Mobile: DevOps for IT shops. Minus the upheaval

First step on a thousand-mile journey


For those languishing in the doldrums of traditional IT, DevOps-style development offers hope. Or would, if you weren’t too scared to try it.

After all, as I’ve recently noted, there are all sorts of reasons to run screaming from DevOps. Your company is regulated! Your CIO is a jerk! Only startups can operate like that! None of these are true (except the one about your CIO – they are really are a jerk), but they persist.

That is, until you try to build a mobile app. Mobile apps, declares former Netflix cloud chief (and current venture capital sugar daddy) Adrian Cockcroft: “Often lead the change” to embrace DevOps. Even so, don’t expect a quick shift to DevOps nirvana: DevOps necessitates a reorg, which can take six to 12 months.

How’s that for agile?

Your culture stinks

The average IT department can be pretty hidebound. It’s not that they’re bad people. Instead, as Puppet Labs founder Luke Kanies reasons: “The biggest barrier I see is the individuals. [They don’t know how to do [DevOps], and [are] afraid of change.”

Even as developers route around IT to deploy apps to public cloud services like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, IT continues to try to slow things down by layering cloud computing with private cloud inertia. As David Linthicum puts it: “While public clouds provide this instant-provisioning capability, private clouds still run on traditional ‘owned’ hardware systems that you have to buy, install, and maintain.”

We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that sometimes IT is most innovative in coming up with excuses as to why it can’t be more agile. Such myths are pretty easy to rubbish, yet they persist because, well, change is hard.

Of course, so is bankruptcy.

As Creative Destruction author Richard Foster notes: “Of the Fortune 500 companies in 1955, 87 per cent are gone. In 1958, the Fortune 500 tenure was 61 years; now it’s only 18 years.” Those companies evaporate as they struggle to keep pace with industry changes. Much of “keeping pace” ultimately comes down to their speed of development.

Mobile blessings from the sky

So what’s the best way to “be the DevOps change you wish to see in the world,” and dramatically increase the pace of development? According to Cockcroft, you could do worse than to build a mobile app, which also happens to be where 451 Research analyst Donnie Berkholz advises DevOps-hungry enterprises to start.

Some of this just comes down to necessity, as analyst firm Forrester points out: “Highly competitive industries ruled by empowered consumers with low costs of switching have the highest levels of DevOps adoption.” The competition to acquire new app users and retain them keeps going up, with Fiksu detailing a 101 per cent increase in the cost of a loyal app user over the past year.

Innovation in mobile apps depends heavily on iteration, which largely requires a DevOps focus. As Cockcroft says: “The mobile team deploys to the App Store, so they can bypass Ops.” That’s the first taste of DevOps freedom, though not the last. This Ops-free experiment then offers “an example [for the rest of the organization] to follow,” explains Cockcroft.

With 90 per cent of the world’s population over the age of six projected to own a phone by 2020, every industry, and every company, will need to master the pace of mobile or be run over. DevOps, as Cockcroft and Berkholz suggest, can be a natural result as organizations learn to think about Ops differently, thanks to public app stores.

For IT departments fretting about painful reorgs on the way to mobile nirvana, be at peace. Jeff Sussna indicates while a reorg is probably necessary to enable DevOps “it can often start with ‘behavioral reorg’, not necessarily explicit org-chart change.”

This falls in line with Cockcroft’s contention, and may mean that the CIO gets to keep their fancy title... and can keep being a jerk.

How comforting. ®

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