DevOps: Notes from IBM Innovate

posted by Julie Craig   | June 23, 2011 | 0 Comments

This has been an extremely busy spring for me, and I have been remiss in terms of blog entries. However I did want to briefly discuss some key takeaways from IBM’s recent Innovate conference, the annual get-together for Rational partners, customers, and sundry press and analysts.

As always, it was an energetic, dynamic event, but one of the highlights for me was a Speaker Session I did, along with three others, on “What’s Next in Collaboration between Development and Operations?” Participating with me were Pete Marshall (IBM Tivoli Strategy and Planning), Michael Rowe (IBM Rational Strategy and Market Development), and Dhiraj Gupta (Cap Gemini). This was the second year we presented together on DevOps, and I’m impressed with IBM’s foresight and ongoing focus in this area.

Interestingly enough, while there is a lot of hype about DevOps, everybody has a different idea of what it is. To ITIL bigots (and there was one in the audience), it’s all about ITSM. To tech heads, it’s all about tools. And to the anthropologically inclined, it’s all about culture.

All of us on the panel take a pretty pragmatic approach that combines all of the above. The interesting thing to me is that IBM has been messaging on DevOps for over ten years—they just didn’t call it that. When I worked as a Software Engineer for a large ISV, and soon after IBM acquired Tivoli, IBM invited engineers from multiple ISVs to Austin to discuss code instrumentation. Great idea that nobody (at my company) wanted to hear, as ISVs have a hard enough time getting software out the door without adding management code.

Five years ago I was part of an IBM video panel on which we discussed “Build to Manage”. Similar concept of building hooks into code so applications can be more easily managed in production. Still no mention of DevOps, but this was obviously a topic on IBM’s mind.

Over the years, IBM has focused on building bridges between Tivoli and Rational designed to deliver a “common language” across the diverse constituencies of Development and Operations. Very different skill sets, concerns, and tasks for the two groups, yet they are increasingly required to work together to solve production problems. Today, there are multiple bridges between the two products, such as reusing test scripts created for code testing (in Rational) for production application monitoring (in Tivoli). In fact, IBM’s focus on reuse would be hard to equal, and I have sniffed out multiple instances where IBM is doing this but basically not publicizing it.

I have watched the growth of DevOps over the years as well. I have been surveying on the rise of “cross-domain support teams” for years and watching the growth of such teams in the enterprise. They go by different names, such as Infrastructure Services, Centers of Excellence, Application Support, or even IT Architecture, but are composed of IT specialists with skills in multiple areas. In larger companies they tend to be dedicated teams, in smaller companies they tend to be more ad-hoc.

Typically they include both development and operations skills so it is often these teams that are taking on the DevOps role. EMA’s latest research shows that almost 60% of companies have such teams in place. They are clearly driven by the criticality and complexity of today’s applications, and the heterogeneity underlying them.

Speaker Sessions such as the one we did at Innovate demonstrate that DevOps is clearly an idea whose time has come. Some of the DevOps related issues mentioned in the session were:
• “Quality of Communication”: Finding a way for specialists with diverse skills to better communicate across silos to take a “1 + 1 = 3” approach to end-to-end application management. (This is a key role of integrated toolsets, in my opinion.)
• Building processes into toolsets: Put another way, attendees discussed the need for a “decrease in variance” in the way application-related issues are addressed. The specific type of toolset mentioned was trouble ticketing. Such products often build in routing capabilities that both enforce and measure business processes. I am also seeing the rise of a host of new types of products (check out Eccentex) which combine processes, documents, routing, and other capabilities in a way that could very well adapt to this purpose. (Caveat: Eccentex is marketed as cloud-based “Dynamic Case Management”- my comment is based on my own observation, not on any claim from Eccentex.).
• Measuring success: Attendees also discussed the need to measure DevOps outcomes, which is an emerging discipline that will likely be a hot topic in the next year or two.

To sum up, while DevOps is hot, it is definitely not new. IBM’s ongoing efforts over the years, as well as my own research, anticipated the trend some time ago. Today, it is encouraging to me to see it materialize, particularly since the market is so ripe for a “better” way to manage applications and services.

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