Contrary to popular IT tropes, NetOps are not the stodgy, stubborn, set-in-their-ways group within IT that are holding up continuous deployment. In fact, when F5 Networks and Red Hat recently polled 400 IT DevOps and NetOps professionals on the matter, 30 percent of NetOps workers agreed with 43 percent of their DevOps counterparts that deployment frequencies were “not good enough” and needed attention.
That’s despite a healthy dose of automation in the deployment pipeline today. Although organizations are embracing DevOps in droves, automation as part of that adoption is occurring at much lower rates. Still, the adoption of continuous deployment (CD) in production is healthy. More than half (52 percent) of organizations indicated they were at least partially employing CD with another 22 percent piloting.
While DevOps has successfully managed to push the concept of continuous into the deployment pipeline, it’s taking its time cascading through the various components of that pipeline. We found that the further you get into that pipeline the less likely automation is to be used. Network components (layers 2 and 3) are the least likely to be automated (23 percent of organizations) as opposed to application infrastructure, which 44 percent of organizations have automated today. And without automation across the entire pipeline, it’s hard to claim it’s continuous anything.
It isn’t for a lack of interest that NetOps remains behind DevOps in the race to automate the deployment pipeline. The real source of friction in getting continuous with the deployment pipeline is a lack of expertise and integrated toolsets in the NetOps space. That’s clear from SDxCentral’s 2018 Cloud Orchestration and DevOps Report that found, “Of those that said their organizations are not using DevOps tools, 50 percent said the reason is due to ‘lack of expertise.’”
This is not surprising. The same lack of expertise – partly due to the difficulty in hiring and retaining talent with the right skill sets – has often been a source of consternation for those eager to make the leap to cloud. Security, too, has suffered a shortage of skilled professionals. IT, in general, doesn’t have enough talent to go around.
One answer to that lack of readily available talent is automation, which enables the talent you do have to scale. But automation requires that NetOps have the skills and tools necessary to implement in the first place.
In addition to skill sets, integrated toolsets are a significant source of frustration for those automating the network. Nearly half of IT professionals polled by F5 (44 percent) flagged integration as a problem for network automation. DevOps have long reaped the benefits of toolsets that are highly integrated and pluggable in nature. A single framework can support continuous build, continuous test, and continuous delivery.
The same is not true for NetOps. With multi-vendor network architectures, they are faced with trying to force-fit a diverse set of APIs and data formats to work together seamlessly to deploy all the components in the deployment pipeline. The problem, in part, goes back to the lack of skills.
DevOps are often developers themselves; highly skilled at coding a solution to just about any problem. NetOps, on the other hand, are highly skilled networking professionals. Integration in a network is about protocol interoperability, not plug-ins and APIs. It’s a completely foreign world to most NetOps, and the tools and frameworks available are not well-suited to the kind of integration required to build a continuous deployment pipeline.
It’s clear from the challenges faced by NetOps in automating the network that they can’t catch up to their DevOps counterparts on their own. That means the networking industry at large must do more than just offer APIs and examples of automation. It means stepping up to meet the challenge with communities, support, and training that focuses as much on the basics of coding and continuous deployment as it does on interfacing with specific devices. From organizations, it means investing in time and training to develop the talent they need to realize the benefits of continuous deployment they wanted when they embraced DevOps methodologies in the first place.
NetOps isn’t nearly as far behind in the automation race as you might think. But they won’t close the gap without help from the industry and from the IT leaders pushing them to automate in the first place.