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How DevOps is Shaping the Future of Networking (and Your Business)

June 16, 2016

Since its arrival in 2009, DevOps has become a battle cry for tech teams looking to radically rethink the way traditional developers and operations teams work together

Since its arrival in 2009, DevOps has become a battle cry for tech teams looking to radically rethink the way traditional developers (who write the code) and operations teams (who manage the systems that code runs on) work together.

Before DevOps, they really didn’t. Developers and “Ops" tended to work about as closely as your organization’s accounting and marketing departments.

That’s all changing.

As the name suggests, DevOps is melding these two disciplines into a single, cohesive team, with developers and operations staff jointly taking responsibility for building, deploying, and managing code. The goal? Code releases that are more stable, deployed quickly, and better integrated with the organization’s tech infrastructure.

It’s a big idea, but, in many ways, DevOps is a cultural movement — not a technical one. And its significant impacts on enterprise infrastructure, particularly the network, are more profound as that infrastructure is digitized. “The question of how DevOps is changing the enterprise networking arena is interesting, because from the outset, DevOps represents the polar opposite of networking,” says Rajesh Sethu, director of DevOps at software analytics firm Replicon. “DevOps is about implementing an agile methodology and a ‘fail fast’ philosophy, while networking is a conservative process with a low risk tolerance for changes.”

Adds Sethu, “Despite these challenges, the networking segment is slowly implementing DevOps practices within a more controlled environment. For example, where traditionally network requests have taken days, today these requests are becoming more automated, and more opportunities are surfacing for networking pros to incorporate scripting, configuration, and deployment skills."


DevOps is all about working smarter and faster, qualities that are finally making their way to the network.  Tweet: #DevOps is about working smarter & faster, qualities finally making their way to the #network. via @ComcastBusiness http://comca.st/2e5dINv


A Reaction to a Global Workforce

One of the primary trends driving the DevOps push into networking is that workforces are rapidly becoming more distributed, with teams spread out around the world. There was a time "when all the people working on a development project were in the same room with each other, and the server they shared for managing code repositories and releases was tucked into the corner," says John McDonald, CEO of CloudOne.

“Today’s development efforts are innately global, with people spread out everywhere looking to securely and quickly be a part of the process. This is driven by the dispersion of skills: we now need to go wherever we can to find just the right person for the job, be it an employee, a contractor, or a vendor of a component." That, McDonald says, is taxing enterprise network infrastructure likely designed for lightweight tasks like email, not hardcore software development.

Sacha Labourey, CEO of CloudBees, agrees: “DevOps means you need to care more about your peers on other teams than about your boss, as ultimately it is the success of the business project you are part of that will make you win — not any local success of your team. The DevOps culture spotlights a talent that has been long unappreciated in IT: social intelligence.”

New Thinking on Networking’s Place at the Table

Beyond the impact of globalism, a dramatic shift is underway in the understanding of the network’s role in the enterprise. “DevOps has an important role in the future of networking as traditional Dev functions and Ops functions continue to increase their collaboration within and across enterprises," says Mark Davison, director of Alsbridge, a consulting firm. “Networking, broadly defined, is more than just ‘implementing networks’ — it’s inclusive of all the front-end strategy and planning, as well as back-end monitoring, support, and maintenance for all types of topologies and transmission types, and requires close collaboration between the Dev and Ops functions so that both technical and user service levels can be met."

As networks grow in size, so does complexity, which means network performance becomes more difficult to guarantee. The automation tools that are inherent in many DevOps environments thus become critical to ensure network uptime, which in turn informs application uptime. If a DevOps team develops and implements an application with today’s best technical practices, but the network on which it is running isn’t up to snuff (or isn’t intelligently managed by the same processes), chances are that application will fail.

But new technologies can help monitor networks and predict failures, congestion, or bottlenecks through automatic network testing, diagnosis, and even self-healing systems, much in the same way that applications themselves can be monitored.

Integrating DevOps and Networking

There are clear benefits of integrating networking into DevOps across digital enterprises, but it’s a decision CTOs and CIOs should consider carefully given the vast complexity of most networks.

Foremost is the question of what the existing network infrastructure actually looks like. Are traditional servers whirring away in the computer room? Is it built on public or private cloud services? Or, most likely, is it a combination of these technologies? DevOps will be naturally more complex on an old, sprawling physical network than it will be on a modern, pure cloud environment.

Dr. Neal O’Horo, senior network engineer at systems integrator Redapt, says, “The key thing you should consider is if you need a forklift, a turnkey, or a migration plan for your enterprise IT architecture. Ask yourself: what are the requirements? Can you use your existing network, servers, and storage as an underlay and add an overlay? If you create or buy some Network Functional Virtualization or Virtual Network Function, where does it reside, and how does it communicate? How do you adapt your enterprise infrastructure to support DevOps? If you have a legacy network, chances are you probably aren’t ready. Even newer systems may not be ready. Subsequently, you may ask: what does ‘ready’ really mean?"

The good news is that there are a variety of resources available to help you answer all of these questions and prepare to migrate your network to a DevOps-ready world. Start with online forums dedicated to DevOps (such as Spiceworks), or engage a consultancy to help you get your bearings when it comes to evaluating your network’s DevOps readiness.

This story was produced by the WIRED Brand Lab for Comcast B2B.

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