Textbook DevOps vs. Real-World DevOps

Textbook DevOps vs. Real-World DevOps

Textbook DevOps vs. Real-World DevOps
via DevOps.com by Chris Tozzi

DevOps is one of those things—like Marxism or baking macarons—that is easy to understand in theory, but much messier to implement in practice. Real-world DevOps rarely aligns with textbook DevOps or the DevOps practices that organizations should follow in theory.

That is true for a number of reasons. Let’s walk through some of the biggest below.

Your Company Is Not Organized in the Way DevOps Theory Assumes

According to DevOps theory, every company has an IT department and a development department. Doing DevOps boils down to making those departments work well together.

The reality, of course, is that not all companies organize their staff or technical operations in this way. Some don’t silo developers and IT engineers by default. Others (especially smaller companies) don’t have developers or IT staff on hand at all; they outsource that work.

These companies can still benefit from DevOps principles such as collaboration and automation. But they should avoid fixating on DevOps teachings regarding the organization of technical work.

Real DevOps Skills are Hard to Find (And Expensive to Obtain)

“DevOps engineer” is now a trending job title. But few technical training programs have caught up with the demand for DevOps.

Most universities still silo majors and courses in software development away from those that focus on IT. Other types of technical training programs function similarly.

What this means is that it is more difficult to hire a DevOps engineer, or other technical staff with a broad set of development and IT skills, than it may first appear. DevOps engineers exist, but they are usually experienced staff who learned their real-world DevOps skills on the job. They’re more expensive to hire and difficult to poach from their current gigs.

Full Automation Is a Pipe Dream

The DevOps mantra tells us that we should automate everything, from software testing and builds to deployment, production-environment monitoring and incident response.

Automation is great in theory. But the reality is that you can never automate everything. Human engineers will still need to respond to problems occasionally, or to unanticipated issues that arise during testing, deployment and production management.

An important point to emphasize here is that even if you successfully automate virtually all of your processes, the mere fact that human engineers must be available to respond when something does go wrong undercuts the idea that you can rely on automation alone. Humans still have to watch the automated processes, even if they rarely need to intervene. The simple act of watching and being available to respond when necessary is a significant burden.

Agility Conflicts With Simplicity and Reproducibility

In some respects, DevOps is a contradiction. On the one hand, it prioritizes agility and scalability. On the other, it emphasizes simplicity and reproducibility.

What this means in practice is that DevOps teams adopt microservices and containers in the interest of maximizing agility. But microservices and containers are much more complex to manage than monoliths and virtual machines.

I suspect the reality is that most DevOps organizations end up erring toward more complex technologies and architectures. They ultimately find greater value in them than they do in keeping things simple.

Still, the idea that you can be agile and be simple at the same time doesn’t apply well in the real world. (And sure, automation, infrastructure as code and the like can help in simplifying the management of complex agile technologies, but they only go so far.)

Most Organizations Still Aren’t Doing DevOps

If you spend your time surrounded by other people who have adopted DevOps and implemented it successfully, it’s easy to assume that the rest of the world is like you.

The reality, however, is that we’re now a decade into the age of DevOps, and yet a majority of organizations have made only halting steps toward implementing basic DevOps processes. If DevOps were half as easy to implement as it appears to be when you read the latest book about how to do DevOps, many more companies would be doing CI/CD by now.


DevOps delivers real benefits, and it’s important to continue preaching the DevOps gospel to organizations that can benefit from DevOps philosophy and practices.

However, it’s important to balance the conversation about DevOps with the reality: Real-world DevOps is much messier than it often seems in theory. Not many organizations have the configuration or resources to do textbook DevOps.

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