Why NoOps is a DevOps disaster waiting to happen

Ever since the first hunks of Big Iron hit the streets, we’ve been struggling (and failing) to keep up with the demand for software applications.

Now it’s getting harder. Not only do we have to satisfy an insatiable appetite for new apps and services, but the nature of the business palate is changing. Business now demands a continuous flow of software innovation over back-office application support – or using the haute cuisine analogy – they want IT to serve a classy degustation menu versus just warming up a ready-made TV dinner.

All this bodes well for the fast iterative style agile, with fully autonomous development teams empowered to increase the rate of software deployments.

Sound great, but what does this mean for IT Ops?

Many would argue that IT Ops is a completely defunct or redundant function. Even credible analysts and thought leaders have touted NoOps (No IT Operations) as a viable option. Some even suggesting that it accelerates DevOps collaboration since by removing the Ops function you remove all friction.

There appears some validity to these arguments. After all, if developers can codify operational functions into their activities, why do we need the disciple?  Perhaps this logic explains why for some, IT Operations as a function is becoming disenfranchised; no longer having a voice into critical digital transformation initiatives – or if it does, just the sound of “No” – the last deployment bottleneck.

The death of IT Ops has been greatly exaggerated

All this NoOps thinking is flawed for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, however operationally awesome developers think they are, building resilience, maintainability and supportability is not always top-of-mind. Worse still, these elements might be neglected if management is fixated on rewarding developers according to ‘speeds and feeds’. Secondly, even if these elements are addressed, they’re often conducted at the end of development cycles or bolted on after problems are discovered – that’s like baking a cake, forgetting the sugar, and then trying to compensate with a sickly sweet chocolate sauce.

In reality, great operations engineers are best equipped to help incorporate operational excellence into all practices. After all they have years of experience supporting every new wave of technology – from Mainframes to Microservices. What must change, however, is how their expertise is developed and shared.

  • Become cloud connoisseurs – Like our development colleagues, operations’ emphasis will shift from on-premise to cloud. This means ensuring Ops expertise is fully leveraged to support the business nirvana of delivering high-quality digital customer engagement at scale. So if you’re an IT operations professional still configuring QoS policies on routers or manually provisioning development environments, it’s probably time to skill-up in PaaS, Amazon EC2 and containers. Either that or go and find a gig with a cloud service provider.
  • Embed Ops In Dev – This means being less separatist and silo’d and more inclusive and unified. Rather than focus on technical diagnostics and reacting to failures, the new operations professional will apply systems thinking to holistically look at how business applications and the all-important customer experience can be improved. This is easier said than done with skeptical development teams, so it’s essential that monitoring feedback is automatically shared and incorporated into all practices – like for example, agile sprints
  • Embrace Lean thinking – this involves being less interrupt-driven – fixing one technical problem after another, to working side-by-side with other teams to ensure a constant flow of value is delivered to business with all waste removed. As with our development colleagues, elements of agile (and common sense) thinking will come to the fore – with terms like “never done” and continuous improvement becoming established elements of the new operations and performance management mantra.

Perhaps the biggest change IT Operations will undergo is how it interfaces with other teams. Here, IT Ops will morph into providing sets of easily accessible and repeatable processes other teams will use to bake quality into everything developed and tested. To this end, operations will transform from a separate “keeping the technical lights on” function, to a high-value to a craft that outfits the software factory and staff with new capabilities they need to ensure speed and quality at scale.

The new age of Agile Operations “craftsmen”

For IT Operations this means letting go of many traditional admin tasks – not just running things, but participating in crafting new automated processes. So rather than routinely monitoring applications in production, the Ops in DevOps will ensure this capability is available in pre-production. Rather than mundanely provisioning servers from change requests, new teams will equip the organizations with a complete release environments that support program level goals.

Operating as DevOps “craftsmen” makes complete sense because it moves expertise out from behind the production curtain. The organizational focus of IT operations positively changes too — from being technically good at describing and fixing problems, to being awesome at prescribing improvements that drive better business outcomes.

Great organizations exploit their business models with flawless operational execution. With these models now being constantly re-shaped by software applications, IT Operations is more important than ever. Relegating it with NoOps thinking isn’t an option.