The DevOps Army

Engineers leverage DevOps every day

DevOps as a concept sounds great. Who would be against automating engineering, development and IT operations to make organizations develop, deploy and operate faster, quicker and more efficiently? But what does that really mean? Is there anyone doing this? And what exactly do they do? I had a chance to catch up with a few members of the silent DevOps army recently and spoke to them about how they use DevOps in their everyday tasks.

As I have written before, I was out in Boulder a few weeks ago for a DevOps Con hosted by IBM's SoftLayer and JumpCloud. Out there, I took the time to speak with some folks in the audience. While there were plenty of C-type folks there, my real goal was to find people who really do DevOps. The tech people who more than talk about it, live it. People who have DevOps under their fingernails. I actually met quite a few of these soldiers in the DevOps army. For me they are the real rock stars of DevOps.

The first person I spoke to was Ben Good. Ben is the Director of operations for Clip Interactive. Clip is pioneering a whole new revenue model for radio using mobile devices. Like most startups today, Clip leverages the cloud for much of its infrastructure. As they continue to develop their model and their solution, it is not unusual for them to make several changes a day sometimes to code. Obviously, this could be a huge headache from an Ops point of view. On top of this, Clip is not big enough to have separate development, operations, QA and security teams.

Another interesting fact was that Clip has literally tens of virtual servers set up in the cloud. This is not unusual. KC Berg, CTO of JumpCloud, says that their research shows the average company using the cloud has between 30 and 50 server instances spun up. With all of these instances managing, monitoring and setup is a never-ending task. 

Ben has made his life easier by using Chef. The popular program lets users create scripts. Chef's biggest competitor is Puppet Labs. Ben felt Chef was easier to use than Puppet. However, both required him to learn a new scripting method and took some time. He chose Chef and now, while not an expert, he is able to leverage Chef quite a bit. In addition to Chef, Ben uses JumpCloud to manage user access to Clip's servers, as well as security and patch monitoring. Ben points to JumpCloud as a great case of automation and DevOps making his life easier. Without it, he would have to set up LDAP servers and a whole bunch more access control infrastructure. JumpCloud automates and manages that whole process for him. For Ben, that is what DevOps is all about - how he can force multiply his precious time by automating the day-to-day tasks. 

Ben is constantly on the lookout for new ways of automating and streamlining. While at the conference he was very intrigued with VictorOps, another DevOps solution based in Boulder that I have written on before.

Clip Interactive is probably pretty typical of startups today and Ben and I have found is pretty typical of the kind of engineers who are running as fast as they can to keep the lights on as these companies iterate and reiterate on an almost daily basis.

The next person I want to highlight is Max Parris, director of operations at Tap Influence. Tap Influence is the new name of Blog Frog, another company I wrote about a while back. They have pivoted their business model a bit, as they now seek to help major brands influence their markets.  Much like Ben, Max is the guy who has to keep a fast-paced development operation up and running. Where Ben prefers Chef, Max actually uses Capistrano, another DevOps tool, though not as popular as Puppet or Chef. Max realizes that many folks choose between Puppet and Chef.  Max realizes he may well move to one or the other in the near future. Where Ben thinks Chef is easier, Max on the other hand thought Puppet was easier. All of these tools use scripts to automate a lot of the day-to-day tasks of keeping the server instances running.. Also like Ben, he uses JumpCloud for user access control. Max again said that by using an automation tool like JumpCloud, he avoided having to set up and administer a lot of the infrastructure associated with access control. Things like LDAP and the like.

Max spent some time learning Puppet and he says it was time well spent. But if he could find an easier tool that would allow him to do much of what he does with Puppet without the learning curve, he would jump on that as well. Tap Influence is probably a bigger operation than Clip Interactive at this point. For Max this means that automation is even more important. Max can't imagine what it would be like to try and manage the Tap Influence infrastructure without using DevOps tools.

I met a few other DevOps soldiers like Ben and Max at the conference. Their experience and stories were similar. It seems that at startups all over the world, the soldiers of the DevOps movement are quietly keeping things humming by automating and leveraging DevOps tools that many of us may not even be aware of yet.

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