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Book Review: Pro Website Development and Operations

Pro Website Development and Operations ” by Matthew Sacks is a short book with an ambitious subplot: “Streamlining DevOps for Large-Scale Websites”. Although large-scale websites brings to mind companies like Facebook or Twitter, the book seems to cater in particular for enterprises with medium to large IT departments. The web aspect is only superficially addressed in discussions such as operational metrics or mobile/web integration strategies.

The first two chapters of the book talk about DevOps and the difficulties of getting business and IT people to talk the same language and share the same goals. Existing literature already addresses these issues in depth, which means the current book adds little value unless you are totally new to the DevOps movement and the communication and collaboration problems it tries to address.

Each of the remaining five chapters of the book addresses a specific practice (web testing, intelligent documentation, infrastructure automation and provisioning, production launches, mobile/web integration). It remains unclear if this selection represents the author’s top contributors for moving towards a DevOps culture or simply general good practices for website development and operations.

The more technical chapters (web testing, mobile/web integration, infrastructure automation) provide a high level overview of issues to consider (deciding what to test, tracking tier performance over time, monitoring mobile usage and making choices accordingly, leveraging automation, enabling self-service ops jobs) but the examples are lightweight thus requiring further literature for a practical usage.

The more process-oriented chapters (intelligent documentation, production launches) show some naiveté in the practices recommended (document and revise regularly using templates, cater for non-technical audiences, setup special projects team, allocate sufficient resources, keep motivation high) and the cost/benefit ratio is nearly always theoretical. In fact, critics might argue that some of these practices, without an adequate follow up, might lead to more silos and snowflake deployments.

Overall the book is a quick read that provides some useful insights and potential starting points for enterprise practitioners and technical managers in medium to large enterprises where development and operations are still very defensive towards each other (often driven by conflicting goals) and where a blame culture reigns.

Unfortunately the lack of depth prevents the book from being more than a starting point for beginners. Possibly the author’s experience could have been better distilled in anecdotal style, providing more context and real life lessons learned and leaving it up to the readers to draw their own conclusions on the applicability to their own workplace.

About the Book Author

Matthew Sacks is a system administrator and programmer specializing in highly scalable Web sites and applications. He has also worked as a Java and Python programmer. He has presented at USENIX LISA and ApacheCon and is the founder of the USENIX Blog team.

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