DevOps Talks Conference 2019 Melbourne
I recently started in a new role in a large financial services organisation, with a mission to establish a Site Reliability Engineering practice. Due to some fortunate timing, one of the first I did was attend the DevOps Talks Conference, a two-day conference that “brings together leaders, engineers and architects who are implementing DevOps in start ups and in enterprise companies”. While this conference was obviously primarily about the principles and practices of DevOps, there is a good deal of overlap with the ideas of Site Reliability Engineering.
Below are a few notable highlights from the two days, as seen through the lens of someone who is trying to implement SRE in a traditional IT organisation.
Jennifer Petoff - Google SRE Program Manager
Jennifer described SRE at Google and its key motivators and principles, then talked about what to focus on to implement SRE in your organisation. Key messages:
- Start with SLOs and consequences (aka error budgets)
- Push back on the dev teams when necessary to drive improvements in reliability
Matty Stratton - PagerDuty
A good post mortem raises more questions than it answers. With today’s complex distributed systems, there is unlikely to be a singular “root cause” for any given incident. A post mortem/PIR should tell a story, and lead you to learn more about your systems and how they interact.
Nathan Harvey - Google
Some metrics to think about when trying to measure application stability:
- Mean Time to Recovery (MTTR)
- Change failure rate
Change failure rate is the percentage of “changes” (i.e. releases/deployments) that “fail”—lead to production incidents or have to be rolled back. The idea is that by working to keep this low you can be more confident in your releases and move faster.
“You have to be safe to move fast… and you have to move fast to be safe.”
Meaning you can move faster when you’re confident in your testing, etc., but by the same token being able to quickly move a change through your pipeline to production is “safer”—it makes it far easier to roll out fixes.
Organisational change is doomed to fail if you impose it from above. The people who have to implement and are most affected by the change need to be involved in designing the New Way.
There is a yawning chasm between legacy IT management (CABs, work queues, service tickets, etc.) and agile/cloud/devops teams. Breaking down tribal knowledge and creating institutional knowledge is critical to succeeding with a devops/SRE culture.
You can get rid of your CAB! — Change management processes implement “subjective attestation”, but we can achieve the same ends (confidence in the integrity of our production systems) by using “objective attestation”: automated pipelines, cryptographically authenticated control of changes, etc. See also “DevSecOps” and Mark Angrish’s talk on governance at Kubecon last year.
Mark Angrish - ANZ
Ground swell of support in the technology community is important, but change (to devops, etc.) starts with senior leadership, including the CEO.
Funding models are also critical. Project-based funding where teams are disbanded when they are “finished” makes it really hard to adopt a true devops/SRE culture.
Lindsay Holmwood - Envato
This was a really interesting talk, and contained basically no technical content. Lindsay talked about organisational design—how to understand it, and how it relates to technology innovation and architecture—value chain mapping, and complexity theory. A few take-aways:
- There’s lots of existing research about “organisation culture” (sociology, anthropology). We should pay attention to it.
- DevOps is great at introspection, but we need to look outside our own domain. There’s lots to learn from other disciplines.
- You need to rearchitect your org structure to adopt new technology. Your existing org structure mirrors your product/tech architecture. If you want to innovate/adopt new technologies and architectures, you need to change your organisation to enable this. (See also: Conway’s Law.)
And if you want to learn more, some interesting pointers for further reading/research:
- Edgar Schein — Organizational Culture and Leadership
- Henderson & Clark — Architectural Innovation
- Simon Wardley — [value chain mapping](https://hiredthought.com/2018/09/01/intro-to-wardley-mapping/, https://github.com/andrewharmellaw/wardley-maps-book/releases/)
- The Great Courses — Understanding Complexity
- Douglas Hubbard — How to Measure Anything
Overall it was a worthwhile couple of days, and gave me a few things to think about and leads to follow… and a bit of reassurance that SRE is possible in a large “enterprise” organisation. People have done this before!
The organisers promised to post videos of the talks in the coming days. Check back at https://devopstalks.com/2019_Melbourne/index.html.