From DevOps to NoOps: IT operations pros dwindle, developers rise

The NoOps term reflects a trend in contemporary DevOps shops: the diminishing number of operations people relative to developers.

The DevOps movement has made way for NoOps — a term that reflects a relative shortage of IT operations professionals...

compared to the number of developers in data centers today.

First coined by Forrester Research Inc. in a research report, “NoOps” implies an IT environment that is so automated and abstracted from the underlying infrastructure that the need for a distinct operations team goes away.

That’s distinct from DevOps, in which the line between development and operations teams is merely blurred, and members of each group assume some of the responsibilities of the other team, relying heavily on automation and configuration management tools.

Some cloud startups have moved on from DevOps and have hitched their wagons to the NoOps term.

AppFog Inc. a platform as a service (PaaS) provider based on Cloud Foundry, predicted that 2013 will be the year of NoOps, and other cloud thinkers have adopted the term. Among them is Netflix cloud architect Adrian Cockcroft, who wrote that Netflix’s streaming service running on Amazon Web Services (AWS) exemplifies the NoOps philosophy.

“The developers used to spend hours a week in meetings with Ops discussing what they needed, figuring out capacity forecasts and writing tickets to request changes for the datacenter,” Cockcroft wrote in a blog earlier this month. “Now they spend seconds doing it themselves in the cloud.”

The incredible shrinking Ops team
The NoOps term seems to have struck a chord and reflects a trend in contemporary DevOps shops: the diminishing number of operations people relative to developers.

For example, Latin American online auction site MercadoLibre is a DevOps shop with more than 300 developers writing code to support more than 6,000 servers — and an IT staff of six, said Leandro Reox, MercadoLibre senior infrastructure engineer and cloud architect.

That dynamic is possible because in a DevOps or NoOps environment, responsibility for traditional operations tasks like front-line support is increasingly being pushed to developers, said Jan Drake, a cloud architect at a Fortune 100 entertainment company.

“Being a DevOps shop means that the people that write the code are the ones that get woken up at 3 a.m. if it breaks,” Drake said.

But DevOps isn’t about transferring responsibilities from one employee to another. Making developers accountable and responsible for their code also makes for better quality code, Drake said.

“The first time [the developers] get a call in the middle of the night, they don’t like it very much,” he said. “They learn pretty quick what it means to write good, operational code.”

At the same time, some members of the DevOps community say the rise in DevOps and NoOps is a direct result of the dearth of qualified operations professionals and the relative glut of developers.

“There’s a severe shortage of operations people that know how to build infrastructure at scale,” said Mitch Hill, CEO at Opscode Inc., the company behind the open source Chef automation framework.

Hill said contacts at Facebook told him that they read 1,000 resumes to fill a single opening on its operations team.

“In some ways, the developer and operations skill sets are merging because they have to,” said Hill.

However, will we ever see a day when operations teams go away altogether?

Probably not, said Robert Stinnett, a senior systems analyst at Carfax Inc., a vehicle history reports provider based in Columbia, Mo. The company has a hybrid development and operations team that relies on BMC’s Control-M automation software, but as a company with a wealth of different, legacy IT systems in place, developers aren’t qualified to take the reins entirely.

“Developers have always been involved in what we do — and vice-versa — because you always need your subject matter experts,” he said. “But letting the developers take over? I don’t agree with that.”

The NoOps misnomer?
The NoOps term and the implication that the need for operations might go away has led to some resistance.

“"NoOps" beats "cloud", "agile", and "SOPA" as the dumbest marketing term ever coined in my field,” tweeted John Allspaw, a DevOps proponent and vice president of technical operations at the online art marketplace

Rather, Allspaw espouses separate but cooperative Devs and Ops teams, each with their own “domain expertise” that each can bring to bear when designing systems or solving problems.

“Not many Devs have deep knowledge of how TCP slow start works, but Ops does,” Allspaw wrote. “Not many Ops have a comprehensive knowledge of sorting or relevancy algorithms, but Dev does.”

Even Netflix’s Cockcroft said he has stopped using the NoOps term.

“I've started to just call this PaaS, which doesn't include the word Ops, and emphasizes the level of tooling needed to have developers run their own stuff,” he said in an email.

AppFog CEO Lucas Carlson said it was a mistake to assume NoOps meant the end of operations.

“Let’s talk about what NoOps isn’t,” Carlson said. “Despite the ‘No’ and the ‘Ops,’ NoOps doesn’t mean the end of operations, just like NoSQL didn’t mean the end of SQL – just a different way of approaching a problem.”

In Carlson’s mind, NoOps implies a total separation of development and operations so the two groups “can focus on what they’re good at, without getting in one another’s way.”

Arriving at that point implies the use of PaaS, he said, which provides the ability to manage apps holistically and automatically, the ability to connect apps with services, and to scale out transparently.

PaaS and NoOps are a work in progress, and “some apps are difficult to move in to PaaS,” leaving it best suited to greenfield environments, Carlson added.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, Executive Editor at [email protected], or follow @aebarrett on twitter.


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