The extremely cynical take on DevOps

July 11, 2012

You can take a number of views of what DevOps is about and what it means; for example, I've written about DevOps as a way to deal with the blame problem. That was a relatively cheery view of DevOps, so to go with it here is a really cynical one.

The grim view of what DevOps means is that it shows that people are not getting their money's worth from traditional sysadmins, or at least they feel that they aren't; they feel that traditional sysadmins cost too much and deliver too few benefits. For these people it's more cost effective overall to turn developers into partial, part time sysadmins than to hire actual sysadmins. Given that developers are relatively costly and in particular generally more costly than a sysadmin, this is a stunning failure on the part of actual system administration. In effect this view says that typical sysadmins are either screamingly inefficient at doing their work or they're adding negative value to the overall organization.

At this point it's customary for traditional sysadmins to rise in righteous anger to point out all of the things that these new-fangled 'devops' organizations are either doing badly or not doing, and talk about all of the things that can go wrong if you don't have real professionals. Unfortunately the proof is in the pudding, namely that real companies are doing this and they have not exploded. Yes, every so often such companies make a mistake that causes experienced sysadmins to roll their eyes and mutter 'how could they not know that', but it's almost always only embarrassing in the end and ultimately doesn't matter; as I wrote before in passing, it'll generally take a real long tail event to kill an otherwise sound company.

(In another world it might be possible to argue that companies that take this view are either terribly mistaken and thus doomed, or have simply not run into challenges that require real sysadmin expertise yet. In this world, some of the companies taking the DevOps view are quite successful and have run into real problems. So clearly taking a DevOps view doesn't doom your company and still leaves you able to solve hard system administration problems.)

Comments on this page:

From at 2012-07-11 02:39:33:

It may well be that some startups can do without sysadmins in the cloud, but most clouds are private (this is a fact, no possible discussion about it).

Another fact is that most startups when they reach a critical mass begin feeling the pressure on delivering to the people who put the money. So they hire professionals (sysadmins) to leverage the stability they cannot provide because they are developpers, not sysadmins.

You can rent sysadmins (consultants), that is not a problem. No need to hire them and put them in payroll. They will just be called 'architects' or 'systems integrators'. They cost more than the regular sysadmin but hey, they wear ties.

From at 2012-07-12 08:37:40:

I think you are either being too cynical or defining traditional sysadmin more narrowly then I would. If you look at who is presenting at a lot of the conferences from the "DevOps" companies it is often the people from the operations side, not the development side.

Written on 11 July 2012.
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Last modified: Wed Jul 11 00:22:11 2012
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