Tag: devops

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.


Containerized Development v/s Microservices

While both monolithic and microservice applications can be deployed in containers, there is a significant difference. Understanding that difference can save time/money/effort decomposing an application into microservices when the benefits you desire can be gained through simple containerized deployments.

One of the touted benefits of microservices — the ability for different teams to use different internal practices, different coding standards, hell even different languages and still have a functioning application because the interface is static and well documented … well, that sounds like a nightmare to me.

A company with which I worked a decade ago had teams of developers devoted to different components of the application — essentially your team owned a class or set of functions. The class/functions were had well documented and static interfaces — you wouldn’t change void functionX(int iVariable, string strOtherVariable) to return boolean values. Or to randomly add inputs (although functions were overloaded). Developers were tasked with ensuring backwards compatibility of their classes and functions. The company had a “shared libraries” development team who worked on, well, shared libraries. Database I/O stuff, authentication frameworks, GUI interfaces. A new project would immediately pull in the relevant shared functions, then start developing their code.

Developers were able to focus on a small component of the application, were able to implement code changes without having to coordinate with other teams, and consumers of their resource were able to rely on the consistent input and output of the functions as well as consistent representation of class objects.

When a specific project encountered resource shortfalls (be that family emergencies reducing workers or sales teams making overly optimistic commitments), the dozens of C# programmers could be shifted around to expand a team. In a team with an outstanding team lead, employees could easily move to other groups to progress their career.

What happens in a microservices environment? You’ve got a C# team, a Java team, a Python team. You get some guy in from Uni and he’s starting up a LISP team because Lisplets will get his code delivered through Tomcat. The next guy who comes in starts the F90 team because why not? Now I’m not saying someone with a decade of experience in Java couldn’t learn LISP … but you go back to “Google up how to do X in LISP” programming speed. There are language nuances of which you are not aware and you introduce inefficiency and possibly bugs to the code.

What’s my point? Well, (1) business practices (we program in this language, here’s our style guide, etc) are going to negate some of the perceived benefits of microservices. The small gain to be had by individual teams picking their own way are going to be outweighed by siloing (some guy from the Java team isn’t going to move into a lead role over on the C# team) and resource limitations (I cannot reallocate resources temporarily). But (2) you can architect your project to provide, basically, the same benefits.

Microservices make sense where an application has different components with different utilization rates. A product that runs a Super Bowl commercial may see a huge spike in web traffic — but scaling up thousands of complete web servers to handle the load is an inefficient use of resources. There’s a lot of product browsing, but shipping quotes, new account creations, and check-outs are not all scaling linearly to web hits. Adding tens of thousands of browsing components and only expanding the new-account-creation or checkout services as visitors decide to make purchases can be done more quickly to respond in real-time to traffic increases.

Applications where each component gets about the same amount of use … I use Kubernetes to manage a cluster of sendmail servers. As mail traffic increases, additional PODs are brought online. It’s a configuration I’d like to mirror at work — we currently have nine sendmail servers — to provide physical and site redundancy for both employee mail traffic and automated system traffic. With Kubernetes, three servers in each of the two sites (six total) would provide ample resources to accommodate mail flow. Automated systems send a lot of mail at night, and the number of pods servicing that VIP would increase. User mail flow increases during the day, so while automated mailflow pods would be spun down … user mail flow ones would be spun up. With a 33% reduction in servers, I’ve created a solution with more capacity for highly used functions (this function could be the primary usage of all six servers) that is geo-redundant (one of the current systems is *not* geo-redundant as the additional two servers in the alternate site couldn’t be justified). But I didn’t need to decompose sendmail into microservices to achieve this. Simply needed to build a containerized sendmail.