DevOps is a culture, not a title. Therefore, companies should follow DevOps principles, rather than hiring one savant to fix an entire organization’s delivery model.
I recently spoke with Uri Zaidenwerg, DevOps lead at Replix, to understand the current state of DevOps. As more robust DevOps tools emerge and practices proliferate across organizations, developers are now better equipped to own their applications end to end, including deployment, security and even cloud costs.
Extracting DevOps from the development cycle could defeat the purpose of de-siloing development and operations. Below, we’ll outline some reasons why you should focus on building a holistic culture instead of filling a DevOps engineer role.
1. DevOps Is a Culture, Not a Role
The first reason is also the most encompassing — DevOps is not a title; it is a culture. DevOps functions best as a mindset adopted across IT. Instead of hiring a dedicated role, all “developers should be doing operations,” said Zaidenwerg.
This means giving developers better visibility into DevOps KPIs, such as deployment frequency, deployment time, change failure rate, time to detection and availability, which we’ll explain in detail below.
2. Developers Know Their Application Code Best
Developers know their code better than anyone else. Diagnosing errors in an unfamiliar environment is tricky, and only programmers truly comprehend the ins and outs of their own code. If armed with DevOps skills, they could address problems much more efficiently than external eyes.
Zaidenwerg worked as a DevOps systems administrator, and described “what it’s like to have to monitor availability of an application that you did not code or build.” It’s difficult; simultaneously diagnosing multiple applications that you don’t know intimately is also quite challenging, he explained.
If you are unable to link errors to application processes quickly, it could hurt availability and SLAs. Instead, encouraging developers to diagnose issues could reduce time to remediation because they have more context, noted Zaidenwerg.
3. Developers See the Surrounding Environment
In addition to understanding how individual applications function, developers also have unique perspective into the surrounding environment — they realize the intricate network of dependencies and interconnections that make up a microservices system.
To see what’s going on, you really need to know how to code. “DevOps engineers need to be software developers,” said Zaidenwerg. Handing off DevOps tasks to an administrator who doesn’t have coding knowledge can severely limit their ability. They will not be able to dig into the code to address real issues or make pull requests confidently.
4. Separating Roles Keeps Ops in a Silo
Relegating DevOps responsibilities to a centralized team goes against a fundamental principle: de-siloing departments. “DevOps was invented to make that gap smaller,” said Zaidenwerg. Having a separate role would thus appear to contradict one of the fundamental tenets of the methodology.
“The point of a DevOps practice is that developer teams are empowered to control their own operations, not that you have specialists who know how to script operations,” said Tom Marsh, principal developer at Novartis, on Quora.
5. One DevOps Engineer Can’t Fight a Flood
As it stands, there are aren’t enough DevOps engineers to go around. According to answers on Quora, the ratio of DevOps engineers to developers tends to stand between 1:10 to 1:12. Zaidenwerg said he’s seen worse — from 5:50 to 6:120. Instead, he said, “Zero to zero is the optimal number.”
One DevOps engineer against a tidal wave of requests and application deployment pipelines is just not sustainable. “Can you imagine the amount of features and code that has been written?” asked Zaidenwerg. “The amount of fires they need to put out is huge.” And what happens when that single DevOps engineer goes on vacation? To avoid delays, he encourages developers to own their CI/CD process from end to end.
6. What Happens When DevOps Engineers Automate Their Job Away?
Another creed of DevOps and SRE practices is to introduce automation – with the ultimate goal being to automate their job away. But, if this were actually to occur, what happens to the DevOps engineer? Do they sit back and rake in the dividends of some upfront work for years afterward? It would make more sense to have programmers introduce automation into their workflows.
7. K8s + Other DevOps Tooling Empowers Developers
Powerful DevOps tools like Kubernetes, ELK stack and cloud infrastructure solutions now make it far more realistic to delegate more responsibility to the programmer themself. Democratizing “as-a-service” solutions for monitoring, load balancing or storage enables everyone to “share the burden of the DevOps work,” said Zaidenwerg.
Many organizations have begun to treat Kubernetes as a source of truth. Zaidenwerg wholeheartedly encourages this practice. “Everything should be managed on K8s, from K8s,” he said. “Try and think of K8s as your lowest layer.” Standardizing microservices around K8s helps retain platform-agnosticism for multi-cloud, he added.
How to Get There? Track DevOps KPIs
So, if we aren’t delegating DevOps tasks to a DevOps engineer, how can we encourage developers to embrace DevOps principles? To Zaidenwerg, the answer boils down to how we define success. Instead of gauging success using traditional development output metrics such as productivity, scrum or number of tasks completed, we need a culture that measures developer work using DevOps key performance indicators (KPIs).
There are many DevOps KPIs to consider. Some could be:
- Deployment frequency: How often do you commit?
- Deployment time: How long does it take from committing to the live environment?
- Automation: How automated is the build process?
- Availability: Is the program globally available and highly performant? What is the latency and uptime?
- Monitoring: Are you proactively monitoring and fixing issues in live environments?
- Optimizations: Is the application cost-effective? Can it be more efficient? Are there idle resources running?
- Policy as code: Are security policies automated as code? “Security needs to be written in code … if it’s done manually, you’re f**ked,” Zaidenberg said, bluntly.
- DRP: Is the application resilient? What is the disaster recovery plan (DRP)?
Of the above KPIs, optimization stands out, as rising cloud costs are an ever-present hurdle these days. Zaidenwerg encouraged developers to track cloud environment expenses. When you have a daily graph of spending, you can use this visibility to “create supporting systems to automatically take idle resources down,” he said. Others have described this as BizDevSecOps.
Encouraging DevOps Culture
Our cheeky headline is not meant to devalue those with DevOps in their title — on the contrary — hiring someone with this rare experience could greatly assist organizations in introducing DevOps principles. They could act as a model to help cultivate this culture.
In addition to tracking KPIs, Zaidenwerg recommended a top-down approach to spread DevOps principles. The methodology must be sanctioned and led by the CTO, architect or tech lead, depending on the company’s size. A DevOps culture is especially paramount for SaaS or IaaS companies, whose architecture must be more than error-proof — “It must succeed every single time,” Zaidenwerg stated.
Disseminating modern cloud best practices is also critical for building a DevOps culture. When you transition from hardware to the cloud, you often encounter similar tech (load balancers, firewalls, availability zones, etc.), yet with different names and implementation processes for each function, complicated by nuances between cloud service providers (CSPs). All this will require “translating on-premises best practices to cloud best practices,” described Zaidenwerg.
Another significant issue arises from the fact that DevOps isn’t really taught in college-level computer science courses. Looking to the future, Zaidenwerg (and myself) hope to see more emphasis within the education system. Instilling a DevOps mindset early on would better prepare developers for more real-world settings encompassing deployment, availability and security-as-code.
Whose House Is It?
Zaidenwerg likens a software application to someone’s house. The homeowner knows every detail — where the utensils are, how to work the shower nozzle, what day trash is picked up, etc. Invite a stranger into a new house, and they will be at a loss.
Similarly, inviting external Ops to manage a foreign infrastructure will put them at a loss. “If you let someone else deal with infrastructure, then you have two parties and no one is fully aware,” Zaidenwerg said.
To summarize — DevOps is a culture, not a role. Treating DevOps as a role, instead of as a practice, could defeat the purpose and cause siloed, slower-moving teams. Instead, tracking KPIs and empowering developers with DevOps tools could help them keep their house in order.
Of course, this is an evolving practice, and each organization will have its own understanding of what it means to implement DevOps. Now, do you still think it warrants the title? Please let us know in the comments below!