Isn’t that the way it always works? A person’s strength can also be their weakness. A company’s killer product becomes their Achilles heel as the market shifts. As more and more companies make the shift to DevOps, it’s interesting to learn what’s working, what the opportunities are, and what the impediments are. As many of you know, my company, JumpCloud, along with SoftLayer hosted the 2013 DevOps Conference in Boulder, CO. We had over 200 amazing people in the room – developers, ops folks, managers, execs, CEOs, and founders. Really, the whole gamut was represented in some way. It was an intense day full of presentations and panels, but with lots of time for discussion – with the audience even participating numerous times during talks!
As part of the conference, we surveyed the audience on a number of topics related to DevOps. The results of the survey are here and the press release announcing the results with some analysis is here as well. As I sat back to take in the data, the most significant learning for me was that the movement to DevOps is constrained by time, first and foremost, and one of the opportunities of DevOps is automation. Let me say that again a different way: the very thing that companies are trying to solve – moving faster, is the thing that is preventing them from getting there.
Lack of time is nothing new for IT people. We have been hearing that for decades. For some reason, the IT organization has always been crushed with the amount of work that they have and the resources available. Perhaps it is that they are involved in just about everything going on in an organization, or as is the case today in many businesses, the IT organization is the business. As a result, it is even harder for organizations to find the time to do the very things that will make them more efficient. Unfortunately, the cycle becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and as organizations get more busy, they find less and less time to ‘fix’ their business.
The survey data from the DevOps conference showed that there are any number of opportunities to automate tasks. The group gravitated to a few – deployment, patching, user management, and log analysis – but there were many more. Each organization has their list of tasks that need to be automated that they never get to. The lost productivity from those missed opportunities is likely staggering. Automation is hard and painful. Especially when you are trying to run the day-to-day business. As one of my marketing friends liked to say, we are rebuilding the car while it’s going 60 MPH.
It’s easy to say that the solution to this is just to spend some time automating. Allocate more hours to it and put it into each sprint. Yes, that is easy to say. Unfortunately, that rarely works. The pressures of the business take over and move automation back down the list very quickly. After all, features need to be built, bugs need to be fixed, and performance issues need to be resolved. All higher priority items than automation when you are in the crucible.
The focus on automation has to come culturally to work long-term. There needs to be recognition from all levels of the organization that automation will take precedence over other tasks. Without that perspective, automation will almost always be pushed down the priority stack. Automation is a long-term play, not a short-term gain. Band aid fixes are quick and get you back to your task list. Automation takes deliberate time, effort, and focus to happen, and then the benefits are only seen afterward. Of course, the benefits are subsumed by other tasks until they too are automated, so it’s hard to see them for long, but they are there. And, in fact, as more and more becomes automated, a company starts to see their velocity increase dramatically. They’re not focused on manual tasks, they’re focused on driving new innovative features.
The DevOps survey really said it all – organizations that can figure out how to get off the hamster wheel of manual tasks, will automate and build high-velocity organizations. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done.