Gene Kim: For The Prepared, DevOps Naysayers Help The Movement

There are people out there who think the DevOps movement is overhyped, or that it’s some kind of fad.

Gene Kim, co-author of “The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Bu…, couldn’t disagree more, but he’s glad those naysayers are out there because more people need to know about the problem that DevOps solves.

In the latest installment of our series of Q&A sessions with DevOps thought leaders, Kim also shares his thoughts on implementing new practices in large organizations and how to know if you’re doing DevOps right.

What is the difference between DevOps for startups and DevOps for enterprises with legacy technology?

I believe DevOps is equally relevant for startups as for legacy enterprises. The need to decrease time to market and shrink lead times is universal. In fact, it may even be more urgent for the multi-billion-dollar enterprises – creative destruction is making the tenure of Fortune 500 companies ever more tenuous. Richard Foster, a professor at Yale University, has said that the average life of a Fortune 500 company has decreased from around 75 years to 15 years in the last half century. Of the Fortune 500 companies in 1955, 87 percent are no longer on the list.

Increasingly, IT is the value creation and customer acquisition engine for organizations. As my friend Chris Little says, “Every company is an IT company regardless of what business they think they’re in.” DevOps is relevant and urgent for every organization.

Do you think there’s a nexus between the size of an organization and the successful implementation of DevOps?

During the 2012 Puppet Labs DevOps Survey of Practice, we benchmarked over 4000 organizations. One of the big surprises was that DevOps wasn’t just for web operations companies, and it wasn’t just small companies. Forty-two percent of the organizations that responded to the survey, and were implementing DevOps practices, had over 500 employees. You can see the results of this research in the slide show we presented at the Velocity conference. The link to those slides is here.

Who is responsible for DevOps?

The CIO is responsible for two things: deliver fast-flow of projects, while preserving reliable, stable and secure services. Any IT leader needs to care about these things, which DevOps is all about.

However because of the reliance on IT, every organization must ensure that Dev and Ops are implementing DevOps work patterns to accelerate flow. Every business leader needs to care.

Will DevOps last or this a fad?

The issues DevOps solves are universal problems that every IT organization faces. All of the feedback we’ve received from The Phoenix Project has led me to that conclusion. I hear repeatedly from readers that the book describes their organization, their problems, and even the meetings they had last week.

This shows me that this problem needs solving, maybe even being the most important and urgent business problem that needs to be solved, the likes of which we haven’t seen in 30 years. Whether historians will call the revolution DevOps or not, I don’t know. But this problem and solution is not a fad. I think a challenge this big happens once in a generation.

Is there too much hype around this movement?

Whether DevOps is a fad is an interesting question, but an easy one.  If I had to choose between DevOps viewed as irrelevant and DevOps viewed as a fad, I would take “fad” every time. There is nothing worse than trying to solve a problem that no one else thinks is important. The fact that so many communities are working to solve the DevOps problems is amazing. Development, testers, agile coaches, IT operations: We all believe it’s important.

My opinion? People viewing DevOps with suspicion is a testament to its visibility. It appearing fad-like is the best thing that could happen to us as a community. Visibility is what the DevOps community needs.

Do you think there’s a danger of DevOps being unfairly dismissed as an idea because of the hype?

In my mind, the biggest danger is not that people learn about DevOps because it’s getting so much attention. Instead, it’s when a senior manager asks, ‘I heard about this DevOps thing. Is it something we should be doing?’ and the response is anything besides, ‘Yes, we actually should be doing it! Here’s what I can do to help!’

When senior managers and business leaders are asking for something, that means we’ve elevated the awareness of the need. Our job is now to help them go from low-performing IT to high-performing, which we’ve shown we can do through DevOps practices.

How does a company know if they are doing DevOps right?

In my opinion, there’s one way to measure whether an organization is actually doing DevOps or not, and that’s by measuring their performance. We found in the DevOps Survey of Practice that high-performing organizations that were employing DevOps practices were doing 30 times more frequent code deploys, and had deployment lead times measured in minutes or hours, versus weeks, months or quarters.

The high performers also had far better deployment outcomes: Their changes and deployments had twice the change success rates, and when the changes failed, they could restore service 12 times faster.

When IT does poorly, the business will do poorly. And when IT helps the organization win, those organizations will outperform their competitors in the marketplace.

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