Ever wonder why DevOps gets so much attention these days? The answer is simple: “DevOps solves the most important business problem of our generation, [which is] how organizations make the transition from good to great.”

That’s according to Gene Kim, co-author of The Phoenix Project, founder of Tripwire, and a DevOps advocate. Gene headlined a New Relic DevOps roadshow with stops in Chicago, Dallas, and Houston last month, regaling attendees with the inside scoop of what DevOps really is, what it does, and how to make it work (more on that in upcoming blog posts). But perhaps his most important point was the overwhelming importance of the effort.

Traditional IT leads to “hopelessness and despair”

According to Gene, the opportunity cost of wasted IT spending is some $2.6 trillion. These days, he says, “every company is an IT company”—we like to say “every company is a software company,” but you get the message.

Gene Kim, DevOps expertGene observes that 95% of all capital projects have an IT component and 50% of all capital spending is technology related. And every IT organization is pressured to simultaneously respond more quickly to urgent business needs while also providing stable, secure, and predictable IT service.

That chronic conflict created what Gene described as “a horrible downward spiral that leads to horrendous outcomes. Every time we cut corners, or manually deploy code, or write code that doesn’t have automated testing, it all leads to the accumulation of technical debt.” And the ever-increasing amount of technical debt sets the stage for intertribal warfare that can exist between dev and ops.

Those wars mean that “Devs submit code at 5 p.m. on Friday, and ops then works all weekend to deploy it by 9 a.m. Monday. Everyone becomes buried in unplanned work, and this deprives our ability to pay down the technical debt being created. This led to hopelessness and despair, with everyone doomed to repeat the same mistakes.”

DevOps offers a better way

Fortunately, Gene explained, “We know now there is a better way. The DevOps exemplars have shown us that we can have incredibly fast flow from dev to ops to deployment while preserving world-class quality and security.”

According to Gene, the top predictors of IT performance are all associated with DevOps:

  • Version control of all production artifacts
  • Continuous integration and deployment
  • Automated acceptance testing
  • Peer-review of production changes (vs. external change approval)
  • High-trust culture
  • Proactive monitoring of the production environment
  • Win-win relationship between dev and ops

Lead time is the key metric

Lead time from raw material to finished product is the key metric in manufacturing, “and that’s true for software, too,” Gene said. “How long does it take to go from code committed to code successfully running in production?” 

The standard 9-month software lead time common in waterfall development projects is “highly correlated with catastrophic deployment errors,” Gene warned. The key, he said, is to have smaller deployments, and to do them more frequently.

That approach is already working for high-performing organizations, he added, who are accelerating away from the herd. “Ten deploys a day used to be startling,” Gene noted. “Now it’s probably considered merely average among high performers.” Amazon Web Services deploys every 11.6 seconds! That kind of speed is possible only by doing small deployments more frequently, Gene said. “The bigger the change, the bigger the crater when it hits.”

DevOps correlates with business success!

IT high-performers who incorporate DevOps are much more agile and more reliable, Gene said. Critically, he added, “They are more likely to win in the marketplace!” The common reaction to that statement is shock. Gene noted he often hears: “That’s absurd! How can IT ops practices be visible on the bottom line or in the stock price?”

But the Puppet Labs 2014 State of DevOps report noted that IT high-performers are twice as likely to exceed profitability, market share, and productivity goals as well as enjoy 50% higher market capitalization growth over three years.

Of course, that doesn’t mean all those good things will happen to your company just by moving to DevOps. But do you really want to risk the “horrendous outcomes” of staying with outmoded models that lead to excruciatingly long deployment cycles?


Puzzle image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.


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, AllBusiness.com, 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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