Monthly Archives: September 2011

How We Do Cloud and DevOps: The Motion Picture

Our good friend Damon Edwards from dev2ops came by our Austin office and recorded a video of Peco and I explaining how we do what we do! Peco never blogs, so this is a rare opportunity to hear him talk about these topics, and he’s full of great sound bytes. ūüôā

I apologize in advance for how much I say “right.”

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Filed under Cloud, DevOps

What Is Cloud Computing?

My recent post on how sick I am of people being confused by the basic concept of cloud computing quickly brought out the comments on “what cloud is” and “what cloud is not.” And the truth is, it’s a little messy, there’s not a clear definition, especially across “the three aaSes“. So now let’s have a post for the advanced students. Chip in with your thoughts!

Here’s my Grand Unified Theory of Cloud Computing. Rather than being a legalistic definition that will always be wrong for some instances of cloud, it attempts to convey the history and related concepts that inform the cloud.

The Grand Unified Theory of Cloud Computing

( ISP -> colo -> MSP ) + virtualization + HPC + (AJAX + SOAP -> REST APIs) = IaaS
(( web site -> web app -> ASP ) + virtualization + fast ubiquitous Internet + [ RIA browsers & mobile ] = SaaS
( IDEs & 4GLs ) + ( EAI -> SOA ) +  SaaS + IaaS = PaaS
[ IaaS | PaaS | SaaS ] + [ devops | open source | noSQL ] = cloud

* Note, I don’t agree with all those Wikipedia definitions, they are only linked to clue in people unsure about a given term

Sure, that’s where the cloud comes from, but “what is the cloud?” Well, here’s my thoughts, the Seven Pillars of Cloud Computing.¬† Having more of these makes something “more cloudy” and having fewer makes something “less cloudy.” Arguments over whether some specific offering “is cloud” or not, however, is for people without sufficiently challenging jobs.

The Seven Pillars of Cloud Computing

“The Cloud” may be characterized as:

  • An outsourced managed service
  • providing hosted computing or functionality
  • delivered over the Internet
  • offering extreme scalability
  • by using dynamically provisioned, multitenant, virtualized systems, storage, and applications
  • controlled via REST APIs
  • and billed in a utility manner.

You can remove one or more of these pillars to form most of the things people sell you as “private cloud,” for example, losing specific cloud benefits in exchange for other concerns.

Now there’s also the new vs old argument. There’s the technohipsters that say “Cloud is nothing new, I was doing that back in the ’90’s.” And some of that is true, but only in the most uninteresting way. The old and the new have, via alchemy, begun to help users realize benefits beyond what they did before.

Benefits of Cloud – What and How

Not New:

  • Virtualization
  • Outsourcing
  • Integration
  • Intertubes
Pretty New:

  • Multitenancy
  • Massively scalable
  • Elastic self provisioning
  • Pay as you go
Resulting Benefits:

  • agility
  • economy of scale
  • low initial investment
  • scalable cost
  • resilience
  • improved service delivery
  • universal access

Okay, Clouderati – what do you think?


Filed under Cloud

Won’t somebody please think of the systems?

Won't somebody please think of the systems?

What is the goal of DevOps?¬† If you ask a lot of people, they say “Continuous integration!¬† Pushing functionality out faster!”¬† The first cut at a DevOps Wikipedia article pretty much only considered this goal. Unfortunately, this is a naive view largely popular among developers who don’t fully understand the problems of service management. More rapid delivery and the practice of continuous integration/deployment is cool and it’s part of the DevOps umbrella of concerns, but it is not the largest part.

Let us review the concepts behind IT Service Management. I don’t like ITIL in terms of a prescriptive thing to implement, but as a cognitive framework to understand IT work, it’s great. Anyway, depending on what version you are looking at, there are a lot of parts of delivering a service to end users/customers.

1. Service Strategy (tie-guy stuff)
2. Service Design (including capacity, availability, risk management)
3. Service Transition (release and change management)
4. Service Operation (operations)
5. Continual Service Improvement (metrics)

Let’s concentrate on the middle three.¬† Service transition (release) is where CI fits in.¬† And that’s great.¬† But most of the point of DevOps is the need for ops to be involved in Service Design and for the developers to be involved in Service Operation!

Service Transition

Sure, in the old waterfall mindset, service transition is where “the work moves from dev to ops.” Dev guys do everything before that, ops guys do everything after that, we just need a more graceful handoff.¬† DevOps is not about trying to file some of the rough bits off the old way of doing things. It’s about improving service quality by more profoundly integrating the teams through the whole pipeline.

Here at NI, continuous integration was our lowest ranked DevOps priority. It’s a nice to have, while improving service design and operation was way, way more important to us. We’re starting work on it now, but consider our DevOps implementation to be successful without it. If you don’t have service design and operation nailed, then focusing on service transition risks “delivering garbage more quickly to users, and having it be unsupportable.”

Service Design

Services will not be designed correctly without embedded operational experience in their design and creation. You can call this “systems engineering” and say it’s not ops… But it’s ops. Look at the career paths if that confuses you. Our #1 priority in our DevOps implementation was to avoid the pain and problems of developing services with only input from functional developers. A working service is, more than ever, a synthesis of systems and applications and need to be designed as such. We required our systems architect and applications architect to work hand in hand, mutually design the team and tools and products, review changes from both devs and ops…

Service Operation

Services can not be operated correctly if thrown over the wall to an ops team, and they will not be improved at the appropriate rate. Developers need to be on hand to help handle problems and need to be following extremely closely what their application does in the users’ hands to make a better product. This was our #2 priority when implementing DevOps, and self service is a high implementation priority.¬† Developers should be able to see their logs and production metrics in realtime so we put things like Splunk and Cloudkick in place and made their goal to not be operations facing, but developer facing, tools.

The Bottom Line

DevOps is not about just making the wall you throw stuff over shorter. With apologies to Dev2Ops,

Improvement? I think not!

To me the point of DevOps is to not have a wall – to have both development and operations involved in the service design, the transition, and the operation. Just implementing CI without doing that isn’t DevOps – it’s automating waterfall. Which is fine and all, but you’re missing a lot of the point and are not going to get all the benefits you could.


Filed under DevOps

Mystifying Cloud Computing

I have now received my 200th email entitled “Demystifying Cloud Computing.” This one is from InfoWorld, but I have gotten them from just about every media outlet there is. This has got to stop.

People, it is not a mystery any more!¬† If you are still “mystified” by cloud computing, you probably need to consider an alternate line of work that does not generate new ideas at the aggressive rate of one every decade.

Let’s get this over with.

Q: What is cloud computing?

A: It is other people taking care of shit for you on the Web.
Maybe it’s running a data center, maybe it’s storing your files, maybe it’s running your ERP system or email system.¬† It’s, like, stuff you would do, but you are paying someone else to do it better instead, on demand.
Maybe there’s “scaling,” or “utility billing,” or “REST APIs” involved, maybe not. Ask a grownup.

There, consider yourself demystified.¬† You may now go get some of the green paper out of your parents’ wallet and mail it to me.


Filed under Cloud

Analysts on DevOps

DevOps is getting enough traction that there are papers coming out on if from the various analyst groups. I thought I’d spur a roundup of this research – they can be very valuable in converting your upper management types into understanding and seeing the value of DevOps.

Chime in below with more to add to the list!  Analyst stuff, not random blogs, please Рsomething that you would put in front of upper management.

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Addressing the IT Skeptic’s View on DevOps

A recent blog post on DevOps by the IT Skeptic entitled DevOps and traditional ITSM – why DevOps won’t change the world anytime soon got the community a’frothing. And sure, the article is a little simmered in anti-agile hate speech (apparently the Agilistias and cloud hypesters and cowboys are behind the whole DevOps thing and are leering at his wife and daughter and dropping his property values to boot) but I believe his critiques are in general very perceptive and that they are areas we, the DevOps movement, should work on.

Go read the article – it’s really long so I won’t sum the whole thing up here.

Here’s the most germane critiques and what we need to do about them. He also has some poor and irrelevant or misguided critiques, but why would I waste time on those?¬† Let’s take and action on the good stuff that can make DevOps better!

Lack of a coherent definition

This is a very good point. I went to the first meeting of an Austin DevOps SIG lately and was treated to the usual debate about “the definition of DevOps” and all the varied viewpoints going into that.¬† We need to emerge more of a structured definition that either includes and organizes or excludes the various memetic threads. It’s been done with Agile, and we can do it too. My imperfect definition of DevOps on this site tries to clarify this by showing there are different levels (principles, methods, and practices) that different thoughts about DevOps slot into.

Worry about cowboys

This is a valid concern, and one I share. Here at NI, back in the day programmers had production passwords, and they got taken away for real good reasons.¬† “Oh, let’s just give the programmers pagers and the root password” is not a responsible interpretation of DevOps but it’s one I’ve heard bandied about; it’s based on a false belief that as long as you have “really smart” developers they’ll never jack everything up.

Real DevOps shops that are uptaking practices that could be risky, like continuous deployment, are doing it with extreme levels of safeguard put into place (automated testing, etc.).¬† This is similar to the overall problem in agile – some people say “agile? Great!¬† I’ll code at random,” whereas really you need to have a very high percentage of unit test coverage. And sure, when you confront people with this they say “Oh, sure, you need that” but there is very little constructive discussion or tooling around it. How exactly do I build a good systems + app code integration/smoke test rig? “Uh you could write a bunch of code hooked to Hudson…” This should be one of the most discussed and best understood parts of the chain, not one of the least, to do DevOps responsibly.

We’re writing our own framework for this right now – James is doing it in Ruby, it’s called Sparta, and devs (and system folks) provide test chunks that the framework runs and times in an automated fashion. It’s not a well solved problem (and the big-dollar products that claim to do test automation are nightmares and not really automated in the “devs easily contribute tests to integrate into a continuous deploy” sense.

Team size

Working at a large corporation, I also share his concern about people’s cunning DevOps schemes that don’t scale past a 12 person company.¬† “We’ll just hire 7 of the best and brightest and they’ll do everything, and be all crossfunctional, and write code and test and do systems and ops and write UIs and everything!” is only a legit plan for about 10 little hot VC funded Web 2.0 companies out there.¬† The rest of us have to scale, and doing things right means some specialization and risks siloization.

For example, performance testing.¬† When we had all our developers do their own performance testing, the limit of the sophistication of those tests was “I’ll run 1000 hits against it and time how long it takes to finish.¬† There, 4 seconds.¬† Done, that’s my performance testing!”¬† The only people who think Ops, QA, etc. are such minor skill sets that someone can just do them all is someone who is frankly ignorant of those fields. Oh, P.S. The NoOps guys fall into this category, please don’t link them to DevOps.

We have struggled with this.¬† We’ve had to work out what testing our devs do versus how we closely align with external test teams.¬† Same with security, performace, etc.¬† The answer is not to completely generalize or completely silo – Yahoo! had a great model with their performance team, where their is a central team of super-experts but there are also embedded folks on each product team.

Hiring people

Very related to the previous point – again unless you’re one of the 10 hottest Web 2.0 plays and you can really get the best of the best, you are needing to staff your organization with random folks who graduated from UT with a B average. You have to have and manage tiers as well as silos – some folks are only ready to be “level 1 support” and aren’t going to be reading some dev’s Java code.

Traditional organizations and those following ITIL very closely can definitely create structures that promote bad silos and bad tiering. But just assuming everyone will be of the same (high) skill level and be able to know everything is a fallacy that is easy to fall into, since it’s those sort of elite individuals who are the leading uptakers of DevOps.¬† Maybe Gene Kim’s book he’s working on (“Visible DevOps” or similar) will help with that.

Tools fixation

Definitely an issue.¬† An enhanced focus on automation is valuable.¬† Too many ops shops still just do the same crap by hand day after day, and should be challenged to automate and use tools.¬† But a lot of the DevOps discussions do become “cool tool litanies” and that’s cart before the horse.¬† In my terminology, you don’t want to drive the principles out of the practices and methods – tooling is great but it should serve the goals.

We had that problem on our team. I had to talk to our Ops team and say “Hey, why are we doing all these tool implementations?¬† What overall goal are they serving? ”¬† Tools for the sake of tools are worse than pointless.


It is true that with agile and with DevOps that some folks are using it as an excuse to toss out process.  It should simply be a different kind of process! And you need to take into account all the stuff that should be in there.

A great example is Michael Howard et al. at Microsoft with their Security Development Lifecycle.¬† The first version of it was waterfall.¬† But now they’ve revamped it to have an agile security development lifecycle, so you know when to do your threat modeling etc.

Build instead of buy

Well, there are definitely some open source zealots involved with most movements that have any sysadmins involved. We would like to buy instead of build, but the existing tools tend to either not solve today’s problems or have poor ROI.

In IT, we implemented some “ITIL compliant” HP tools for problem tracking, service desk, and software deployment. They suck, and are very rigid, and cost a lot of money, and required as much if not more implementation time than writing something from scratch that actually addressed our specific requirements. And in general that’s been everyone’s experience. The Ops world has learned to fear the HP/IBM/CA/etc systems management suites because it’s just one of those niches that is expensive and bad (like medical or legal software).

But having said that, we buy when we can! Splunk gave us a lot more than cobbling together our own open source thing.  Cloudkick did too. Sure, we tend to buy SaaS a lot more than on prem software now because of the velocity that gives us, but I agree that you need to analyze the hidden costs of building as part of a build/buy Рyou just need to also see the hidden costs and compromised benefits of a buy.

Risk Control

This simply goes back to the cowboy concern. It’s clearly shown that if you structure your process correctly, with the right testing and signoff gates, then agile/devops/rapid deploys are less risky.

We came to this conclusion independently as well.¬† In IT, we ran (still do) these Web go lives once a month.¬† Our Web site consists of 200+ applications¬† and we have 70 or so programmers, 7 Web ops, a whole Infrastructure department, a host of third party stuff (Oracle and many more)… Every release plan was 100 lines long and the process of planning them and executing on them was horrific. The system gets complex enough, both technically and organizationally, that rollbacks + dependencies + whatnot simply turn into paralysis, and you have to roll stuff out to make money.¬† When the IT apps director suggested “This is too painful – we should just do these quarterly instead, and tell the business they get to wait 2 more months to make their money,” the light went on in my mind. Slower and more rigorous is actually worse.¬† It’s not more efficient to put all the product you’re shipping for the month onto a huge ass warehouse on the back of a giant truck and drive it around doing deliveries, either; this should be obvious in retrospect. Distribution is a form of risk management. “All the eggs in one big basket that we’ll do all at one time” is the antithesis of that.

The Future

We started DevOps here at NI from the operations guys.¬† We’d been struggling for years to get the programmers to take production responsibility for their apps. We had struggled to get them access to their own logs, do their own deploys (to dev and test), let business users input Apache redirects into a Web UI rather than have us do it… We developed a whole process, the Systems Development Framework, that we used to engage with dev teams and make sure all the performance, reliability, security, manageability, provisioning, etc. stuff was getting taken care of… But it just wasn’t as successful as we felt like it could be.¬† Realizing that a more integrated model was possible, we realized success was actually an option. Ask most sysadmin shows if they think success is actually a possible outcome of their work, and you’ll get a lot of hedging kinds of “well success is not getting ruined today” kinds of responses.

By combining ops and devs onto one team, by embedding ops expertise onto other dev teams, by moving to using the same tools and tracking systems between devs and ops, and striving for profound automation and self service, we’ve achieved a super high level of throughput within a large organization. We have challenges (mostly when management decides to totally change track on a product, sigh) but from having done it both ways – OMG it’s a lot better. Everything has challenges and risks and there definitely needs to to be some “big boy” compatible thinking¬† on DevOps – but it’s like anything else, those who adopt early will reap the rewards and get competitive advantage on the others. And that’s why we’re all in. We can wait till it’s all worked out and drool-proof, but that’s a better fit for companies that don’t actually have to produce/achieve any more (government orgs, people with more money than God like oil and insurance…).

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A Brief Hiatus

Sorry all, it’s been a crazy busy month around here.¬† But the Agile Admin is back, and we’ll be talking about the latest fun stuff in DevOps, cloud, and cloud security on a regular basis!

Some fun developments:

  • We delivered another NI SaaS product, the 1.0 version of the FPGA Compile Cloud
  • We’re working hard on another, the Technical Data Cloud
  • NI just hired Lars Ewe, former CTO of Cenzic, as a security guru, and he sits over here with our group.
  • Agile Austin has started a DevOps SIG
  • Work towards open sourcing PIE, our Programmable Infrastructure Environment, proceeds apace!

So we’ve been busy, but I know we need to take more time to discuss and engage with everyone else out there, so it’s back to posting!¬† Hope to see you all in the comments.


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