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How devops and cloud can remake your IT department

Brandon Butler | Aug. 13, 2013
They're buzzwords, but devops and cloud computing can reshape IT departments willing to make the jump.

Devops and the cloud: They're two of the biggest buzzwords in high-tech today. But organizations embracing these trends are finding out just how closely the two are linked, and the advantages that automating IT processes can bring.

Take Rafter, a San Mateo-based company that was founded on the idea that college textbooks are really expensive. Chris Williams created a sort of Netflix for textbooks rental business that started by running off a couple servers sitting in a closet.

Seven years later the company has 150 employees and is helping students and bookstores manage inventory and host online book stores for colleges, in addition to the book rentals.

Rafter is continually rolling out feature enhancements to its web site, so the company has a bustling development and testing lab where new services are created. Instead of the code-writers waiting for the IT shop to spin up a virtual machine with a replica of the production website, instead the developers can provision their own compute resources themselves. Welcome to a devops shop.

"There's a blurring here between what were traditionally distinct roles (between developers and engineers), but they've now gotten merged together," says Kyle MacDonald, vice president of cloud at Ubuntu.

It's an environment that's becoming more common across organizations willing to be on the leading edge of IT movements. Rafter uses a combination of tools to power its devops shop: Open source private cloud platform Eucalyptus for automating the creation and termination of virtual machines and Chef recipes from Opscode for configuring the VMs with whatever template resources the developers need.

Most of the Eucalyptus's customers are either starting or are well down the path of devops where developers can provision their own resources using these automation techniques, says Andy Knosp, vice president of product at the company. "We'll only see more of it," he says.

Rafter's setup reinforces one of the growing realizations about the devops movement about how closely linked devops is to cloud computing, says Lori MacVitte, a senior product manager and blogger at F5. "If you have (IaaS) cloud you have to have devops," she says.

IaaS cloud computing, either in private environment behind a company's firewall, or in the public cloud, is all about having fast access to virtualized resources that can be spun up, scaled and deprovisioned rapidly.

It's a natural fit to have devops workers in a cloud environment provisioning their own resources and that's exactly what Rafter has in its lab.

One of the fears about devops and the cloud is what it means for traditional roles of IT folks. In this new world of combined roles, where do traditional operations folks fit in? In a recent chat on Twitter about devops strategies, Andi Mann, vice president at CA Technologies summed it up with this tweet:


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