DevOps and definitions

The father of DevOps, Patrick Debois, says it's hard for people to pin down what DevOps is and isn't, but that's not a bad thing

The four years since Patrick Debois organised the first DevOpsDays event in Ghent, Belgium, have been a "roller coaster ride" according to the IT consultant considered the movement's father. The conversation around DevOps continues to evolve, and enterprises and IT vendors are paying attention, says Debois, who is in Australia for the series of Yow! developer conferences.

"Over the last year, the enterprises have started to play big in the field," he says. "I watch my Twitter stream and the number of commercial tweets with the hashtag DevOps has increased." Vendors have jumped on board, slapping DevOps branding on a range of products. (Debois says he sometimes entertains himself at conferences by visiting vendor stalls and asking sales reps how their products increase collaboration between dev and ops.)

"I guess the enterprises talking about DevOps is good in a promotional way, but it's easy to miss the point," Debois says, admitting to being bemused when he sees a vendor has a 'vice-president for devops'.

How to pin down what DevOps is and isn't can be a challenge. On the one hand, it's a discussion about bridging the divide between development, which for the most part has abandoned waterfall wholesale for agile, and operations, for whom stability is mandated. On the other hand it's a way of recognising that dev and ops have increasingly similarities thanks to the rise of tools like Chef and Puppet, the growth of cloud and the dominance of virtualization in enterprises.

Ultimately, it's a still-emerging community and here Debois draws a perhaps surprising comparison with ITIL, which many DevOps partisans dismiss as a lumbering dinosaur.

"ITIL also started as a community very similar to how DevOps did, and then all of a sudden there was this massive industry interest and it became an opportunity for people to make money, and people kind of missed the point," Debois says.

"But if you read through the ITIL things, there's a lot of value... I think people who just dismiss ITIL like 'This is the old thing and DevOps is the new thing' are totally wrong. Start reading one of the books and you'll see it has real value to make you think about stuff.

"The problem actually came with people doing ITIL implementations that were failing and people almost fundamentalisticly went through the ITIL books and said 'Hey if you're not doing A, B, and C then you're doing it wrong.'

Saying ITIL is stupid "is probably the worst thing you can do," Debois says. "You're throwing away what everybody believed in for a certain time..."

What's important with DevOps, says Debois, is to not get bogged down in religious disputes about what it is (or should be) or isn't (and shouldn't be). DevOps is a "multi-headed beast," says Debois.

"The same has happened with Scrum. You know there's now Scrum but' as a movement, just to say here's one way of doing it and then you kind of adapt it to your own system. I think the same might happen to DevOps...

"It's important that people don't dismiss the ideas of something like ITIL or the ideas of DevOps – people kind of saying 'We tried DevOps in 2013, it didn't work for us, so the next thing that comes along we'll do that' — because implementations fail or people use it the wrong way. But once the word gets out that there are much more failures with something, those ideas are kind of dismissed as a whole."

DevOps "can go in many directions and it means different things to different people," Debois says.

"But I think that has been one of the good things over the years, even though we don't have a definition and we don't have a clear manifesto or something. There is already a tendency 'This is DevOps and this isn't' for certain things. Like if you're using Bash scripts then it's not DevOps any more — which is totally rubbish but it's kind of how people start to perceive it...

"I'm actually hoping next year to do a kind of conference which focuses more on 'everything you would not expect DevOps to be' or something like that. I don't know how I can explain it better but it's good to keep it fresh and to keep it expanding instead of doing the next same thing."

"If you're just limiting yourself to 'oh I can automate this thing' then it's kind of sad that you haven't gotten further," Debois says. "But then again it will happen to any movement: Whatever idea you have, once it catches on it's hard to stop a promotional machine."

Could a DevOps manifesto ever be written? Debois says that he's not completely opposed to the idea, but he's yet to read a good attempt at one. "I know there recently was one and I read like three lines –'we're about automation' – and then I just browsed away. [DevOps] is so multi-headed and so willing to expand, that it doesn't really make sense," he says.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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