and expand my operations knowledge.

Infrastructure Automation

When I was young you actually had to build a server from scratch, buy power and connectivity in a data center, and manually plug a machine into the network. After wearing the operations hat for a few years I have learned many operations tasks are mundane, manual, and often have to be done at two in the morning once something has gone wrong. DevOps is predicated on the idea that all elements of technology infrastructure can be controlled through code. With the rise of the cloud it can all be done in real-time via a web service.

Growing pains

When you are responsible for large distributed applications the operations complexity grows quickly.

  • How do you provision virtual machines?
  • How do you configure network devices and servers?
  • How do you deploy applications?
  • How do you collect and aggregate logs?
  • How do you monitor services?
  • How do you monitor network performance?
  • How do you monitor application performance?
  • How do you alert and remediate when there are problems?

Combining the power of developers and operations

The focus on the developer/operations collaboration enables a new approach to managing the complexity of real world operations. I believe the operations complexity breaks down into a few main categories: infrastructure automation, configuration management, deployment automation, log management, performance management, and monitoring. Below are some tools I have used to help solve these tasks.

Infrastructure Automation

Infrastructure automation solves the problem of having to be physically present in a data center to provision hardware and make network changes. The benefits of using cloud services is that costs scale linearly with demand and you can provision automatically as needed without having to pay for hardware up front.

Configuration Management

Configuration management solves the problem of having to manually install and configure packages once the hardware is in place. The benefit of using configuration automation solutions is that servers are deployed exactly the same way every time. If you need to make a change across ten thousand servers you only need to make the change in one place.

There are other vendor-specific DevOps tools as well:

Deployment Automation

Deployment automation solves the problem of deploying an application with an automated and repeatable process.

Log Management

Log management solves the problem of aggregating, storing, and analyzing all logs in one place.

Performance Management

Performance management is about ensuring your network and application are performing as expected and providing intelligence when you encounter problems.

Monitoring

Monitoring and alerting are a crucial piece to managing operations and making sure people are notified when infrastructure and related services go down.

In my next post of this series we will dive into each of these categories and explore the best tools available in the devops space. As always, please feel free to comment if you think I have missed something or if you have a request for content in an upcoming post.

Click here for DevOps Scares Me Part 3.

DevOps Scares Me – Part 1

Call of Duty: DevOpsDevOps is scary stuff for us pure Ops folks that thought they left coding behind a long, long time ago. Most of us Ops people can hack out some basic (or maybe even advanced) shell scripts in Perl, ksh, bash, csh, etc… But the term DevOps alone makes me cringe and think I might really need to know how to write code for real (which I don’t enjoy, that’s why I’m an ops guy in the first place).

So here’s my plan. I’m going to do a bunch of research, play with relevant tools (what fun is IT without tools?), and document everything I discover here in a series of blog posts. My goal is to educate myself and others so that we operations types can get more comfortable with DevOps. By breaking down this concept and figuring out what it really means, hopefully we can figure out how to transition pure Ops guys into this new IT management paradigm.

What is DevOps

Here we go, I’m probably about to open up Pandoras Box by trying to define what DevOps means but to me that is the foundation of everything else I will discuss in this series. I started my research by asking Google “what is devops”. Naturally, Wikipedia was the first result so that is where we will begin. The first sentence on Wikipedia defines DevOps as “a software development method that stresses communication, collaboration and integration between software developers and information technology (IT) professionals.” Hmmm… This is not a great start for us Ops folks who don’t really want anything to do with programming.

Reading further on down the page I see something more interesting to me … “The goal is to automate as much as possible different operational processes.” Now that is an idea I can stand behind. I have always been a fan of automating whatever repetitive processes that I can (usually by way of shell scripts).

Taking Comfort

My next stop on this DevOps train lead me to a very interesting blog post by the folks at the agile admin. In it they discuss the definition and history of DevOps. Here are some of the nuggets that were of particular interest to me:

  • “Effectively, you can define DevOps as system administrators participating in an agile development process alongside developers and using many of the same agile techniques for their systems work.”
  • “It’s a misconception that DevOps is coming from the development side of the house – DevOps, and its antecedents in agile operations, are largely being initiated out of operations teams.”
  • “The point is that all the participants in creating a product or system should collaborate from the beginning – business folks of various stripes, developers of various stripes, and operations folks of various stripes, and all this includes security, network, and whoever else.”

Wow, that’s a lot more comforting to my fragile psyche. The idea that DevOps is being largely initiated out of the operations side of the house makes me feel like I misunderstood the whole concept right from the start.

For even more perspective I read a great article on O’Reilly Radar from Mike Loukides. In it he explains the origins of dev and ops and shows how operations has been changing over the years to include much more automation of tasks and configurations. He also explains how there is no expectation of all knowing developer/operations super humans but instead that operations staff needs to work closely or even be in the same group as the development team.

When it comes right down to it there are developers and there are operations staff. The two groups have worked too far apart for far too long. The DevOps movement is an attempt to bring these worlds together so that they can achieve the effectiveness and efficiency that the business deserves. I really do feel a lot better about DevOps now that I have done more research into the basic meaning and I hope this helps some of you who were feeling intimidated like I was. In my next post I plan to break down common operations tasks and talk about the tools that are available to help automate those tasks and their associated processes.

As always, please feel free to comment if you think I have missed something or if you have a request for content in an upcoming post.

Click here for DevOps Scares Me Part 2.