Is DevOps Hitting Its Own Glass Ceiling?
July 27, 2020

Jon Collins
Gigaom

Where are you on your DevOps journey? First let me say that if your large-scale corporation or public body already has this DevOps thing nailed, feel free to stop reading now, and indeed I'd love to hear from you about what you did.

For the enterprise organizations I speak to, DevOps is something that happens in pockets. Smaller, newer businesses have the benefit of a lack of scale, which means things can happen fast out of the gate. Keeping things small, against all odds, is a route to success: on one software project I was involved in, with hundreds of developers, I wished I could take ten of the people involved and hide them away. That way, I thought, they could build the product everyone else was working on (and which, ultimately, was never delivered). But even had I succeeded, there would have been a point where the team had to engage with the wider world.

The fact is that DevOps is not "the easy path in a world where everything else is hard," and it is never going to be. Sooner or later, even small teams have to grow; external collaborators have to be involved; and larger strategic needs have to be encompassed. In a previous blog I talked about the importance of visibility, the ability to measure, and thus set direction. This is one tool in the toolchest for development organizations looking to grow, but it won't create a magical oasis of success in the middle of an organization that doesn't want to change.

And meanwhile, a bunch of other things need to be taken into account. Risk management, security and compliance cannot be ignored until the end of the software lifecycle. Complex requirements need to be managed and maintained. Modern architectures need to work with existing applications and legacy data. Infrastructure choices are a swirl of cloud providers and in-house services. Teams are neither in-house nor outsourced, but somewhere in between as businesses look to recruit engineers. A wide variety of stakeholders need to be involved, their views and priorities not only heard but responded to. The list goes on.

Time is not on anybody's side, due to another factor, writ large by the current pressures of Covid-19: that businesses are growing increasingly impatient with their IT organizations, or more specifically, with their rate of delivery. Those new features that might bring new business at some point in the future? Yes, they've moved up the priority list overnight, and have become perhaps the only thing that might keep the organization afloat. I may be overstating things but you get the picture.

As a result we see software teams reflecting dual, and indeed conflicting personality types. There's no route back to waterfall models with two-year cycles; meanwhile, the aspirational goals of DevOps-type models are great in principle, but imply too great a mountain to climb. So, we see sprints and scrums, CI and CD terminology being used, even as managers revert to linear practices and coping strategies. As a general trend, bluntly, we are not on a path to DevOps success, any more than we are on a path to SEI CMM Level 5 optimal delivery. And just saying "Do more DevOps" is not going to cut it.

Don't get me wrong: I'm more optimistic than disheartened. I have it on good authority from organizations I speak to that the principles of DevOps are sound: for evidence, here's an interview with Harbinder Kang, Global Head of Developer Operations at Finastra, who has seen a great deal of success from engaging with development teams, applying the right metrics and building on success. For this kind of story to be scaled pan-enterprise however, we need to take into account the needs of large-scale organizations by design, rather than treating these needs as annoyances that get in the way of progress.

DevOps doesn't need to change its core principles, but the way we approach delivering on its goals needs a rethink. DevOps cannot be imposed on the enterprise, any more than the methodologies and best practices it has superseded. As someone who has been involved in many of them, delivered the training, offered the mentoring and most importantly, seen the green shoots of success, I have a vested interest in this.

While it can't simply be dropped into an organization as-is, DevOps can nonetheless mature and evolve in how it embraces the realities of larger organizations: not least in all their glorious complexity, their collaborative nature, and need to deliver compliance at every stage. These are not "shift-left" add-ons, but core elements of how DevOps success needs to be measured, and built upon. For more on this, you can draw some comfort from looking at how safety-critical environments (such as healthcare equipment) can nonetheless act in an agile, innovative manner.

So, alongside where you are on your DevOps journey, I would add another question: where is DevOps in its own evolution?

I see areas such as Value Stream Management as both success factors and illustrators of a best practice approach that is maturing in its own right. Above all, I would not be disheartened if you are finding that DevOps is not working for you, for two reasons:

First, innovation will always be hard, and rapid change in a complex environment is inherently stressful.

Second, the practices, tools, and platforms upon which you stand also have their work cut out if they are going to meet your needs, against a background of fast-evolving infrastructure and an increasingly demanding business and customer audience.

So, hang in there, keep the faith and work on getting the basics right, even as higher-order best practices gain a better understanding of enterprise needs and change accordingly. We all have our work to do.

Jon Collins is VP of Research for Gigaom
Share this

Industry News

May 25, 2022

JFrog introduced Project Pyrsia, an open-source software community initiative that utilizes blockchain technology to secure software packages (A.K.A Binaries) from vulnerabilities and malicious code.

May 25, 2022

Kasm Technologies, in partnership with Docker, has developed Kasm Workspaces as a Containerized Desktop Infrastructure platform for streaming remote workspaces directly to your web browser.

May 25, 2022

Cascadeo announced the integration of Amazon DevOps Guru with cascadeo.io, Cascadeo’s cloud monitoring and management platform that provides users with a single view of multi-cloud or hybrid infrastructure environments.

May 24, 2022

Oracle announced the availability of Java 18, the latest version of the programming language and development platform.

May 24, 2022

Docker announced the acquisition of Tilt, makers of a development environment as code for teams on Kubernetes.

May 24, 2022

F5 announced the release of F5 NGINX for Microsoft Azure, an Azure-native service offering developed in partnership with Microsoft, that helps customers deliver modern applications on Azure with just a few clicks.

May 24, 2022

Pegasystems announced a strategic partnership with Google Cloud that will help enable joint clients to accelerate their digital transformations with Pega’s low-code enterprise software on Google Cloud’s highly scalable cloud services.

May 23, 2022

Sauce Labs announced the release of contract testing with mocking on the Sauce Labs API Testing Platform.

May 23, 2022

Pure Storage announced a series of updates to its Portworx portfolio.

May 23, 2022

StackHawk has secured $20.7 million in capital.

May 19, 2022

Jellyfish announced the launch of Jellyfish Benchmarks, a way to add context around engineering metrics and performance by introducing a method for comparison.

May 19, 2022

Solo.io announced the addition and integration of Cilium networking into its Gloo Mesh platform, providing a complete application-networking solution for companies’ cloud-native digital transformation efforts.

May 19, 2022

Aqua Security announced multiple updates to Aqua Trivy, making it a unified scanner for cloud native security.

May 18, 2022

Red Hat unveiled updates across its portfolio of developer tools designed to help organizations build and deliver applications faster and more consistently across Kubernetes-based hybrid and multicloud environments.

May 18, 2022

Armory announced public early access to their new Continuous Deployment-as-a-Service product.