The Role of Automation in DevOps

If you stand back and look at the way most organizations do DevOps, automating tasks is a crucial element. With a goal of streamlining and doing everything continuously–continuous integration, continuous testing, continuous deployment, etc.–automation does play a big role. Ultimately, though, DevOps is about more than just automating, and automating tasks–in and of itself–is not DevOps.

DevOps is a lot of things. What DevOps is, what DevOps does and how an organization adopts and implements DevOps tools and practices are largely subjective, but there are some foundational elements that are fairly ubiquitous. One of which is automation. As pervasive as it is, though, DevOps is not automation and automation is not DevOps.

The Preface of “The DevOps Handbook” lists a number of prevailing myths about DevOps, including the idea that DevOps is just “infrastructure as code” or automation. The book goes on to explain:

While many of the DevOps patterns shown in this book require automation, DevOps also requires cultural norms and an architecture that allows for the shared goals to be achieved throughout the IT value stream. This goes far beyond just automation.

The book also shares an anecdotal quote from technology executive Christopher Little: “DevOps isn’t about automation, just as astronomy isn’t about telescopes.”

I prefer a golf analogy. If DevOps is the game of golf, then automation is like the putter. The game itself may be played for different reasons by different individuals—exercise, competition, just to get out and enjoy nature—but the fundamentals are the same no matter what the ultimate goal is. There is a wide variety of clubs available and strategies that can be employed to get the ball from tee to green, at which point the putter is somewhat indispensable. It is technically possible to tap the ball in using some other club, but everyone will agree that the putter is the best tool for the job. As necessary as a putter may be, though, the putter is not golf and golf is not the putter.

The important thing to remember is that automation is simply a tool or method for achieving the goal. It, like any other facet of DevOps, has to be part of a broader cultural shift and mindset.

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