Boston DevOps @ MS NERD

Boston DevOps meeting regular Vladimir Vuksan has has gone and done a great thing – he’s setup the next meeting at Microsoft NERD, which is at One Memorial Drive in Cambridge, MA (about a mile from where we usually meet).

Vladimir has setup a registration link here.

This promises to be a great show; Vlad and Jeff Buchbinder will be giving a presentation on lessons learned while reengineering deployments at their companies. You can read more about what is on the agenda on this post on Vlad’s blog.

See you there – Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010, from 6pm until 8pm.

Boston DevOps Meetup For June 2010

Join us at the Cambridge Brewing Company in Cambridge the Tuesday after this one, June 1st, at 6pm, for the June Boston DevOps Meetup! I’ll not be there, but Dirtnap will be hanging out near the bar with a DevOps sign, and he’ll move to a table at 6pm. As always, you can find out more here.

OpsCamp Boston 2010

This past Thursday I attended OpsCamp Boston 2010, an unconference themed around topics in systems operations. I was interested in meeting several of the people I know only from Twitter and also making new friends from the greater Boston Operations community. Microsoft NERD generously provided the use of their space for the conference.

Conference Structure

The structure of OpsCamp was unlike any of my other unconference experiences (almost all BarCamps) in that before the group decided on the what topics to discuss the sponsors had an opportunity to give lightning talks. I’ve got no issue with sponsors giving lightning talks, but the organizers arranged it such that all attendees of OpsCamp were in the room and essentially required to watch the sponsor talks. The unconference Rule of Two Feet (reason #2 for attending unconferences on this page) was never explained to them.

Another interesting difference between OpsCamp and other unconferences was that directly after the lighting talks, but again before the community had a chance to choose topics for sessions, the organizers had an unpanel answer seven or eight questions from the audience. The questions covered a variety of concerns/issues in systems operations today. The questions ended up leading to suggested sessions when we were finally able to decide what people would like to have the unconference on.


The questions for the unpanel, as my notes recall them:

  1. What happens when all the ops jobs move to India?
  2. How would cloud adoption affect the outsourcing of ops?
  3. What are the costs of ops and IT? What is the trend for that? What is the correct ratio of IT assets to people administrating them?
  4. Why won’t my ops people let me self-provision like I can in the cloud?
  5. What is the connection between the talks we just heard and the cloud?
  6. Should dedicated infrastructure and public cloud resources be centrally managed?
  7. Patch or Rebuild?

Questions 1, 2 and 3 became a single breakout session (more on that in a moment), and 4 became another breakout session. Topic 5 was addressed by Cory from Dyn, who said that he felt that the policy and process haven’t changed but the method has, in that we now deploy via APIs instead of physical hardware. For question 6, many people felt that you should mix your infrastructure between physical hardware, virtual hardware and the cloud, and manage it centrally, and it was pointed out that rPath, Opscode and others have technology to help do this. Questions 7 was the last breakout session of the camp.

Breakout: Will Ops Get Outsourced?

This breakout came out of the heated discussions on whether or not Ops people are going to be outsourced and the cost of Operations in general (questions 1,2 & 3, above), if new Ops people are less skilled, and other ideas that mirror the offshore development discussions of ten years ago. There was a pretty obvious age divide, which is a hot topic in technology in general, and a lot of discussion on the evolving nature of what an Ops person is. There was a lot of respectful arguing in this breakout session, and I think anyone who attended this session left thinking a lot about their own future in Operations.

In parallel with this session was a session on what tools can be used to build a cloud.

Breakout: Why can’t I just deploy to the cloud?

I ended up moderating this breakout panel because the gentleman who asked question 4 (above) had left OpsCamp early.

Why can’t a developer simply pull out her credit card and put her product in production? Perhaps even in a large company with an established IT department? I’m a big fan of everyone in the organization working towards delivering the service, not bickering over domain, so I’m in support of questions along these line. In that spirit I renamed this breakout “Why are developers trying to ruin the business? ~or~ Why are Ops people assholes?” in the hopes of bolstering attendance. Everybody at OpsCamp ended up going to this panel, so score one point for inflammatory panel titles.

There’s no short answer, and we lost track of the original question several times, but the overall idea is that process and repeatability increase the chance of successful service delivery, and often developers overlook these issues when creating software. That said, I think the Operations department should do everything it can to bring Ops processes to the developer (and make sure that Operations is built into the product, not bolted on later). Work together despite often having seemingly conflicting goals.

Breakout: Patch Or Rebuild?

The last session of the evening was a discussion of when it is okay to simply rebuild from an image instead of patching the running software. There were a lot of opinions on this, but I didn’t have too much to add because I think the right answer largely depends on the situation.


After the sessions, many of us retired to a bar in Kendall Square to have drinks (graciously provided by the folks from Dyn) and chat.

Final Thoughts

While I had some issues with the structure of OpsCamp, I enjoyed the people and the discussions that we had. I do wish that the organizers had encouraged people to post possible presentation topics on a wiki ahead of the camp (as was done for BarCamp 5) because I think that encourages people to prepare presentations on topics and helps avoid every session being a discussion.

I’ve also uploaded the raw notes for your viewing pleasure.

If you attended OpsCamp Boston I encourage you to come out to the Boston DevOps Meetups, the next of which is Tuesday, May 4th.

Recent Readings


Devops Homebrew – Vladimir Vuksan is a regular at the Boston DevOps Meetups and I was happy to see this post on his previous job’s release process. The post is an excellent case study in DevOps in deployment.

An Agile Architectural Epic Kanban System – Part 1 – There’s a lot of room for Kanban and Agile in DevOps initiatives, and I think many people are already headed in that direction (I’ve started doing Kanban with the operations teams at ITA; they’ll be a post on how this is working in a few months). Having the developers and ops people use the same process management technique helps improve communication all around, and Kanban gives excellent visibility into what is happening now in an organization. The article above discusses using Kanban to give visibility into the process of architectural decision making, a process which is often invisible to developers or ops people.


The Visible Ops Handbook – Tom Zauli from rPath brought me a copy of this at the last Boston DevOps Meetup, and I’m about halfway through. I think the practical steps recommended in Visible Ops would be very effective to gain control of an operations organization that is underwater, and after control is regained you can start automating as much as possible.

The Checklist Manifesto –  If you haven’t read Complications and Better you should stop reading this and pick up those two books right now. Dr. Gawande’s analytical look at process improvement in medicine (or lack thereof) is readable and it is easy to find parallels between his observations about medicine and any other industry. Both books are highly recommended for people who care about honest self reflection and evolutionary improvement.

The thesis of Dr. Gawande’s new book couldn’t simpler: checklists prevent errors. He backs this up with examples from many fields and the argument really is compelling; I can think of many cases at work where a checklist has saved the day. I think the DevOps trend of automating as much as possible, especially around deployment, is a way of encoding checklists. At ITA our deployment process went from a checklist that took a day or more to complete manually to code that performs the same checklist in under 45 minutes – that’s 45 minutes for an entire airline reservation system.