DevOps isn't viable for enterprise? Tell that to IBM

After spending a few days here in Orlando at the IBM Innovate conference, I can tell you that DevOps is very much alive and viable in even the largest enterprises.

There has been quite a bit of controversy lately over an article in the Wall Street Journal about whether or not DevOps was viable for enterprises. After spending a few days here in Orlando at the IBM Innovate conference, I can tell you that DevOps is very much alive and viable in even the largest enterprises.

Actually, no one doubted that certain enterprises were thriving using a DevOps IT philosophy. The so-called unicorns (not sure if my friend Gene Kim coined the phrase, but he certainly has popularized it) like Google, Facebook and Twitter have massive IT infrastructures that are being continuously updated have used DevOps as a competitive advantage. In fact, without DevOps some doubt these companies could function at the high level they do. But beyond the unicorns, what about the horses (again as Gene calls them)?

If it is horses you were looking for, you would think this was Kentucky Derby week here in Orlando. Not only were there literally hundreds and thousands of enterprise customers here attending the show, which was chock full of DevOps sessions, there were some who stood up proudly and talked about how they are using DevOps. Many organizations, such as Nationwide Insurance, Bank of America, Fidelity, KMD, Fiducuia IT, Royal Cyber and Rosalind, all participated in DevOps panels. When you get not only large enterprises like these but large financial institutions, you know that DevOps for the enterprise is real.

Many of these companies had similar stories. DevOps in the enterprise succeeds when you can start with a definite area or project. A successful outcome leads to champions who can then carry the DevOps gospel throughout the organization. 

Obviously, enterprises are different than startups. They are not just going to flip a switch and move to DevOps across the entire organization. For an organization to adopt DevOps, it has to be done over time and in definite phases. Success breeds more success. Doing projects or areas at a time brings momentum and an aura of success. In this way, enterprises spread DevOps across the entire organization.

Another observation from Gene Kim, based on research he was involved in (more on that tomorrow), is that organizations where IT feels “free” versus a “big brother is watching” do much better with DevOps. It makes sense if you think about it.  As I said, Gene had lots of data that points to the success of high-performing IT. 

Like any IBM conference, there was no shortage of IBMers at this show as well. From Europe, South America and Asia, I spoke with many of them. They are excited about bringing DevOps to more companies. Whether it be through the Blue Mix PaaS that is now out of beta or through traditional IBM services, IBM thinks that we have moved beyond Agile to DevOps, and there is a bright future ahead for Big Blue by leading the DevOps charge.

An interesting point at one of the panels I sat in on was that DevOps and outsourcing seem to be at loggerheads. So I asked how this affects IBM’s own people services.  That started a discussion about how outsourcing doesn’t work with DevOps because DevOps works best when all of the constituent parties are in the same space. This could be a reason that DevOps sometimes doesn’t work at enterprises. They are so spread out geographically that it makes it hard.

So the real issue is not outsourcing versus in house. It is about communication. Whether in the next desk, down the hall or across town, in order for DevOps to succeed, the communication lines must be deep and open.

An IBM VP mentioned that this was a lesson the organization has learned over the years. They are cognizant of time zones. It is OK for workers (in-house and outsourced) to be in different offices or work from home and such. But if they are too far apart in terms of time zones, it is just not practical for communication lines to be open and deep enough for initiatives like DevOps to succeed. 

Another thing I noticed at Innovate was that, whereas many IT folks in startups prefer free and open source tools, the enterprise has no problem paying good money for quality development and operations tools. While no one hates free and there is no open source bias, they also understand that in order to succeed there is a cost involved with all tools. They have no problem paying for tools and services.  Startups generally are more cost-conscious trying to do things free at first and paying only if they have to. There is probably a lesson here for many of the companies with excellent free and open source tools that are trying to crack the nut on how to monetize.

These sort of practical tips that were learned the hard way are what makes DevOps in the enterprise succeed. I am sure IBM is not alone in succeeding in the enterprise with DevOps, but from the people here at Innovate, it seems that IBM, through its Rational, Jazz and Urban Code, has the ability to deliver DevOps solutions continuously.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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