Q&A: The Evolution of the term ‘DevOps’

Use of DevOps practices has soared in recent years. Commonly, this is the result of an increased number of organisations seeking to respond more effectively to their business challenges with agile methodologies and ways of working. And yet, the term ‘DevOps’ seems to be diluting at a similar pace.

People appear to be referring to their own digital transformations by referencing DevOps practices without necessarily having these in place – certainly not in the traditional sense. Is the term ‘DevOps’ simply losing its specificity, or is it becoming altogether redundant? Or should the term DevOps embrace a widened context in the wake of changing industry trends?

We sat down with both ECS Digital’s Founder & Managing Director, Andy Cureton, and Head of DevOps, Jason Man, to discuss the evolution of DevOps as a practice, and how the term ‘DevOps’ looks to be changing.

Here’s what they had to say:

Q: How would you summarise DevOps in a sentence or two?

Jason: “DevOps is about delivering speed, quality and business value. It’s not about the technology out there or using the right tech to be captivating your audience, but actually about what business value it’s bringing”.

Andy: “DevOps is about aligning all areas of an organisation to leverage modern ways of work and technology to deliver the target business outcomes.”.

 

Q: Have you heard customers, or people from within the industry describe DevOps in other ways?

Jason: “People tend to use terms like digital transformation, engineering capability, platform engineering as a way to describe the DevOps methodology as a whole, broadening the term far beyond its traditional meaning. DevOps is the overall encapsulating term for all the different practices, one term which has risen and what I see may be the next term for this is Customer Experience (CX).  CX is on the rise as this is ultimately what organisations look to improve, how they achieve this would be implementing DevOps practices, adopting agile methodologies and so forth.”.

Andy: “Engineering or Digital Transformation are more commonly used to describe programmes of work to adopt DevOps. One of the reasons for this is the overuse of the term ‘DevOps’.  There is also the challenge in the breadth of things that the term DevOps is being used to describe. I believe this reflects the broader adoption in the industry where there are organisations well advanced on their journey and those at or towards the beginning. There are comparatively few in between. The early adopters have provided the hard data around DevOps that has led to the conclusion that it is essential to the success and survival of businesses. At one end of the spectrum you can find people referring to DevOps practices to describe the introduction of source code management or continuous integration. At the other end the same term is used to refer to continuous deployment to dynamic serverless production infrastructure 10s of times a day yet there is no distinction in how the term is being used. For this reason, people tend to refer to the specific technology or practice, for example continuous delivery or continuous integration rather than the overarching term DevOps.

 

Q: Is there an element of the ‘Cloud-wash’ effect happening?

Andy: “Yes. People attach the word DevOps to everything in the same way they attach the word Cloud to everything as a way of implying modern, cool, agile or technologically advanced. In both instances, it betrays what true DevOps or Cloud is and creates a negative stigma around the terms. A CIO told me over a year ago that he “would be shot if he went to the board to ask for money to do DevOps” and that the conversation to have would be about investment to reduce lead time to production, increase service availability etc.

Jason: “The DevOps term is being overused, unlike the Agile Manifesto, there is no definitive way to describe if you have adopted DevOps or not. It could be as simple as adopting a CI server or going full blown immutable infrastructure with every part of your pipeline provided “as a service”. DevOps is a bit like a New Years’ Resolution, in the sense that at the beginning of the year everyone sets out good intentions to introduce a new resolution. It’s almost like everybody feels they need to have one and most will set out to stick to one. But then after a couple of months, the novelty wears off and they lose their discipline and go back to how things were originally.

 

Q: How have you seen the DevOps methodology evolving, and do you think the term should evolve too?

Jason: “DevOps is a continually evolving term, as the whole concept is constantly improving. In 2009 – when the term came into place – you can actually see that there has been quite a lot of improvement. DevOps didn’t used to involve containers but now they’ve come in recently. Serverless is coming in and now people are talking about Machine Learning and AI being introduced too. Whether or not it will remain being called DevOps, that is something to look out for, but ultimately it continues to evolve. We do see that the traditional practices are now being adopted at scale across all sectors including finance and public sectors. The newer and niche practices are setting out on their early adopters and proving its value, which hopefully will end up with scalable enterprise adoption.”

Andy: “As discussed earlier the use of DevOps practices has exploded as their benefits have been increasingly documented. The practices themselves have not evolved but with increased adoption and advancement of technology, they have been applied to different use case and technologies. For example, using AI/ML to perform previously manual exploratory testing, container technologies being applied to use cases ranging from technology currency to cloud migration.

 

Q: What do you see in the future for DevOps? Is there a risk the term will die out as its scope widens?

Andy: “DevOps practices have become a critical element to the success and survival of companies in this increasingly software driven world. The term will die out for two reasons. Firstly, because it is overused and attached to things incorrectly it has diminished in value. Secondly, the term will die because the practices that DevOps covers are now becoming the new normal. These practices including continuous integration and continuous delivery will however continue to be referred to. As mentioned before, the benefits seen by organisations who have adopted DevOps are well documented and transformational to the fortunes of those companies. As IDC says DevOps is no longer optional, it’s mandatory. It is therefore becoming the new normal.

Jason: “The term DevOps will die, and I would almost say that it has died. It will be termed under a different methodology due to its overuse. IT has gone through this change many, many times. I have only been in the industry for 10 years and I’ve seen three different methodologies that cover the same thing.

With regards to its scope, in the past organisations used to outsource engineering capability because it was seen as a cheaper methodology to run. But more recently, people are bringing this back in house as they have the talent available. I can see people in the future saying the cost is too high and we should outsource again specially if they are not seeing the results the market is promising. It is a continually evolving methodology, every organisation is a software company hopefully with the ultimate goal to improve customer experience.”

 

Q: Where are the areas of DevOps that need additional tools or support to help optimise its capabilities?

Andy: “DevOps isn’t about tools; DevOps refers to a group of ways of working and practices. These practices can and are being applied to new technologies and use cases that will see the use of “DevOps” evolve and grow. The question should therefore be, what are the technologies and use cases that need DevOps practices to optimise them? These will continue to be uncovered as new technologies or use cases for existing technologies are discovered.

Jason: “An area that is still underplayed or underutilised is the data side of things – people are talking about collating data and baseline metrics, but I feel like there is room to improve and manage this data. Everything flows through systems and computers and we need to look at how we can analyse this data in a better form because actually, in order to continually improve, you can’t always be looking, discovering or finding out what is it that we need to improve. Whereas if you have a proper data metric system, you can immediately know what’s needed. This space is overcrowded already but I would go as far as saying there is no outright leader in the space”.

 

With the increase in businesses undergoing Digital Transformation, DevOps has become an industry buzzword. A way for businesses to feel like and project externally that they are achieving the same as others, without fully understanding what it means to adopt DevOps. As we’ve seen with terms such as Cloud and agile, as the frequency of use increases, the murkier the meaning becomes.

Puppet’s VP of Ecosystem Engineering, Nigel Kersten states that an increasing number of people will claim that DevOps is ‘dead,’ not because the practice is dead, but more that the “lessons from the DevOps movement [will] become increasingly internalised in new companies and projects, [where] we’ll stop seeing the cool kids talk about it at all.” This was a prediction of Andy’s some time ago which he spoke about within a 2016 DevOps Online article – he stated that DevOps will no longer be called DevOps as it will become the new normal, an integral part of all companies without any questions asked.

ECS DigitalQ&A: The Evolution of the term ‘DevOps’