What's the Deal With "DevOps"?

DevOps. It's one of those words—like "cloud" and “agile” before it—that's got amazing value inside, but has become so buzz-ified it can easily create more confusion than insight. DevOps is clearly blowing up big time, but depending on who you ask, it might mean one or more of the following:

  • A culture

  • Org reshuffling and new job titles

  • Expertise with cutting-edge tools

  • Modern software development practices

  • Management attempting to pay one person to do the job of two

Nevertheless, when we talk to professional agencies, corporate web teams, university IT groups, and others about why they are standardizing on Pantheon, "DevOps" comes up frequently.

It’s not all that surprising, given that we often explain our service with images like this:

So, not to put too fine a point on it, what are we referring to when we say “Website DevOps”?

Eliminate Scutwork and Snowflakes

One of the most valuable things Pantheon does is eliminate a whole class of concerns that can bog down website development teams. These concerns are often things that a “DevOps team” would be responsible for—managing servers, deploying applications, maintaining builds, etc.

Much of this is repetitive but high-risk drudge-work you have to do when you own a linux system connected to the internet: security updates, package maintenance, managing access control, etc. On Pantheon, these tasks are no longer your problem.

There’s also value in automating how new projects are initialized. Setting up webservers, databases, version control, and putting a deployment pipeline in place—we believe these should be standardized, so they don’t consume a human’s time, and so they aren’t done as one-offs that are confusing in the future, and painful to maintain.


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Optimize All The Things

DevOps is often associated with high performance. Not surprising given the term is a portmanteau of Developers and Operations, and getting these two capabilities working together is key for any high performance project.

On Pantheon, there’s a solid baseline already in place. Every site spins up with the benefits of expert platform performance tuning in PHP and the database, a Varnish cache pre-integrated, and the ability to access Redis and Solr for high performance object cache and search solutions. The CMSs themselves are also deployed to be horizontally scalable, even developer sandboxes.

Improving Quality and Velocity

The other key component to Pantheon’s “Website DevOps” is the workflow we provide to you and your team. It’s core is the concept of Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery, which we certainly didn’t invent but are thrilled to bring to the world of websites. It’s a huge win for teams that adopt it.

Most sites built on our platform are the result of specific design and functional requirements, not just a cookie cutter template implementation. We support very large teams collaborating on complex applications, but even simpler projects usually have more than one developer.

Once you have a team, standard build processes are crucial. Pantheon provides development environments and workflow for the whole team via our Multidev feature, and we allow team managers to review and release new work via our Change Management tools. This includes feature-branching, sandboxing, and content syncing, as well as our guided CI-style process for acceptance testing before deploying to live.

Because Pantheon is a software-driven platform, there’s no waiting around for a sysadmin to set something up. Because our environments are all standardized, there’s no confusion about how something worked in development, but failed in QA (or worse, production).

The workflow is visible and accessible to the whole team, either in the real-time web UI, or via CLI tools. This means more time focused on getting work done, rather than getting ready to work.

We Carry The Pager

Finally, Pantheon provides round-the-clock, follow-the-sun, monitoring, maintenance and emergency support. Uptime is on us—through traffic surges, viral spikes, or even denial of service attacks. We’ve got your back.

This means you can stop being afraid of success: go ahead and launch that huge new campaign. Knock it out of the park. We push billions of pageviews a month. You’re not going to tip the platform over.

The same goes for internet fire drills around security. Heartbleed? Nailed it. Shellshock? No big deal. Drupalgeddon? Not your problem. You stay focused on your value, and we’ll stay focused on ours.

This is the attitude of a high-velocity organization. It’s why corporate IT groups and startups are attracted to DevOps. They all want to move fast, and with confidence. With Pantheon, at least as far as your website goes, you can start today.

Does Pantheon Make DevOps Obsolete For Web Teams?

Heck no. The web is a rapidly evolving medium, and staying on the cutting edge means continuing innovate. Pantheon is a boon to existing DevOps groups—they can use us to outsource tasks we specialize in, focusing their time on the bigger bang for the buck projects.

Agencies and organizations with advanced internal tooling have found great success connecting their existing workflows with our website management platform. We make this possible by supporting full automation via our CLI, distributed authentication via SAML, and internal systems integration via our Pantheon Enterprise Gateway.

For teams that already have a DevOps practice, Pantheon can be a force-multiplier. We work well together because we share a common passion for this kind of work.

So... What’s The Deal?

I predict that through 2016 (and beyond) DevOps will remain avidly debated, annoyingly buzz-wordy, and somewhat confusing to newcomers. It will also be a vital strategic imperative for any organization concerned with improving the velocity of its teams, and the quality of their products.

Likewise, I predict that the definition of “technical organization” will continue to expand, encompassing more and more departments, groups, and companies. Marketing is getting technical, as are marketing-oriented agencies. They all have a lot to gain from adopting a DevOps mindset.

Further Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about DevOps, there’s an amazing center of gravity emerging around the Chef project’s “DevOps Kung Fu”. Alternatively, If you have stakeholders or managers who need an approachable introduction to the concept, check out The Phoenix Project, an easy-read piece of business fiction about where the rubber meets the road between DevOps and business value.

I’m looking forward to digging into this topic further, so let me know if there are particular areas of interest you’d like us to investigate.

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