Deliberations on DevOps

Report from the DevOps Conference

There is a growing movement in the tech world, which over the past couple of years—and even more so in the past few months—has gained significant momentum and is changing the way organizations operate and do business. Much like the industrial revolution, there is a push to increase production speeds through automation and streamlined work processes. The only difference is that now the product is virtual. The movement is called DevOps, and while early adopters are already reaping the benefits of this methodology, it is quickly becoming not only an advantage for businesses, but a necessity.

In late 2013, over 200 thought leaders came together in Boulder, Colorado for a first-of-its-kind DevOps conference hosted by JumpCloud and SoftLayer. The goal of the conference was to discuss the benefits of the growing DevOps movement, how organizations can achieve them and what it means culturally for a company to shift to adopt a DevOps methodology. The group’s thesis was that building and operating a DevOps organization will drive significant competitive advantages. The conference was a closed session for venture backed companies in the Foundry Group, TechStars, and Bullet Time Ventures’ portfolios—all rich with highly innovative companies and early adopters of DevOps.

For those not already familiar with the term, DevOps is a business process analogous to “Just In Time” manufacturing, with a focus on driving an organization from within IT. The IT organization helps the whole organization support the business goals through rapid product innovation, cross-functional alignment, and automation. Although this revolution originates in IT, don’t be fooled—the methodology encompasses the whole company and is heavily reliant on the breakdown of traditional workflow silos. There’s no question that IT can improve through the use of DevOps, but it won’t truly make an impact in your organization until sales, marketing, customer support, and your other departments embrace the efficiency-focused model.

With many believing DevOps to be a next generation of Agile, the conference also had some of the leading thinkers from the Agile world, including Ryan Martens, co-founder and CTO of Rally Software. We heard real world case studies from fast-growing companies such as Gnip and SendGrid. SoftLayer’s co-founder and Chief Scientist, Nathan Day, presented a session on automation and the early impact it has made on their business. For a sneak peek at some super-secret SoftLayer numbers around the impact automation has made on their business, take a look at the video. Additionally, there were great talks on security and DevOps, as well as panel discussions on the strategic value of the methodology and how to execute on it. Although the event was closed, each session is now available here for public consumption.

A survey of conference attendees also revealed some interesting statistical insights. The unifying theme of the conference was a consistent lack of time on the job, creating significant challenges for DevOps and IT professionals. Survey results pointed to a plethora of manual tasks as a leading contributor to time constraints. It’s not surprising, then, that organizations intrigued by DevOps are searching for ways to automate tasks and find more complete solutions that are easier to manage and deploy. The bottom line is that organizations need new models to effectively manage the explosion of virtual infrastructure.

When asked to identify the tasks that would benefit the most from and are ripe for automation, attendees most often identified deployment and patching. User management was next, and log file analysis and forensics was also cited often.

As is often typical at this kind of event, the hallway conversations proved very telling about the emerging DevOps movement. It was very clear that attendees were hungry for foundational information–definitions around what others thought DevOps was, where it started and where it ended, what tools were people using, and how the paradigm is affecting company culture. For many of these companies, there simply was no other alternative to DevOps. With limited resources, executing in a lean environment with rapid iteration was the only option. Collaboration on how to optimize the business methodology through cultural changes, process improvements, and automation tools was and is the end goal.

In short, the DevOps conference was the start of what should prove to be a long, interesting, challenging and rewarding journey toward the increased integration of IT and business. I for one can’t wait to see where the journey will take us.