APIs and DevOps

As always, there are interesting trends in DevOps, and I wanted to point out one that is starting to bother me: the “API economy,” and how it impacts DevOps decision-makers.

Traditional infrastructure—SAN, LAN, physical systems, etc.—were generally controlled the best from the command line. While there are a million of them, Cisco IOS is probably the one that you’ll remember best (or you stopped using to read this—just depends upon the shop). When large-scale automation started, these command lines became a bit problematic. After all, scripting was possible, but painful, and often had non-portable hardcoded values.

Virtualization, and later cloud—and even later SDN and NFV—all made this better, but on a layer over the top of (and normally not well integrated with) the physical layer. Years ago I bemoaned that we had doubled the workload of operations by re-implementing what was already implemented at the physical layer. So we were configuring the physical—even for cloud you have to get to the cloud—and then configuring the virtual.

Then “Software Devs as Kingmakers” came along, followed by “the API Economy,” and finally we started to see some serious attention paid to APIs by infrastructure vendors that should have done so long ago (some former employers of mine might belong in this group).

Here is the thing: There is a difference between having an API and having an API that is useful. When shopping for solutions, be they physical or software, don’t allow APIs to be a check box because it’s “the API Economy.” And don’t assume that an API useful to DEVops is what is needed to automate infrastructure. Monitoring APIs—particularly ones that provide you detailed information about an app as it runs—are useful to DEVops, and assuming you have tools that are or can be integrated, might provide value to devOPS.

But monitoring is not management. devOPS is increasingly automated, and increasingly needs viable APIs that can help them deploy/configure infrastructure. Vendors are responding, but the quality of APIs at this point in time varies widely. So make certain that evaluation looks at APIs available with an eye to suitability to task. devOPS needs management and might be able to use monitoring, while DEVops generally needs monitoring and has little use for management.

This is not 100% true of course, there are a billion different shops, most doing things in slightly different ways, but think of storage (because it can be done in few enough words to fit in a blog)… An app needs access to storage, ways to be notified of storage space limitations, and possibly to metadata. Operations needs to provision, migrate, backup, replicate… The list goes on. These all contribute to the availability and quality of the application, and are all DevOps, but the focus is different. And having a simple “number of blocks free” API will not help with the DevOPS needs even if it helps developers manage a piece of the application.

But we have more options than we ever did before! So fear not, just watch what your prospective vendors are doing, and check in with long-term vendors on occasion, too—because things are constantly changing, nearly always improving.

And keep rocking it. Presumably you are working this out already, knowingly or not, or you wouldn’t have time to read this blog.

Don Macvittie

20 year veteran leading a new technology consulting firm focused on the dev side of DevOps, Cloud, Security, and Application Development.

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