On the Nature of DevOps

yin_yangLike the Tao Te Ching, those who seek DevOps often come up empty-handed.  Both the Tao and DevOps are elusive.  (Recruiters find it particularly so.)  And yet, if they open their minds, there it will be, right in front of them.

The DevOps that can be spoken is not the eternal DevOps.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of Development and Operations.

Today, DevOps is a buzz word.  The term has as many different meanings as the number of people you ask to define it.  Many people today are captivated by the word, but they fail to see beyond, to the essence of what it means.  They seek to find practitioners of DevOps, but are disappointed when they can’t find any.

Officially, I began my career as a systems administrator in 2001.  At that company, the high-level view of the technical organization was as follows.  I worked within the Technical Operations group.

                        | Software    |
                        | Development |
                          /          \
                        /              \
                      /                  \
            +------------+             +-------------+
            | Technical  | ----------- | Release     |
            | Operations |             | Engineering |
            +------------+             +-------------+

From the beginning, I had begun to apply many of the principles that would later become tenets of the DevOps movement.

  • Automation of our operating system installs (Kickstart and Jumpstart).
  • Lots of scripting (Perl, Bash, Python).
  • Configuration management of servers (CFEngine).
  • A central management server, with password-less SSH access to all the other servers.
  • A whole lot of monitoring tools (too many to list here).
  • Code and configurations were in a revision control system.
  • As a company, we also automated our code builds and deployments
    (done by our Release Engineering team).
  • Technical Operations met weekly with our colleagues in both Software Development and Release Engineering — to discuss upcoming releases, the potential impacts of new features to our infrastructure, how best to design those features so that they were scalable, how best to monitor the new services and features so we could identify problems early, as well as planning for additional infrastructure capacity.
  • We also communicated with each other though IRC chat.

That was nearly a decade before the term DevOps was eventually coined in 2009.  We were already doing these things, not because it was cool, but because it was common sense.  We saw the value of investing our time and efforts into doing these things.  We were highly productive at what we did.  We were able to manage a large installation of thousands of servers and storage nodes with a surprisingly small number of people.  We were early adopters of DevOps principles, years before it became fashionable to do so.

Another important point worth mentioning.  The company I worked for invested time and money into training and developing the employees within the Technical Operations department.  As “ops” people, we were encouraged to learn scripting and coding.  In essence, the company developed the people it needed to accomplish the work that needed to be done.  It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.  There was very little employee turnover within the Technical Operations group.  I worked at that company for 8 years, and many of my colleagues had similar tenures there.

So, the next time you find yourself looking for those elusive DevOps engineers that you can’t seem to find, you should think about what you are really looking for.  Ask yourself whether you are really looking for the right things in the right places.  For most of you, I suspect you are not.

The Fed’s Latest Round of Quantitative Easing

I read the following in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, “Heard on the Street”, p. B16, October 9-10, 2010 …

Being a bear with a capital “B” is tough when the Federal Reserve is juicing markets. The prospect of more extraordinary easing measures Friday pushed the Dow back above 11,000.

But that hasn’t deterred David Rosenberg, Gluskin Sheff’s chief economist.  While the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has said the recession ended in June 2009, Mr. Rosenberg insists we are still in a depression.

That view is based on a less-technical measure of downturns than that used by the NBER.  Mr. Rosenberg says a recession is when government tries “to stimulate the private sector.” A depression is when government tries “to sustain the private sector.” The latter, he argues is very much the case today.

And for those who question the absence of 1930s-style bread lines, Mr. Rosenberg counters that today, thanks to food stamps and other government-assistance programs, “the soup and bread lines are in the mail.”

He makes a good point.  Due to the recession, 1 in 8 Americans now receives food stamps.  If you were to count all those who are eligible, but for whatever reason do not collect, the number is something like 1 in 5 Americans.

Let’s see whether the Fed is successful in stimulating the economy with lower long-term interest rates.  It might work, but it might not.  Personally, I’m not convinced it will.  The Fed is trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Amongst other things, the Fed is also trying to juice housing prices, and I think the juice will help prices to bounce somewhat.  But a dead cat will bounce only so many times.  Eventually, a dead cat is a dead cat.  Don’t get me wrong … Housing will eventually recover, but don’t hold your breath waiting.  It might be a very long time.

And as for the economy, it too will recover, but only when the fundamentals allow it to recover.  Until then, there’s a fair amount of debt that needs to be flushed out of the financial system before that happens.  In the meantime, and to that end, mortgage refinancing might be in order.

Google Chrome Protects Against Malware

Weeks ago, I posted about the many reasons why I enjoy web browsing with Google Chrome.  Today, I just added another reason to like Google Chrome.  Malware protection.

I was clicking on links of search results from www.google.com, when I got the following message: “Warning: Visiting this site may harm your computer!”

I don’t think Chrome is unique with this feature, as many modern web browsers offer some form of this functionality.  Nonetheless, it is the first time I can recall ever being presented with such a warning.

While I did not investigate the exact nature of this particular malware site, it does look to me like Chrome is checking all the content and links on a page.  In this case, it found advertising which contained content from (or a link to) the malware site identified in the warning.  Nice catch.

Because advertising on the web today is often sourced from third party advertising networks, there’s no guarantee that an otherwise respectable web site will not inadvertently display such malware ads.  This form of malware attack recently made its way onto the Star Tribune, just as it has to other popular and well-known web sites (e.g. New York Times).

Having been using the Internet for almost 20 years, I’m pretty “street smart” about viruses, phishing, spyware, scareware, malware, and all the likes.  And as such, I’ve been able to steer clear of these maladies.  Nonetheless, this warning came as a surprise to me, because it was generated by a Top-5 link in the Google search engine results.

Unfortunately, the Internet is still a kind of wild-wild-west, where criminals roam freely.  These unscrupulous types are increasingly using ever-more sophisticated techniques to infect computers, which then give them access to credit card numbers, user passwords, and the means to launch distributed-denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks against web sites.  Many times, a web browser is the vector of such infections.  Thankfully, Google Chrome has been designed with an increased attention toward security.

Gone are the days when visiting seedy web sites might get your computer infected.  Today, you can be infected by the advertising displayed on a seemingly-safe and familiar website.


Reasons Why I Like Google Chrome

I’ve been using Mac OS X since February 2009, and I have been very happy with the adoption.  Nonetheless, when switching to a different operating system, there’s the inevitable transition period — finding, downloading, trying, and settling in with new applications to get the job done.  I was particularly interested in finding a suitable web browser.

On my quest, I went through a number of browsers on the Mac.  At first, I used Safari, but I was not won-over.  I then dabbled with Opera for a little bit, but I just couldn’t stomach the way it rendered many pages.  Having been a Firefox user on Windows, I settled on using Firefox on the Mac for the subsequent 10 months, because it was nearly identical on Mac and Windows.

Now, it should be noted that I have a diverse set of interests, so I tend to have lots of web browser windows open at the same time, and I’ll often have my web browser open for weeks at a time.  And that’s where Firefox began to lose its luster for me.  Firefox on the Mac, like its Windows variant, gets slow, if left running for any length of time.  It eventually consumes a great deal of memory and CPU on the computer, causing everything to get slow.  I have found this to be the case with nearly every web browser I have tried in recent years.  Sure, the problem may have more to do with bad programming in the the JavaScript and Flash elements on the various web pages, but why settle for that?  I wanted a new, smarter, more-efficient web browser!

Having using Google Chrome on Windows (and liking it), I had been anticipating Chrome on Mac for many months.  Finally, on December 8, 2009, my new browser had arrived.  I switched almost exclusively to Google Chrome (beta) on Mac, from that day forward.  Like many other Google offerings, the “beta” product was already feature-rich and very stable.  (Well, I did have to wait a while for  the Bookmark Manager to be implemented on the Mac version, but eventually, it was.)

There are so many good things I can write about Google Chrome:

  • automatic sync of your bookmarks, seamlessly across all your computers running Chrome,
  • the Task Manager’s visibility into memory and CPU consumed by each open web page,
  • each web page runs as its own process, giving you the ability to kill individual pages (or plugins) that aren’t playing nicely, without affecting the other pages,
  • automatic re-opening of previously-open pages, when I re-launch Chrome (after I close it intentionally, or rarely, when it crashes),
  • the design ideas that make it a really great browser, performance-wise and security-wise,
  • its compatibility with all the web sites I use regularly,
  • availability of a large variety of extensions (i.e. plugins),
  • cross-platform support: same browsing experience on Mac and Windows.

It’s a very fast, snappy, and responsive browser.  And (very important to me), it doesn’t appear to suffer from the same performance problems that plague other web browsers, when they have been running for some time.

Apparently, many other people are also taking notice of Google Chrome.  Here’s a recent article that graphs the market share of the most popular web browsers, as of April 2010.  It is remarkable that in just 16 months, Google Chrome has gone from a 2% up to a 7% market share.


Democrat Votes for Republican Scott Brown

I’m a life-long Democrat who voted for Republican Scott Brown today, in the Massachusetts special election.  Not because I wanted to, but because I had to.  Sadly, I don’t agree with very critical points of Brown’s politics.  On the other hand, I felt it was the only option left for me to send a clear message to the Democratic leadership in Washington.  My emails to my Democratic representatives have gone ignored.

I am still very much in favor of health insurance reform, but I am particularly opposed to the abomination of a bill that came out of the Senate.   As far as I’m concerned, my vote today was intended as a warning shot across the bough.

My message to Washington … Focus on addressing the costs of health care.  I even support a public option.  But I’ll be damned if you continue to insist on an individual mandate.

For me, it is a matter of personal liberty.  How can it be constitutional to require someone to buy health insurance?  It’s one thing to require buying auto insurance if you drive a car.  Quite another thing to require buying health insurance for simply being alive, particularly when the government wants us to buy it from for-profit companies, who are beholden to their shareholders.  Go back to the drawing board.

In the meantime, I want the heads of the the Democratic Senators from Nebraska (Ben Nelson), Louisiana (Mary Landrieu), and Connecticut (Joe Lieberman).  There comes a time when a politician needs to stand up and do the right thing, for the sake of our nation as a whole, and these particular three stand out as notable failures.