We hear a lot about DevOps culture and how it will wake the sleeping global corporates. Once aroused these genial giants will shower us all with the gifts of their benevolence. So we’re told.
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DevOps is the weapon that opens the gates and breathes life into these beauties.
Yes, all you have to do is create some code, defeat the praetorian guard of execotaurs of middle management (they’re like minotaurs, only they’re half man-half desk) and force them to understand your instruction to be ‘more agile’. Once you’ve done that, it’s just a question of fundamentally changing human nature and re-configuring our primal instincts.
As they say in IT industry press releases, it really is as simple as that.
Maybe professional services company ECS, which turns over £90 million a year for its services to infrastructure agility, can enlighten us. Its new DevOps division tripled its revenue last year, so they must know what they are doing.
If i’m interpreting Dave Foreman, the ECS corporate services practice director, correctly then agility begins with the brains of the company. You can’t be lithe without a good nervous system, otherwise all that intelligence about the environment won’t reach the brain and the response messages will never make it to the muscles.
When ECS started in 2009 it worked on the brains of its corporate patients, which we call the data centre. (No no, people are not the most valuable assets of a modern corporation. That would be the computers and the database of customers.)
By manipulating the head, the data centre, ECS’s IT physios were able to improve movement to the extent that they were massively relieving pain in the corporate backbone. Some patients were able to migrate their data centres - a task that was previously too daunting. Soon word got around in corporate circles, and people were swapping details of these miracle workers.
Soon people were coming to them with other problems. If you free up the backbone, suddenly the company becomes more empowered and sensitive. Last year patients paid ECS £15m for its networking advice alone. Another unexpected runaway hit has been its security services, for which the invoices totted up to £25m in the same period.
Having got the infrastructure in place, it’s possible to get the intellectual capital to follow. People are a lot more difficult to manage though. There’s centuries of conditioning that goes into these models, and primal instincts that nobody really understands because the original creator didn’t leave any instructions.
Foreman and his colleague Chris Glynn, a senior consultant at ECS are the men faced with creating the cultural change needed to make two rather stiff and inflexible limbs - Development and Operations - work in harmony.
How do you do this with corporations? “It’s all about relationships and trust,” says Glynn.
It helps that their clients tend to be financial services giants, who are suddenly being forced to change by all these Fintech barbarians at the gate. And since they’d had things their own way since the concept of money began, they haven’t got a clue how to be reactive. Now they’ve got to stop hugging everything they held dear - their servers, their environment and their heritage - and learn to move more quickly without all this baggage.
How does ECC do this? It created a model to virtualise all the data but use masking to cover confidentiality. This separation of data from machinery gives it license to pick and choose the systems for processing that data. A combination of Docker, Delphix and LZ Labs’ mainframes helps it create whole new models of its clients in minutes and hours, rather than weeks and months.
Which is how ECS creates corporate agility. Only by tinkering with machines have they been able to change a four hour data job into a fifteen minute one. It changing machine culture that had cut deployment of a new banking system to a tenth of the time, not by corporate culture.
So, the people don’t matter do they?
Yes they do, insists Foreman. “It’s still important to have the right culture. There are massive skills shortages. If you can’t retrain the existing workforce you will never find the workers,” he says.
Good luck with whoever is in charge of that one! In the meantime, ECS is now looking to apply these efficiency lessons to GDPR.