IT Ops doesn’t matter? Really?

Listen to some DevOps evangelists talk, and you would get the impression that IT operations teams only exist to serve the needs of developers. Now don’t get me wrong, software development is a good competence to have in house if your organisation depends on custom applications and services to differentiate its business. As an ex-developer myself, I of course appreciate the value of being able to deliver something tailored to a specific need, even if it does pain me to see the shortcuts too often taken nowadays due to ignorance of some of the old disciplines, or an obsession with time-to-market above all else. But before this degenerates into an ’old guy’ rant about ’youngsters today’, let’s get back to the point that I really want to make. All of the hype around software and developers, which tends to significantly skew even the DevOps discussion, runs the risk of creating the perception that IT ops is just a necessary evil. Indeed, some go so far as to make the case for a ’NoOps’ world in which the public cloud magically takes care of everything downstream once developers have ’innovated’ and ’created’. This kind of view comes about from people looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Turn the thing around and look up close at what goes on in the world of ops, and you get a much better sense of perspective. Teams operating in this space are not just there to deploy the next custom software release and make sure it runs quickly and robustly – in fact that’s often a relatively small part of what they do. This becomes obvious when you recognise how much stuff runs in an Enterprise IT landscape – software packages enabling core business processes, messaging, collaboration and workflow platforms keeping information flowing, analytics environments generating critical business insights, and desktop and mobile estates serving end user access needs – to name but a few. There’s then everything required to deal with security, data protection, compliance and other aspects of risk. Apart from the odd bit of integration and tailoring work – the need for which is diminishing with modern ’soft-coded’, connector-driven solutions – very little of all this has anything to do with development and developers. In fact, a big part of the rationale for modernising your application landscape and migrating to the latest flexible and open software packages and platforms is to eradicate the need for coding wherever you can. Code is expensive to build and maintain, and the same can often be achieved today through software switches, policy-driven workflow, drag-and-drop interface design, and so on. Sensible IT teams only code when they absolutely have to. And coming back to operations, if you think that the public cloud makes all challenges and requirements in this area go away, then you are sadly mistaken. If anything, the piecemeal adoption of cloud services has made things more complex and unpredictable from an integration and management perspective. There are all kinds of valid reasons to keep an application sitting on your own infrastructure anyway – regulation, performance, proximity to dependent solutions and data, etc. Then let’s not forget the simple fact that running things in the cloud is often more expensive over the longer term. Against this background, an ’appropriate’ level of custom development and the selective use of cloud services will be the way forward for most organisations, all underpinned by a well-run datacentre environment acting as the hub for hybrid delivery. This is the approach that tends to be taken by the most successful enterprise IT teams, and the element that makes particularly high achievers stand out is agile and effective IT operations. This isn’t just to support any DevOps agenda you might have; it is demonstrably a key enabler across the board. Of course if you work in operations, you will know already intuitively know all this. But if you want some ammunition to spell it out to others who need enlightenment, take a look at our research report entitled ’IT Ops as a Digital Business Enabler; more than just keeping the lights on’. This is based on input from 400 Senior European IT professionals and can be downloaded from here.
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Dale is a co-founder of Freeform Dynamics, and today runs the company. As part of this, he oversees the organisation’s industry coverage and research agenda, which tracks technology trends and developments, along with IT-related buying behaviour among mainstream enterprises, SMBs and public sector organisations.