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Defining DevOps

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Over the last few years, I've spent quite a bit of time learning and discussing DevOps, as well as putting into practice DevOps principles and values. I’ve read several  articles that provide detailed descriptions of what DevOps is, and what DevOps is not. Most of these talk about moving development and operations teams closer together, the cultural changes involved, etc. But none of these provided me with a simple and satisfying definition for DevOps.

Until recently I was not able to clearly articulate what DevOps is. Then one day, when trying to describe what we are building at Nirmata to an investor, I said something to the effect of, “its all about enabling developers to perform operations, using automation”. That made sense to them; and, I've since started using the following definition for DevOps:

Developers doing Operations using Automation

The end goal of DevOps is to remove all obstacles for developers to rapidly deliver software features, fixes, and run experiments that result in business innovation.  A good first step towards this goal, for many enterprises, may very well be to move their development and operations teams closer together and improve communications between teams.  But this not enough. If your developers are waiting on IT resources, and unable to easily operate their own applications across environments, then you're not doing DevOps; at least not yet.


Slide 66: Adrian Cockroft, Fast Delivery

What should developers operate?

Let’s be clear: developers don’t want to operate infrastructure (compute, network, storage), manage OS images and patches, implement security policies, etc. You need a solid operations team for all that!

Developers do want to operate their applications, end-to-end. This means that developers should be able to rapidly release, deploy, and manage their application components in any environment, in a secure, scalable, and repeatable manner. This also means that developers are now responsible for making sure that their applications are always running properly in production.

Who provides the automation?

Enterprises are re-organizing around the concept of DevOps [2]. This does not mean creating a job with DevOps in the title. This means setting up a team whose charter is to enable DevOps, and end-to-end automation, within the Enterprise. In many enterprises, this is a Platform team that works closely with, and supports, several DevOps teams.


Slide 41: Adrian Cockroft, Fast Delivery

How is the automation performed?

Terms like automation and orchestration are used fairly loosely in our industry and can mean several things. To enable the automated delivery of applications, there are at least three relevant areas of automation to consider:

  • Infrastructure automation:  deliver compute, network, storage, and security  (Infrastructure as a Service)
  • Build automation: deliver application components as immutable images (Continuous Integration)
  • Application automation: deliver complete environments (Continuous Delivery)

Each area of automation has different needs, and no single tool will be able to address all of these well. For example, configuration management tools, like Chef and Ansible, are good at infrastructure automation, Jenkins is good for build automation, and newer solutions like Nirmata are purpose built for application automation.

To accomplish the automation required, your operations team will probably need to pick up some automation and programming skills. But that, again, is not the end goal of DevOps or what DevOps is all about.

An important point to consider, when selecting automation tools, is that enterprises will need visibility and control across all of these layers. Platforms that attempt to abstract away, or hide the underlying layers, will not work as they quickly become a bottleneck for making changes in the tool chain.


DevOps is:

Developers doing Operations using Automation

This is the simple definition for DevOps that I've started using. When using this definition, whether DevOps is a culture change, or whether its operations teams learning to code, or developers learning to operate, does not seem to matter as much. The goal is clear: get your business to succeed by enabling product development teams to innovate faster!

Let me know what you think, and if you have any suggestions on how we can improve our understanding of DevOps, and help move our industry forward.

Jim Bugwadia
Founder and CEO at nirmata.io


[1] Fast Delivery,  Adrian Cockroft,

[2] Organizing Enterprise DevOps, Jim Bugwadia

This article was first published at: http://nirmata.com/2015/02/defining-devops/

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