Anytime there is a popular movement in technology (and I would argue any other field), people get carried away. We’ve seen it over and over, and DevOps attracts this kind of attention. In fact, DevOps caters to those who get carried away by mainstream folks screaming, “THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!” That type of hyperbole pushes those who get carried away even further. And marketing always takes things to whatever place they have to in order to, well, sell their ideas to the market.
Rack ’em Stack ’em Robots
My all-time favorite purposeful over-the-top is the tendency to pretend that prior to the cloud, every project was started with “rack ’em, stack ’em.” This is demonstrably false, as by the time the cloud was taking off, VMware’s market penetration was significant. And yet, the number of blogs/amount of marketing material that starts out with the premise that every application required waiting for physical server delivery and configuration is insanely high.
No. Enterprises, in particular, had to wait for VM allocation and configuration.
Another that isn’t really mainstream—and I’ve mentioned in other locations—is the AWS TCO calculator. The simple calculator is not a bad tool, and I’ve used it numerous times in the past, but the TCO calculator makes some assumptions about deployment costs that are a little wild, such as that TCO includes the cost of VMware and its supporting hardware for an individual app. Of course, that’s not how enterprises do it. There is a VMware infrastructure and it is shared across apps. While it would increase the complexity a tiny bit, a simple checkbox that asks, “Do you already have a VMware cluster?” would go a long way—or better, one that asks how many apps you are running on VMware and divides the overhead by that number before including it in TCO. But of course, if you are getting your TCO comparisons from a competitor, expect the TCO will be stilted, no matter who is generating it.
Whether it is infrastructure orchestration or app deployment, there is a lot of content out there that talks about how much easier infrastructure as code will be, and how much less documentation we will need. This, sadly, is a bogus premise. Whether you’re using the 50,000 service offerings of AWS or the power of HashiCorp’s Terraform—or any of half a dozen other competitors—it is complex. We’re not doing anyone any favors by glossing over the complexity that inevitably occurs in enterprise-class deployments, and we’re doing a massive disservice every time someone claims that documentation needs will be less because it’s “self-documenting code.” Self-documenting code sucks without a ton of comments in App Dev, and it’s worse in deployment. Employees new to the process need, and should be provided, solid documentation on how the system works and where different pieces fit.
We’re deploying complex apps on complex infrastructures with evermore complex compliance and security requirements. It is not simple.
All or Nothing
There is a belief among too many aficionados that their way is the “One True Way.” The fact of the matter is that all enterprise application portfolios are complex and there is a metric ton of extant code that must be managed. A startup with one web-based app (no matter how large it may be) or a games developer focused on Android as its only platform might well have agile and DevOps as their only development/deployment methodology. No one else does. The enterprise running a hundred or a thousand different apps on several platforms is not going to flick a switch and say, “We’re all X now,” no matter what X is. Anyone who has tried to standardize the database in an enterprise knows that just doesn’t happen (I did, as an architect in a financial services org. It was ugly).
Some projects are simply great fits for agile and DevOps—those with a high rate of change, where a little bit of instability in return for rapid feature rollout—while others simply are not—ones that maintain data that must be rock-solid, ones with a low level of change, etc. Any given enterprise is a mix of these things. Back in the days of the language wars, I used to say, “Right tool for the job,” and today, in the days of the architecture/automation wars, I say the same thing. If the project is rapidly evolving and you want lots of small changes in a constant stream, agile and DevOps are the right tools. If the project moves slowly and has an emphasis on stability or data quality, it’s not a great candidate for these tools at this time.
I’ve talked about some of the bad vendors in this post, so I’ll call out IBM for being a good vendor on this point. Looking at the company’s model for moving the mainframe is a good example of how you could look at all of your IT, because IBM doesn’t say, “This changes everything!” It says, “Here’s how to tell what offers the most bang for the buck in moving to agile and DevOps.”
Just Keep Rocking It
Working in IT? You’ve been keeping your org running. Don’t start second-guessing your gut now just because the new shiny is being waved in front of you. Learn, change, do. But don’t rush into something with misinformation. Obey your gut and keep rocking your org’s world.