DevOps is Reshaping IT and Fueling Dynamic Learning Organizations

Best-selling author and technology workplace researcher Gene Kim talks about his new book, The Unicorn Project, and how the DevOps movement is revolutionizing how IT organizations bring business value.

By Ken Kaplan

By Ken Kaplan October 01, 2019

DevOps has been described as the realignment of IT around business value. Gene Kim sees it as a management approach that’s more agile and boundary-crossing than traditional command-and-control methods built around siloes. He said this new DevOps approach helps developers and operations professionals work faster while maintaining secure and reliable IT systems. But it’s also much more than that.

Kim is an author, researcher, former CTO and founder of security company Tripwire, and a devoted advocate for IT best practices. He thinks the world is still a long way from exploiting the true promise of technology, and this drives him to find answers everywhere he goes.

He co-authored the bestseller, The Phoenix Project, a fiction book that describes the challenges of dealing with legacy IT and rebellious human nature that sparked the rise of DevOps. His non-fiction The DevOps Handbook is a go-to guide on the subject. His 2019 release, The Unicorn Project, is a fictional tale about developers and business leaders who join forces in a race against time during a period of unprecedented uncertainty and opportunity.

Decades of research show high-performing technology organizations collaborating across teams with different specialties. This is at the core of DevOps, and he said it’s playing a bigger role as companies deal with digital transformation.

“DevOps is a set of cultural and technical practices and cultural norms that allow us to deliver application services quickly to customers while preserving world-class reliability and security stability,” said Kim, at the Nutanix .NEXT 2019 DevOps event in Anaheim.

Ten years ago, most people believed that was impossible.

“These days, it’s increasingly commonplace in not just the tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google, but in every large, complex organization out there.”

The Phoenix Project outlined what the world was like before DevOps. Kim said new software and hardware releases are scary now, but were much worse a few decades ago. IT teams would take months to prepare and often weeks to execute properly.

“It was a risky activity that would cause fear and tsunamis of unplanned work, if not a catastrophe,” he said. “Often, it came at a huge cost and took a toll on everyone involved.”

That meant the people inside technology organizations and their company’s customers.

He said whenever updates don’t take or digital releases go wrong, they inflict bad experiences on customers, and this must be avoided.

Always in a Deployable State

Things have improved even as new technologies and updates occur more frequently than ever before. Software and hardware companies are better at preparing and delivering new updates. And IT implementers now make new releases part of their daily work, said Kim.

“The notion is that we can deploy when we want to, multiple times a day, without drama, chaos, confusion and disruption,” he said. “It might not be something that the customer sees all the time, but it means that we're always in a deployable state.”

Kim said every day, DevOps teams are deploying or staging new applications and services. Maybe it’s a test environment, where customers or users can try things out before they’re generally available.

“It becomes really a business decision whether to release or not,” Kim said, “as opposed to a technology decision where the question was always, ‘Can we?’ or ‘When are we able to?’”

What’s in the Name?

“It just came to mind and we rolled with it,” Poitras said, describing how the book came to be called a bible.

The title obliged CEO Pandey to clarify things for people of faith (or lack thereof):

“First and foremost, let me address the name of the book, which to some would seem not fully inclusive vis-à-vis their own faiths, or to others who are agnostic or atheist,” Pandey explains in the bible’s foreword. “There is a Merriam Webster meaning of the word ‘bible’ that is not literally about Scriptures: ‘a publication that is preeminent especially in authoritativeness or wide readership’. And that is how you should interpret its roots.”

The Nutanix Bible explains the nuts and bolts of hyperconverged infrastructure. It also describes Acropolis, Nutanix’s virtualization software, along with storage, hypervisor management and many, many more topics.

“In the early days, people had no idea what hyperconvergence was,” Poitras recalled. He wrote the Nutanix Bible to help set them straight.

Hyperconverged infrastructure combines compute, storage and networking in a single location, vastly simplifying data center operations that conventionally house racks of servers, network switches and other hardware. HCI takes advantage of innovations in virtualization, which creates digital replications of hardwired devices. Nutanix pioneered HCI and today is a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for HCI.

Poitras’s approach with the Nutanix Bible is simple — provide customers with the details that they need. 

“Rather than saying ‘just trust us, we explained exactly what the system does and how it reacts when certain triggers or events occur,” said Poitras. “This allows everyone to understand the system entirely and explain it to others for comparison. And if there ever is an issue, it gives them the knowledge to act intelligently.”

As of August 2019, the Nutanix Bible has 14 “Book of…” sections. Each one provides details about how Nutanix technologies work and how to best leverage them. The bible also explains the evolution of mainframe computers to client-server environments to virtual machines.   

The Case for Writing the Book on Your Company’s Technology

Poitras says companies can benefit from revealing more about the work they do in a document like the Nutanix Bible.

“Internally, it’s a key part of onboarding and engineering,” he said. “If I'm a developer, I have context on how metadata, DR and other Nutanix components work.”

He said it streamlines engineering and development because people can easily find answers to their questions. Reading the Nutanix Bible also gives IT pros a solid understanding of how to modernize their IT.

“It helps people make sure everything works together fluently,” Poitras said.

Moreover, it helps partners and customers discover functions they didn’t know existed. Plus they can develop valuable industry expertise.

“If someone understands the system well enough to answer other people’s questions, it shows they are knowledgeable, which gives them credibility.”

‘The Dude’ Behind the Nutanix Bible

Many an email exchange with Poitras has put a question in the recipient’s mind:

Why on earth is he thedude@nutanix.com?

It’s a tangled story that has to do with virtual machines, a CEO’s penchant for nicknames and irresistible comparisons to a cinematic sendup of a classic 1940s detective flick.

A few facts for background: Poitras is kind, thoughtful and agreeable. A fan of fast cars and craft beers, he loves nothing more than helping people understand the technologies he helps bring to market. Once he was honored on-stage, just before giving a technology demonstration to thousands of IT pros, with a sweater just like the one actor Jeff Bridges wore in the movie, “The Big Lebowski.”

The 1998 movie, which spoofed the classic Humphrey Bogart flick, “The Big Sleep,” stars Bridges as Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, a man of low ambition and high self-regard whose signature line was “The Dude abides.” The film’s celebration of down-and-out losers who were heroes of their own self-narratives became a cult classic. 

“That movie's amazing,” Poitras said. Like The Dude, Poitras has a beard and a cool demeanor. But Poitras is his own kind of dude, charged and tuned in, which comes through in his many interviews and YouTube appearances.

So, why did he get that Dude sweater? It all ties back to one of his early career talents.    

“When I first started, no one at the company knew how to use VMware,” he said, describing the company that pioneered data system virtualization. “I'd done a lot with VMware. I knew the technology very well.”

Nutanix CEO Pandey dubbed Poitras “The VMware Dude,” because Poitras was so knowledgeable about data center virtualization.

“Soon after, we just generalized it to thedude@nutanix.com.”

To this day, The Dude at Nutanix abides by breathing new chapters into the Nutanix Bible. His next devotion will bring the work to life as a video series. One can only hope the host will sport that “Big Lebowski” sweater in a few special episodes.

Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor, specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.

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