November 23, 2011, 2:26 PM — An emerging concept known as DevOps will be the major theme at this year's Usenix LISA (Large Installation System Administration) conference, to be held in Boston the week of Dec. 4.
"LISA is always on the cutting edge of system administration, and DevOps is really capturing the spirit of all the new best technologies in system administration," said Tom Limoncelli, a co-chairman for the conference.
The Usenix conference will feature a number of talks that explore the concept of DevOps, including a keynote on the topic by Ben Rockwood, the director of systems engineering at cloud services provider Joyent.
In a nutshell, DevOps is the practice of aligning an organization's developmental environment more closely with its operational environment, so developers will better know what changes to make to an application, based on performance metrics and feedback from administrators.
While such an idea may appear obvious, large organizations have tended to keep their developers apart from the operational folks who use the software. "Years ago, developers would make software, shrink-wrap it, and system administrators were left alone to figure out how to effectively deploy it, upgrade it and scale it," Limoncelli said.
This approach can lead to a number of issues, however. Most notably, if the software works more slowly than expected, the debugging process can be slow, because the issue is always volleyed back and forth between developers and administrators, with each party assuming the other's work is at fault. Also, the features that a developer thinks a program should have are not always the ones that administrators, or users, might actually find useful.
DevOps tightens the feedback loop between developers and operations, allowing developers to make changes more quickly and organizations to speed the refinement of their code. With the DevOps approach, "The system administrators are involved from the very beginning of software redesign, so reliability and scalability are built in," Limoncelli said. "By being collaborative, you get a higher velocity of change, better uptime and better scalability."
The rise of DevOps at this time perhaps could be attributed to the emergence of large-scale Internet services, such as Google, Amazon and Twitter, all of which have embraced the principles behind DevOps, Limoncelli said. Such companies are fiercely competitive and so they need to implement new features as rapidly as possible. Such companies also tend not to use prepackaged software from third-party software vendors, and instead rely on open-source programs that their in-house developers and engineers can expand upon and tweak for their own specific environments.