Many of us have heard DevOps naysayers claim that the DevOps approach isn’t practical for large, traditional organizations, and that it works only in fast-growing Internet-native companies … you know, the so called DevOps Unicorns like Google, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Etsy, Twitter, and Facebook.

According to DevOps researcher and enthusiast Gene Kim, however, that’s simply not true. At a series of DevOps-oriented roadshows around the country in recent weeks, Gene told attendees that “It’s not only possible for unicorns running open source software,” it’s also being done for ground control stations for satellites, SAP, and even COBOL mainframe environments!

Horses and unicorns

Gene Kim, DevOps expertGene, co-author of The Phoenix Project, founder of Tripwire, and leading all-around DevOps advocate, said the roster of companies devoted to DevOps includes hundreds of “large and complex organizations (horses)—not just unicorns.” He noted that last year’s DevOps Summit, “a conference for horses by horses, including speakers from Macy’s, Disney, Target, GE Capital, Blackboard, Nordstrom, Telstra, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, CSG, Raytheon, IBM, Ticketmaster, MITRE, Marks & Spencer, Barclays Capital, Microsoft, Nationwide Insurance, Capital One, Gov.UK, Fidelity, Rally Software, Neustar, Walmart, PNC, ADP, and others.

Gene Kim slide "Who Is Doing DevOps?"


In fact, he said, “I believe the majority of value for DevOps will be created in large, complex organizations. Why? That’s where the majority of the technology work is being done now.”

Even more important, contrary to conventional wisdom, Gene claimed that, “By using DevOps principles, technical practices, and cultural norms, these large and complex enterprises are getting the same sort of miraculous outcomes that the unicorns are getting.” They’re using the same technical practices and getting the same sort of metrics as the unicorns, dramatically boosting deployment frequency, reducing lead times, and improving code quality:

Gene Kim slide "DevOps Observations"

How to make it happen

Admittedly, effecting this kind of transformational change in the enterprise isn’t always easy. In many cases, Gene said, the move to DevOps required courageous transformational stars putting themselves at riski for the good of the organization because they were “convinced this is absolutely the right thing to do.”

But he also shared tips for minimizing the risks of doing DevOps in large organizations.

He suggested building a dedicated team to reimagine the next-generation IT operations organization focusing on shared services around platforms, testing, deployment, and monitoring. He believes that the team should be fearless about choosing both an initial “green field” value stream as well as “brown field” value streams that have been around for decades—as both have significant DevOps win potential as a proof of concept. Further, says Gene, the team should be organized by value stream, he said, not by areas of functional expertise.

It’s best to keep planning horizons short, he added, and create Hack Days and other delivery forums to jump-start the process.

The top challenges to overcome, as identified by organizations presenting at DevOps Enterprise Summit 2014, included:

  • Creating automated tests for legacy applications
  • Culture and leadership issues
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Information security and compliance
  • Metrics for driving DevOps improvement programs

Nobody, including Gene Kim, says it’s going to be a walk in the park to do DevOps in the enterprise. But it’s clearly possible, Gene says. Plenty of major, mainstream enterprises are already doing it, he notes, and these “horses” may soon represent the majority of DevOps organizations. Do you really want to be the company bringing up the rear on this critical transformation?


Unicorn image courtesy of'

Fredric Paul (aka The Freditor) is Editor in Chief for New Relic. He's an award-winning writer, editor, and content strategist who has held senior editorial positions at ReadWrite,, InformationWeek, CNET, Electronic Entertainment, PC World, and PC|Computing. His writing has appeared in MIT Technology Review, Omni, Conde Nast Traveler, and Newsweek, among other places. View posts by .

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