DevOps Alternatives

While many people involved in the tech industry have a wide range of experience in technologies and are interested in expanding the breadth of that knowledge, they do not have the depth of knowledge that a dedicated Unix support person, a dedicated Oracle DBA, a dedicated SAN engineer person has. How much time can a development team reasonably dedicate to expanding the depth of their developer’s knowledge? Is a developer’s time well spent troubleshooting user issues? That’s something that makes the DevOps methodology a bit confusing to me. Most developers I know … while they may complain (loudly) about unresponsive operational support teams, about poor user support troubleshooting skills … they don’t want to spend half of their day diagnosing server issues and walking users through basic how-to’s.

The DevOps methodology reminds me a lot of GTE Wireline’s desktop and server support structure. Individual verticals had their own desktop support workforce. Groups with their own desktop support engineer didn’t share a desktop support person with 1,500 other employees in the region. Their tickets didn’t sit in a queue whilst the desktop tech sorted issues for three other groups. Their desktop support tech fixed problems for their group of 100 people. This meant problems were generally resolved quickly, and some money was saved in reduced downtime. *But* it wasn’t like downtime avoidance funded the tech’s salary. The business, and the department, decided to spend money for rapid problem resolution. Some groups didn’t want to spend money on dedicated desktop support, and they relied on corporate IT. Hell, the techs employed by individual business units relied on corporate IT for escalation support. I’ve seen server support managed the same way — the call center employed techs to manage the IVR and telephony system. The IVR is malfunctioning, you don’t put a ticket in a queue with the Unix support group and wait. You get the call center technologies support person to look at it NOW. The added advantage of working closely with a specific group is that you got to know how they worked, and could recommend and customize technologies based on their specific needs. An IM platform that allowed supervisors and resource management teams to initiate messages and call center reps to respond to messages. System usage reporting to ensure individuals were online and working during their prescribed times.

Thing is, the “proof” I see offered is how quickly new code can be deployed using DevOps methodologies. Comparing time-to-market for automated builds, testing, and deployment to manual processes in no way substantiates that DevOps is a highly efficient way to go about development. It shows me that automated processes that don’t involve waiting for someone to get around to doing it are quick, efficient, and generally reduce errors. Could similar efficiency be gained by having operation teams adopt automated processes?

Thing is, there was a down-side to having the major accounts technical support team in PA employ a desktop support technician. The major accounts technical support did not have broken computers forty hours a week. But they wanted someone available from … well, I think it was like 6AM to 10PM and they employed a handful of part time techs, but point remains they paid someone to sit around and wait for a computer to break. Their techs tended to be younger people going to school for IT. One sales pitch of the position, beyond on-the-job experience was that you could use your free time to study. Company saw it as an investment – we get a loyal employee with a B.S. in IT who moved into other orgs, college kid gets some resume-building experience, a chance to network with other support teams, and a LOT of study time that the local fast food joint didn’t offer. The access design engineering department hired a desktop tech who knew the Unix-based proprietary graphic workstations they used within the group. She also maintained their access design engineering servers. She was busier than the major accounts support techs, but even with server and desktop support she had technical development time.

Within the IT org, we had desktop support people who were nearly maxed out. By design — otherwise we were paying someone to sit around and do nothing. Pretty much the same methodology that went into staffing the call center — we might only expect two calls overnight, but we’d still employ two people to staff the phones between 10P and 6A *just* so we could say we had a 24×7 tech support line. During the day? We certainly wouldn’t hire two hundred people to handle one hundred’s worth of calls. Wouldn’t operations teams be quicker to turn around requests if they were massively overstaffed?

As a pure reporting change, where you’ve got developers and operations people who just report through the same structure to ensure priorities and goals align … reasonable. Not cost effective, but it’s a valid business decision. In a way, though, DevOps as a vogue ideology is the impetus behind financial decisions (just hire more people) and methodology changes (automate it!) that would likely have similar efficacy if implemented in silo’d verticals.


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