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Can ITIL and DevOps work together in the digital age?

Automation administers a successful marriage of waterfall and agile methodologies

Michael Schmidt
Michael Schmidt, July 21, 2015 2:15 pm
Blog > Continuous Delivery > Can ITIL and DevOps work together in the digital age?

Since the ITIL guidelines to robust software engineering were perfected in the 1990s, the agile manifesto has been fulfilled. Speed is often now king, as many modern day enterprises stay ahead of the competition with continuous delivery. DevOps, the spearhead of the agile movement, directly opposes ITIL best practices for structured IT progress. Does ITIL still have a place in today’s business world?

If a company ripped up the ITIL rulebook and chose to pioneer a full-on DevOps approach they would innovate fast, bringing apps to market at breakneck speed to give customers cutting-edge service. The problem would be reliability. Change is only useful if it works.

A business ran purely on ITIL practices would give reliable customer service. Waterfall IT operations would be robust and problems rare. But from a business point of view, the company would move slowly.

It is important not to think of DevOps and ITIL as directly apposed philosophies to run a business by. Each has its uses depending on the situation, but a marriage of the two approaches can be vital in creating a balanced business approach.

Sometimes ITIL and DevOps are just too different to run side-by-side with no overlap, and we must take the most relevant parts of each on a project-by-project basis. The main driver in this decision-making process should be common sense, or ‘business sense’.

When IT concerns outweigh business direction, it is not doing its job. Without IT we cannot run a bank or an airline. In fact there are very few businesses that can run without IT today. You could run a small shop, perhaps, but not a chain of shops, where for instance prices would need adjusting in every branch from a central system. IT has become so vital in recent years that we forget the role it should play, which is to support the business.

Often legacy issues come into play. Say you have a CMDB that was built on ITIL some time ago and works perfectly well. You could need to pull data from it for use on a DevOps project, but there would be no point building it again from scratch.

The significance of failure is another factor in choosing which approach to use, and depends on business type. A bank can afford to fail much less than a social media site, for instance. If a bank was to follow a strictly ITIL approach it would fail less, but each time it did could have catastrophic consequences.

DevOps acknowledges that technology will break and is prepared for that inevitability. Perhaps the gamble the bank must take is to sacrifice a bit of reliability for an improved ability to recover from failure.

In fact, a bank is a good example of a business that can combine ITIL and DevOps. Data can be heavily protected in the silos of slow, mainframe systems and moved by batch, but then service applications can be built on top of that using middleware, DevOps and automation which allows data to move faster, on demand.

However you choose to marry ITIL and DevOps, automation provides a common platform that facilitates both approaches. The key is to find the point where ITIL and DevOps tools interact – the shaded centre of the Venn diagram.

For instance, DevOps could request an environment to be automatically spun up from a service catalogue within ServiceNow, a tool based on ITIL principles. ServiceNow is reliable and well organised. It has everything a developer would previously have requested from IT operations. However, a service catalogue is DevOps in nature, as a developer uses it to fulfils the role of IT operations, blurring the line between dev and ops.

Automation allows potentially heterogeneous tools to work in harmony. Many solutions come with built-in integration agents approved by the makers of the tools themselves.

Whether ITIL or DevOps, the standardization of tools in general only works up to hardware and infrastructure level. After that, so many factors come into play that inevitably a huge variety of tools are chosen. Sometimes it is even just personal preference of tools that allow certain members of staff to work efficiently.

There is much evidence that suggests IT projects that combine both ITIL and DevOps ideals can continue work together. While some industry leaders suggest keeping the two ideologies separate, in practice a marriage of the two can often still make perfect business sense.

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Michael Schmidt

Michael Schmidt

Michael Schmidt heads the Automic DevOps Practice, a Management and Technology Advisory Service established to help our customers to prepare for and transform their organizations towards DevOps. Michael spent his carrier as Consultant, Entrepreneur and in several product-related leadership positions. He has a passion for building lean IT organizations. Michael holds a joint MBA from New York University, London School of Economics and HEC Paris and a Master of Computing Science.