Serverless, DevOps, NoOps, Canaries


In a footnote to yesterday’s application intimacy post I said:

in time there will be services for provisioning, monitoring and logging, and all that will remain of ‘infrastructure’ will be the config of those services; and since we might treat that config as code then ultimately the NoOps ‘just add code – we’ll take care of the rest’ dream will become a reality. Barring any surprises, that time is likely something in the region of 5 years away.

That came from an extensive conversation with my colleague Simon Wardley on whether NoOps is really a thing. The conversation started at Serverlessconf London where I ended up editorialising the view that Serverless Operations is Not a Solved Problem. It’s worth pointing out a couple of things about my take on Simon’s perspective:

  1. Simon sees DevOps as a label for the (co-evolved) practices emerging from IaaS utilisation, and hence it’s not at the leading edge as we look to a more PaaS/FaaS future.
  2. Simon is a great visionary, so what he expects to come true isn’t the same as what’s actually there right now.

This whole debate was due to come up once again at London CloudCamp on 6 July at an event titled “Serverless and the death of DevOps“. Sadly I’m going to miss CloudCamp this time around, but in the meantime the topic has taken on a life of its own in a post from James Governor:

it’s a fun event and a really vibrant community, but the whole “death of devops” thing really grinds my gears. I blame Simon Wardley. 😉

Whilst not explicitly invoking Gene Kim and the ‘3 Ways’ of DevOps (Flow, Feedback and Continuous Learning by Experimentation); it seems that James and I are on the same page about the ongoing need to apply what manufacturing learned from the 50s onwards to today’s software industry (including Serverless).

Meanwhile Paul Johnston steps in with an excellent comment and follows up with a complete post ‘Serverless is SuperOps‘. In his conclusion Paul says:

Ops becomes your primary task, and Dev becomes a the tool to deliver the custom business logic the system needs.

I think that’s a sentiment born from the fact that (beyond trivial use cases) using Serverless right now is just the opposite of NoOps; the ops part is really hard, and ends up being the majority of the overall effort. There may no longer be a need to worry about VMs and OSes and patching and all of those IaaS concerns (that have in many cases been automated to the point of triviality); but there’s still a need to worry about provisioning, config management, logging and monitoring.

Something that Paul and I dived into recently are some of the issues around testing. Paul suggests ‘The serverless approach to testing is different and may actually be easier‘, but concludes:

we’re currently lacking the testing tools to really drive home the value.—looking forward to when they arrive.

I asked him, “How do you do canarying in Serverless?“, which led to a well thought through response in ‘Serverless and Deployment Issues‘. TL;DR canarying is pretty much impossible right now unless you build your own content router, which is something that’s right up there on the stupid and dangerous list; this is stuff that the platform should do for you.

Things will be better in the future. As Simon keeps pointing out the operational practices will co-evolve with the technologies. Right now Serverless is only being used by the brave pioneers, and behind them will come the settlers and town planners. Those later users won’t come until stuff like canarying has been sorted out, so the scope of what a Functions as a Service (FaaS) platform does will expand, and the effort to make things work will correspondingly contract. In due course it’s possible that if we look at it just right (and squint a bit) we could call that NoOps. Of course to do that we will have had to learn how to encode everything we want to do with provisioning, logging and monitoring into the (infrastructure as code) config management; we will have had to teach the machine (or at least the machine learning behind it) how to care on our behalf. Until then, as Charity Majors says – ‘you can’t outsource caring‘.

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