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Yet, another post about Ops, DevOps, NoOps!

In the past few days I’ve seen strong exchange of opinions about the different Ops flavours. In particular Adrian (@adrianco) from Netflix, in a series of twitter posts, defined as “NoOps” a certain number of practices adopted by Netflix development teams to push in production changes by themselves without depending on Ops teams. The twitter posts, and most probably, the presence of the “No” prefix, have been largely mis-interpreted by Ops communities. Adrian with this post, tried to clarify what the term NoOps means in NetFlix.

My background is Dev, so I entirely understand Adrian’s point of view. I also spent few years in QA trying to make systems more scalable, reliable, resilient, etc., and somehow I do understand some of the Ops criticisms to generally irresponsible Dev teams. Dev is generally measured in delivery throughput, so the more they change the better it is. Ops is traditionally measured by stability, so the less they change the better it is. How this can possibly go wrong!! Finally, some big companies apply the “segregation of duties” (madness) that surely doesn’t help the communication between Dev and Ops.

In the past few years, we saw the emergent movement of DevOps whose main intent is to break this wall between the two disciplines and get them to talk. Now NoOps, as it has been perceived by the communities (not as described by Adrian), looks like Dev won’t need Ops any more.

To get a better understanding of Ops, DevOps and NoOps I’ll try to explain them with parallel in everyday life.

The Ops case

If instead of building software and services we were building a large shopping centre, Dev would be represented by the engineering and construction team. At project termination, to “run” the shopping centre with all facilities, services and shops, a complete different team takes over. People from this team don’t have engineering or construction skills, but they know how to run the service. They have business knowledge, the know the clientèle, they understand the user’s needs, they know how to run a shop and maintain relationships with vendors and suppliers. Of course they know the sopping centre structure very well. So far things sounds very normal.

The DevOps case

In the above example, after the buildings are ready to host shops and clients, we take another team of engineers and builders (different from the one that built the centre), and ask them to run the business. Since they have a very good understanding of the structural problem and capacity concepts of the individual shopping areas they make sure that escalators, lift, and facilities run accordingly. They have knowledge of supply chain management, but not necessarily they understand the business potentials, and they will do things such as limiting the number of people that access the shopping area to avoid overcrowding (limiting revenues as well).

The NoOps case

In this case the engineering team and the builders that built the centre decide to run the shopping centre by themselves. So they try to understand the business by accessing data such as daily revenues and customer visits of individual shops. They try to improve general throughput and improve the structure where needed, but they might miss completely some business opportunities because their core skills are elsewhere.

Another analogy can be taken from the design and construction of a Formula 1 car and the Grand Prix race. Again, engineering teams (DEV) design and build a perfect car. NoOps says: “I’ve built it, I’ll drive it!!” (good luck). For DevOps case, we will select a good mechanic and ask him to run the race for us. Something like: “…you know how does’t work, no? this is the steering wheel, this is to accelerate, press this start. But remember, never press the red button.!!!” and they never say why. Of course inevitably the button is pressed and the ejection mechanism activated. In the Ops case, we would carefully select a good driver, explain him how the car works, train him on the road with the car, collecting precious feedback from him, and finally ask him to run the Gran Prix.

On those analogies it appears clearly that the “pure” Ops strategy is the best. Building a service and running it requires very different skills. Sometime there are few overlapping but both areas need to be specialized.

So why this doesn’t work with software development? I personally think that has to do with the fact that most of the operational teams tend to avoid as much as possible changes and releases. In the real life analogy, the Ops team of a shopping centre would never stop engineering teams from fixing a broken lift or improving a old area, because they know that, although there will be some inconvenience, the engineering works will improve the overall business; maybe attracting new customers, maybe expanding business opportunities or simply improving the service. Similarly the Formula 1 pilot would be very happy to get the latest aerodynamics improvements on the car, or the new super techno tires, because they’ll improve his chances to win the race.

So, where is the catch? The catch is that the common target should prevail over the resistance to the change. In the real life analogies the driver would have full trust of his engineers, and vice-versa. This doesn’t happen in IT mostly because Dev team they don’t share responsibilities of running the services, and usually, Ops doesn’t benefit from Dev changes that in many cases are poorly tested, and they cause problems.

Of course this doesn’t apply to all realities. Where the communication and collaboration between those teams is encouraged, and there is mutual trust and respect things works better. That’s why DevOps is actually more effective than traditional Ops. Netflix pushes things an extra mile. If engineers (Dev and Ops) are directly responsible to run the service and they respond directly to their system failures, this make them aware of certain issues and necessities that usually operation team have. Things like resilience, monitoring, admin tools are too often tagged as “Nice to have” and never properly implemented.

So NoOps, as pointed out in this post, is NOT the absence of an operation team, but just very good Ops practices ran by Dev. In particularly I would say that instead of talking of NoOps we are actually talking about SelfOps. In fact at Netflix the DevOps teams have built tools to automate and enable Dev teams to Self-serve their operations needs (finally the right kind of automation). Therefore, in my opinion, NoOps (or SelfOps as I call it) is just the best Ops you can have! By building automation tools they have removed the historical dependency from Dev. As consequence they increased the delivery throughput as the business requires and minimized the risk by sharing responsibilities.

In conclusion

It’s all down to three key elements: communication, mutual trust and most important shared responsibility.

So if you are a Dev, take direct responsibility of the software that you build and try to run it together with Ops. If you are an Ops, ask your Dev peer to sit together with you and have a look to logs, metrics, and other system parameters to get a better understanding of the system, and then write some tool to make sure that Dev doesn’t need you to push changes to production.

Tomorrow flying to Malaysia for a couple of weeks of relaxing holidays. :-)

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