DevOps Topologies

DevOps Topologies


Exactly which DevOps team structure or topology will suit an organisation depends on several things:

The product set of the organisation: fewer products make for easier collaboration, as there will be fewer natural silos, as predicted by Conway’s Law.

The extent, strength, and effectiveness of technical leadership; whether Dev and Ops have a shared goal.

Whether an organisation has the capability or appetite to change its IT Operations department from ‘racking hardware’ and ‘configuring servers’ to real alignment with the value stream, and for operational features to be taken seriously by software teams.

Whether the organisation has the capacity or skills to take the lead on operational concerns.

Of course, there are variations on the themes outlined here; the topologies and types are meant as a reference guide or heuristic for assessing which patterns might be appropriate. In reality, a combination of more than one pattern, or one pattern transforming into another, will often be the best approach.

Type 1: Dev and Ops Collaboration

This is the ‘promised land’ of DevOps: smooth collaboration between Dev teams and Ops teams, each specialising where needed, but also sharing where needed. There are likely many separate Dev teams, each working on a separate or semi-separate product stack.

My sense is that this Type 1 model needs quite substantial organisational change to establish it, and a good degree of competence higher up in the technical management team. Dev and Ops must have a clearly expressed and demonstrably effective shared goal (‘Delivering Reliable, Frequent Changes’, or whatever). Ops folks must be comfortable pairing with Devs and get to grips with test-driven coding and Git, and Devs must take operational features seriously and seek out Ops people for input into logging implementations, and so on, all of which needs quite a culture change from the recent past.

Type 1

Type 1 suitability: an organisation with strong technical leadership.

Potential effectiveness: HIGH

Type 2: Fully Shared Ops Responsibilities

Where operations people have been integrated in product development teams, we see a Type 2 topology. There is so little separation between Dev and Ops that all people are highly focused on a shared purpose; this is arguable a form of Type 1 (Dev and Ops Collaboration), but it has some special features.

Organisations such as Netflix and Facebook with effectively a single web-based product have achieved this Type 2 topology, but I think it’s probably not hugely applicable outside a narrow product focus, because the budgetary constraints and context-switching typically present in an organisation with multiple product streams will probably force Dev and Ops further apart (say, back to a Type 1 model). This topology might also be called ‘NoOps‘, as there is no distinct or visible Operations team (although the Netflix NoOps might also be Type 3 (Ops as IaaS)).

Type 3: Ops as Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Platform)

For organisations with a fairly traditional IT Operations department which cannot or will not change rapidly [enough], and for organisations who run all their applications in the public cloud (Amazon EC2, Rackspace, Azure, etc.), it probably helps to treat Operations as a team who simply provides the elastic infrastructure on which applications are deployed and run; the internal Ops team is thus directly equivalent to Amazon EC2, or Infrastructure-as-a-Service.

A team (perhaps a virtual team) within Dev then acts as a source of expertise about operational features, metrics, monitoring, server provisioning, etc., and probably does most of the communication with the IaaS team. This team is still a Dev team, however, following standard practices like TDD, CI, iterative development, coaching, etc.

The IaaS topology trades some potential effectiveness (losing direct collaboration with Ops people) for easier implementation, possibly deriving value more quickly than by trying for Type 1 (Dev and Ops Collaboration) which could be attempted at a later date.

Type 3

Type 3 suitability: organisations with several different products and services, with a traditional Ops department, or whose applications run entirely in the public cloud.

Potential effectiveness: MEDIUM

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