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5 key predictions for DevOps, IT Ops in 2016

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Christopher Null, Freelance writer

“We’re moving toward an environment that lets companies be more agile and flexible, but we have to have all of the support tooling that lets them be so,” says 451 Research Director Donnie Berkholz.

That’s how Berkholz sums up the findings in 2016 Trends in Development, DevOps & IT Ops, released by 451 Research in December 2015. The report predicts several developments that will shape the world of DevOps over the next 12 months. Here’s a primer on what you can expect in 2016.

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1. Microservices will go mainstream

“Microservices is perhaps the hottest new buzzword to follow the overwhelming presence of Docker logos on every vendor’s slide decks and product integrations,” the report’s authors write. Driven by the rise of polyglot programming and advances in software packaging and deployment, microservices have been trumpeted for their ability to increase agility and mitigate the impact of software failure.

To date, microservices have been mostly limited to software vendors such as Adobe, Software AG, and leading-edge web companies like Netflix. That’s due to the strict requirements and expense needed to support them.

“What’s holding back microservices right now are three main factors,” Berkholz says. “One is that DevOps is basically a prerequisite to being able to effectively build and deploy microservices. Two is that there’s a big skill gap around how to monitor, manage, debug, and repair microservices. There’s also a very large transition cost to move to a microservices-based architecture, and you have to be able to justify the benefits of that cost for it to be worthwhile. Most companies aren’t going to be throwing away their core applications and building their microservices from scratch.”

This complexity will continue to slow adoption of microservices in 2016, according to the report. “Microservices are something that only work at a very technologically and organizationally mature company,” Berkholz says. In the meantime, vendors stand to gain by creating the tools to support companies that want to take the leap.

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2. Innovation in IT will fail if dependencies aren’t properly managed

Vendors are too cavalier about the benefits of workload portability across hybrid IT architecture, the report suggests.

“Little consideration is given to the data, integration, processes, and distributed logic upon which various workloads depend,” the authors write. “Failure to understand such dependencies, under the best of circumstances, can eviscerate the validity of return on investment (ROI) expectations. Under the worst of conditions, it can destroy the continuity of business operations, thus creating great risk and eradicating any and all of the intended benefits of these new and innovative IT approaches.

Berkholz cites Knight Capital Group as a cautionary tale. While rushing new software to market, the company’s technicians forgot to update the code on a single server in a cluster of eight. The ensuing meltdown crippled the global financial services company and nearly bankrupted it with over $460 million in losses.

“We’re making software infrastructure increasingly complex,” Berkholz says, “so a lot more effort has to go into keeping track of how all that stuff maps to the underlying infrastructure, whether that’s virtual infrastructure in the cloud or physical infrastructure on your own datacenter.”

3. Container management will be the new battleground

As Docker adoption grows, users are scaling containers across larger, more diverse infrastructures. This creates new management challenges that require separate tools.

“Dealing with the sheer scale of these systems requires advanced technologies for container management and orchestration, and we’re seeing the battle play out in that space now,” the report says.

“We’ve gotten to the point where if you’re doing containers, Docker is the assumption,” Berkholz says. “You may end up using something else but you’re very unlikely to start with something else, whereas at the management level it’s still up for grabs. Depending on which source you talk to, depending on which segment of the market you’re looking at, there’s no default that this is the way it’s done. [Docker Swarm, Google Kubernetes, and Apache Mesos] are, if not neck-in-neck, all still very relevant in pretty much any setting.”

Expect competition and innovation around orchestration to intensify through 2016.

4. Vendors will need to prove business value

Business executives will become more involved in DevOps transformations, the report says.

DevOps transformations have tended to start as bottom-up conversations, but they’re increasingly becoming top-down imperatives. “CIOs are getting demands from the rest of the company saying, hey we’ve got to innovate faster, we’ve got to deliver faster, we have to be more agile to keep up,” Berkholz says. Because these conversations have executive muscle behind them, an organization-wide shift to a DevOps culture is more likely.

That will put at a disadvantage vendors who can’t directly improve their customers’ abilities to deliver their own products, the reports predicts.“The vendors that have been saying they’ll sell you DevOps but are actually selling you a couple of tools are going to become increasingly unsuccessful,” Berkholz says.

5. Lines between IaaS and PaaS will continue to blur

The lines between IaaS and PaaS are becoming less defined, the report says, due to customer demands for an IaaS experience, company acquisitions, and cloud services like Amazon and Google making inroads into the enterprise via PaaS.

Berkolz says this convergence is being driven from both directions. From the IaaS side, he says, customers “just want something that they don’t have to maintain themselves. A great example of this is database as a service. You see people looking for just a little bit higher-level service because they figured out that’s the part of the whole thing that matters here. What matters in building value for the company and maintaining a database environment is not necessarily the best way to do that.”

In the PaaS space, providers are balancing customer demand for more flexibility and polyglot programming support with opinionated stacks that provide detailed guidance and best practices, according to the report. It predicts this could lead to vendors offering PaaS components a la carte to customers that need flexibility or “PaaS offerings that are somewhat more opinionated and rigid, but provide customers a clearer PaaS path.”

Containers will also continue to have a significant impact and could be either complementary or competitive to PaaS, the report says. “There’s going to be a spectrum of options all across this whole landscape of IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, [and] container management,” Berkholz says. “You’ll have the opportunity to pick the one that works best for your company or your project at the given time.”

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