10 years of DevOps? That’s a bit of a controversial title, but Jody Wolfborn and I have just returned from speaking at the 10th Anniversary DevOpsDays in Ghent, Belgium. When preparing for our talk, I took some time to look back at the history of DevOps to see if the ideals that were proposed by Patrick Debois and Andrew Shafer over ten years ago have progressed.
The history of how DevOps came to be has been recounted several times, but essentially both Patrick and Andrew had been frustrated. They talked at the Agile Conference in 2008 and formed the idea of Agile Systems Administration, and then in 2009, the first DevOps Days ran in Ghent, Belgium.
The Essence of DevOps
So what were the initial aims, and how have they progressed? Well, that is a tough question. Ask ten people what DevOps is about and you will get at least eleven answers, but I think referring to the Agile Manifesto is a good start
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Three of the four points here really stand out to me: the first, third and fourth. They are all about collaboration and communication. This for me is the essence of DevOps, the part that makes it special.
So, has it worked out?
Right after the first DevOps Days, Bart Vanbrabant wrote on his blog “Devops is much easier to do when you talk about a small team, where the developer is setting next to the sysadmin.” He lamented that there wasn’t a discussion about “How do you move from the current model in enterprises to the DevOps model?” This I think is something that has changed as time has progressed. Not only have enterprises become interested in DevOps, but I also think that the understanding of the value of communication has progressed. We spend a lot of time talking about breaking down silos and barriers, but silos and barriers can be essential to large enterprise functions. What is needed, and what I think a lot of people are starting to understand now, is communication across barriers and between silos. By establishing lines of communication and understanding the individual and shared responsibilities, you can start to build the pipelines and processes to achieve the velocity that DevOps advocates promise.
However, if we go back to the title, ‘10 Years of DevOps’; is it really ten years? I would say no, it is much longer. Yes, Patrick and Andrew coined the term ten years ago, but I think the ideas are much older. Chef is over ten years old, and wasn’t the first tool to embrace the idea of consistency and repeatability as Infrastructure as code, which is essential to establishing that baseline of trust. This baseline is essential so that the other teams you communicate and collaborate with are able to work consistently.
The concept of improved communication isn’t new either. Yes, many organisations may have seemed to have followed the trope that programmers just throw their software over the wall into the operations team, or that the security audits halt all progress in a software release. In reality, it never really works quite as communication free as that.Feedback paths have existed, QA teams will raise bug reports, security requirements have been defined in software specifications. Systems like ITIL and PRINCE for Software Lifecycle and Project Management try to establish trust and collaboration but can seem like overly rigid structures. Many people consider these systems as failures, but is that the system and frameworks, or misunderstandings by the people implementing and using them?
Has it really only been 10 years?
So has it really been ten years of DevOps? You could say not because we still have communication breakdowns, we still don’t have perfect releases every time, and we still disagree on what DevOps actually means, but I really think that yes, it has been ten years of DevOps. Despite the history that exists, despite the problems we still face, ten years ago a conversation started with focus, and has not stopped, and it is continually growing. DevOps has become a huge community. Patrick’s little conference in Ghent has grown to a network of conferences in 80 cities, with over 500 people coming to just the one in Ghent. If that isn’t focussing on communication, then I don’t know what is.
Check out the Presentations at DevOps Days Ghent at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctNzkslnrVE and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwRxN7TohO8 and our slides at https://www.slideshare.net/KimballJohnson1/pipelines-to-production