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Avoid disruption through exploration

Support experimentation and continuously evaluate to stay ahead.

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Businesses have always come and gone, but these days it seems that companies can fall from market dominance to bankruptcy in the blink of an eye. Kodak, Blockbuster and HMV are just a few recent victims of the rapid market disruption that defines the current era.

Where did these once iconic companies go wrong? To my mind, they forgot to keep challenging their assumptions about what business they were actually in.

Businesses have two options when they plan for the road ahead: they can put all their eggs into one basket, and risk losing everything if that basket has a hole in the bottom, or they can make a number of small bets, accepting that some will fail while others succeed.

Taking the latter approach, and making many small bets on innovation, transforms the boardroom into a roulette table. Unlike a punter in a casino, however, businesses cannot afford to stop making bets.

Business models are transient and prone to disruption by changes in markets and the external competitive environment, advances in design and technology, and wider social and economic change. Organizations that misjudge their purpose, or cannot sense and then adapt to these changes, will perish.

The sad truth is that too many established organizations focus most of their time and resources on executing and optimizing their existing business models in order to maximize profits. They forget to experiment and explore new ideas for customer needs of tomorrow.

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What containers can do for you

Docker, Rocket, and big industry changes are making it a great time to seriously consider using containers.

Container Image: CC BY-SA 2.0 Photocapy https://www.flickr.com/photos/photocapy/252737232/in/photostream/

If you read any IT news these days it’s hard to miss a headline about “the container revolution.” Docker’s year-and-a-half-old engine had a monopoly on the buzz until CoreOS launched its own project, Rocket, in December.

The technology behind containers can seem esoteric, but the advantages of bringing containers to your organization are more compelling than ever. And containers’ inherent portability opens up exciting new opportunities for how organizations host their applications.

Containerization is having its moment and there’s never been a better time to check it out for yourself.

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DevOps keeps it cool with ICE

How inclusivity, complexity, and empathy are shaping DevOps.

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Over the next five years, three ideas will be central to DevOps: the need for the DevOps community to become more Inclusive; the realization that increasing Complexity of systems is the underlying reason for DevOps; and the critical role of Empathy in the growth and adoption of DevOps. Channeling John Willis, I’ll coin my own DevOps acronym, ICE, which is shorthand for Inclusivity, Complexity, Empathy.

Inclusivity

There is a major expansion of the DevOps community underway, and it’s taking DevOps far beyond its roots in agile systems administration at “unicorn” companies (e.g., Etsy or Netflix). For instance, a significant majority (80-90%) of participants at the Ghent conference were first-time attendees, and this was also the case for many of the devopsdays in 2014 (NYC, Chicago, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and others). Moreover, although areas outside development and operations were still underrepresented, there was a more even split between developers and operations folks than at previous events. It’s also not an accident that the DevOps Enterprise conference took place the week prior to the fifth anniversary devopsdays and included talks about the DevOps journeys at large “traditional” organizations like Blackboard, Disney, GE, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Raytheon, Target, UK.gov, US DHS, and many others.

The DevOps community has always been open and inclusive, and that’s one of the reasons why in the five years since the word “DevOps” was coined, no single, widely accepted definition or practice has emerged. The lack of definition is more of a blessing than a curse, as DevOps continues to be an open conversation about ways of making our organizations better. Within the DevOps community, old-time practitioners and “newbies” have much to learn from each other.

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The DevOps identity crisis

Why DevOps needs a manifesto after all, but may never get one.

Image: CC BY-SA 2.0 Libby Levi for opensource.com

DevOps is everywhere! The growth and mindshare of the movement is remarkable. But if you care deeply about DevOps, you might agree with me when I say that although its moment has “arrived,” DevOps is in serious trouble. The movement is fragmented and weakly defined, and is being usurped by those who care more about short-term opportunities than the long-term viability of DevOps.

They are the ninety-nine percent, and nobody cares

How bad could it be? Travel back in time. It is mid-November 2011, and Occupy Wall Street is occupying the headlines. One of the major reasons is that the protestors are targeting shipping ports on the West Coast, causing shutdowns and even violence. As things are getting out of hand, parts of the movement start condemning these actions as counter-productive, hurting the 99% instead of the intended 1%. Spokespeople for the movement are quoted in the media as saying the instigators “don’t represent the movement.”

Why did the Occupy movement become a footnote in history so fast? There were several reasons: there was no cohesive agreement on its identity, values, goals, and mission; in an effort to be unlike “them,” the OWS proponents avoided anything that looked like centralized leadership; and it seemed to be entirely negative, advocating nothing to replace what it wanted to remove.

I believe a similar thing is happening to DevOps right now, for many of the same reasons. Let’s talk about some of these problems.

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Chop wood, carry water

The daily work of building and deploying complex software.

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You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started. — Anne Lamott, bird by bird

Words like ‘persistence’ and ‘work’ rarely show up in the same sentence as DevOps. It is more likely to be characterized as that One Weird Trick that will suddenly make your entire software development and deployment pipeline work faster and without failure every time. There are DevOps consultants and entrepreneurs — people and companies promising jetpacks and hovercrafts delivered on schedule and with cost savings. This is the software equivalent of the legendary savant writer struck by divine genius, churning out perfect page after page without fail and swimming in millions from her bestselling novels.

In reality, DevOps is quite similar to writing — it requires concerted, daily effort — but instead of sitting down to write every day, the principles look something more like:

  • Release regularly
  • Release in small chunks
  • Test in production (or, less provocatively: do not expect to release something perfect all the time)
  • Collect system/performance data and user feedback
  • Refine, optimize, repeat

There is no mad genius about writing, just as there is no secret sauce of DevOps. Read more…

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The computing of distrust

A look at what lies ahead in the disenchanted age of postmodern computing.

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Sometime last summer, I ran into the phrase “postmodern computing.” I don’t remember where, but it struck me as a powerful way to understand an important shift in the industry. What is different in the industry? How are 2014 and 2015 different from 2004 and 2005?

If we’re going to understand what “postmodern computing” means, we first have to understand “modern” computing. And to do that, we also have to understand modernism and postmodernism. After all, “modern” and “postmodern” only have meaning relative to each other; they’re both about a particular historical arc, not a single moment in time.

Some years back, I was given a history of St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church in New Haven, carefully annotated wherever a member of my family had played a part. One story that stood out from early in the 20th century was AHEPA: the American-Hellenic Progressive Association. The mere existence of that organization in the 1920s says more about modernism than any number of literary analyses. In AHEPA, and in many other similar societies crossing many churches and many ethnic groups, people were betting on the future. The future is going to be better than the present. We were poor dirt farmers in the Old Country; now we’re here, and we’re going to build a better future for ourselves and our children. Read more…

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