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The Convergence of DevOps

I’d like to describe how DevOps is the culmination of three amazing and significant movements. This is what we’re putting into the DevOps Cookbook.

So the saying goes “If I could have a nickel for every time I have heard the expression “Cloud? We’ve been doing that for 20 years!” I would be a …”

So goes DevOps.  The funny thing is that most people are right in saying “we’ve been doing DevOps for years.”  That’s mainly because there is not good canonical definition for DevOps.  However, the purpose of this post is not to debate the definition of DevOps; moreover, it’s to help describe and understand the movement’s history.

Last year, when asked to deliver the keynote for the DevOpsDays MoutainView 2011,  I gave a presentation called “DevOps State of the Union.”  I identified three distinct threads that helped us arrive at the current healthy debate and movement we call DevOps.  Of course this is not the only list; but I believe it’s an excellent place to start.

The Agile Infrastructure Thread

Probably the most recognized thread is the one that starts with Patrick Debois (@patrickdebois) and Andrew Shafer (@littelidea).  At the Agile 2008 conference Patrick and Andrew tried to run a BOF called “Agile Infrastructure”. Unfortunately no one came.  However, around the same time Marcel Wegerman had started an agile-sysadmin mailing list in Europe that Patrick was heavily involved with.  This list was instrumental in promoting a bridge between development and systems administration.

I first heard of the agile infrastructure concept while listening to Andrew, Isreal Ghat (@agile_exec) and Michael Cote (@cote) on a Redmonk podcast.  I was so excited I had to pull my car off the road to take notes.  I immediately called Andrew and he turned me on to Patrick and the work he was doing.  Actually it’s more of an accident that the term “DevOps” came to be,  Patrick was so excited about John Allspaw’s seminal Velocity 2009 presentation titled “10+ Deploys Per Day: Dev and Ops Cooperation” he decided to create a two day conference called DevOps Days in Ghent in late 2009.  At the time I was working as a cloud evangelist for Canonical and I somehow convinced my then boss Simon Wardley (@swardley) to let me attend this this first time event.  I knew this conference was going to be an important event for the growth of cloud computing, but, I credit Simon for having foresight to sponsor my attendance.  Cloud and Devops who knew?

In my option, this event was the closest, we will ever get to a “DevOps Manifesto.”  The passion and influencers in this event, even with less than 50 attendees,  created the start of the DevOps movement around the world.  Many participants, including Lindsay Holmwood (@auxesis) from Australia and Julian Simpson (@builddoctor), R.I. Pienaar (@ripienaar), Chris Read (@cread) and Stephen Nelson-Smith (@lordcope) from the UK, went on to found DevOps Days in their respective countries. I came back to the good old USA and started blogging and spreading the good news.

With the help of Damon Edwards (@damonedwards),  Andrew Shafer (@littelidea) and Jesse Robins (@jesserobbins) we were able to pull off the first US based DevOps Days in Moutainview in 2010. Bringing together some of the brightest operations experts in America,  DevOps Days Mountainview proved to be another milestone event for the movement. Namely because it was the first event where analysts were in attendence.  In fact, it was this event that sparked Jay Lyman of the 451 Groups to write the  first ever analyst report on DevOps.  I guess the rest, as they say, is history.

The Velocity Thread

Most people will cite John Allspaw’s (@allspaw) Velocity 2009 presentation titled “10+ Deploys Per Day: Dev and Ops Cooperation” as a pivotal moment in the Devops movement.  I was fortunate enough to be at that presentation and it blew me away.  You can image the headline of 10+ deploys a day.  It brought shock and awe to the room.  Ten plus deploys a day? That can’t possibly work.  Taking some creative license in recounting this event, I swear there were people throwing up in the back of the room from the sheer horror they had just witnessed.

Like Patrick,  John is an icon for the Devops movement; however, there is a little pre-history that deserves some deeper investigation on this thread.  In 2007 I stumbled upon a great post by Jesse Robbins on O’Reilly Radar titled “Operations is a competitive advantage… (Secret Sauce for Startups!).”  For the first time Jesse was introducing technical debt as not just a metaphor for software development but applying it to operations as well. In his article he has a link to another great post done by Tim O’Reilly in 2006 called “Operations: The New Secret Sauce.”  This is what I call “Tim’s Operations Elephant in the Room Epiphany.” Tim’s epiphany, along with a lot of Jesse’s hard work, created the Velocity conference.  Without Patrick, John, and Jesse, the DevOps movement may have never gained the traction necessary to really take off.

The Lean Startup Thread

But wait there more…  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the influence of Lean on DevOps.  More importantly the subliminal impact Eric Ries has had on DevOps.

This story starts with a book called “Four Steps to the Epiphany” written by Steven Blank. Four Steps’s Customer Development Methodology was a major influence of Eric Ries’ Lessons Learned blog and his eventual book title “Lean Startup”.  Eric took many of the great “Lean Manufacturing” ideas combined with Blank’s approaches and built his first startup called IMVU.  It was there he blogged about the methods he used while engineering the startup.  Eric and Blank’s influence reaches far beyond just their books.

The Lessons Learned  blog Eric created had a major impact on many Silicon Valley startups between 2007 and 2010.  One such startup, a company called Wealthfront, now an undisputed poster child for the implementation of DevOps, not surprisingly, was directly influenced by Eric.  Eric acted as an advisor to Wealtfront and drove a lot of their operational engineering decisions.

Last but not least this thread would be incomplete without a to shout to Jez Humble (@jezhumble) of Thoughtworks. on his work with ‘Continous Delivery.”  I am not sure how much influence Blank and Ries played a role in Jez’s canonical source on “Continuos Delivery, but I am certain he (Jez) deserves a place holder in this thread.

  • Jesse Robbins

    John, this is an exceptional post.  

    I owe my own thanks to Brady Forrest & Artur Bergman who recruited me to O’Reilly Radar.  That put me in a position to lobby Tim O’Reilly to create a home for our tribe.  

    Tim’s story of that history is here:

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  • jezhumble

    Thanks for the shout out John.

    Dave and I had been writing the book for three years when Tim Fitz’ continuous deployment post came out, and I came across Steve Blank’s work at about the same time. However I failed to do my research thoroughly enough, and the first I heard about Eric Ries was when someone tweeted that I had stolen his ideas after our book came out (fortunately Eric is a great guy and we defused that particular bomb).

    I love the fact you describe the movement as a “convergence”. That’s exactly how it felt to me. The Continuous Delivery book itself is a convergence of experiments many of us in ThoughtWorks had been working on for several years, mainly in the “enterprise” IT space. It became clear in the year before the book was published that there were multiple other independent streams – as you describe here – that were all pursuing the same train of thought within other communities (proof that software people are – ironically – still crap at communication).

    Having set out to write a niche book on the utterly dry topic of build and release management, I am still amazed that this stuff has become cool, and excited that as a community we might actually help to leave IT in a better state than we found it.

  • Mike Orzen

    Excellent post John! The concepts around DevOps is “lean thinking” applied to the lifecycle of an app or system. Lean is a gathering of many great thinkers (Ford, Deming, Ohno, Shingo, Womack, Rother to name a few). It is not surprising that DevOps is also a melting pot of ideas and, by its very nature, evolving as new insights and levels of understanding are uncovered.

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