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DevOps Adoption Cultural Challenges

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Oliver White, Head of RebelLabs, recently discussed the difficulties of DevOps adoption at IT organizations, even when there are surveys that highlight the advantages of DevOps. InfoQ took the opportunity to interview Oliver and review some of the reports that study this topic.

Oliver starts by stating that there are measurable improvements to be gained by DevOps, as suggested by a 2013 RebelLabs report which is broadly in line with 2013 PuppetLabs' State of DevOps and InformationWeek surveys on the topic. All of them reach the conclusion that DevOps helps the IT systems to become more robust, but also more amenable to fast and frequent deployments.

On the other hand, InformationWeek DevOps survey report, published recently but performed last October, states that only 75% of the surveyed knew about DevOps and only 21% of those where already using it. RebelLabs survey, also found that only 20% of the respondents engaged in DevOps activities, although 65% where treating it as a key initiative under discussion. These findings contrast somewhat with the 63% of respondents who were using DevOps practices as reported by the State of DevOps survey. These numbers might not be incompatible as DevOps adoption does not lend itself easily to yes/no answers and none of the surveys clearly states what criteria must an organization satisfy to embody DevOps.

Oliver thinks that the cultural barriers to DevOps adoption are high: "the progressive ideals it professes are shamefully simple; this convinces people that if such easy things (...) are not happening naturally, then things must be systemically screwed up and therefore unchangeable."

InformationWeek's survey also hints at some perceptions that might restrain the success of a DevOps initiative: "Only 45% of tech pros adopting DevOps say they expect it to improve security; 32% see DevOps having no impact, good or bad, on security; and 7% think DevOps will make the IT operation somewhat less secure.". On the same InformationWeek article, Michael Davis, points to other difficulties that traditional IT organizations might face: "Web companies, for example, do a huge number of code changes but have very few applications -- the opposite of most enterprise IT organizations, which have a maze of legacy apps for which they try to minimize changes. (...) You probably have systems from the 1980s and software documentation that might as well say 'Here Be Dragons', because no one really knows how those systems work and the mindset is just don't touch that code".

Asked on how to overcome those cultural barriers to ease the adoption of DevOps, Oliver said:

Setting up an actual roadmap with goals in mind would be a start. I don't think the goal should be "100% DevOps Now" at the end of it, but more like abstract targets--are these teams able to interact and work together in a way to make DevOps even possible? This is not guaranteed, after all. It's like taking Vitamin D to better absorb Calcium--if you don't, chances of a broken bone might be raised (or osteoporosis)...but if you do take it then it doesn't mean that you won't break bones any more--just that it won't suck as much when you do. DevOps is not a panacea, but a boost. As people begin to see it more as a supplement than a cure-all, perhaps adoption can be made simpler and remove the perception that implementing DevOps principles is hard to do.

Although there's no guarantee that RebelLabs will do a DevOps survey in 2014, Oliver thinks "an interesting area to explore is to better understand what practical difficulties hold organizations back from adopting a DevOps approach -- encompassing both practical and cultural issues".

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