My Challenges with #DevOps

As I’ve alluded to in earlier posts, my career goals have transitioned away from database development and administration into DevOps implementations; it’s been a bit of a challenge for me, because I feel like a stranger in a strange land all over again. Looking at familiar problems turned on their sides isn’t for me, and my day job has some particular challenges that I need to figure out appropriate solutions for. All of that being said, I’ve enjoyed it. However, in an attempt to help me wrap my head around things, I wanted to list out the struggles I’m facing, and include my current “solutions”; these may change over time, but it’s where I’m at today.

  1. It is what it is…

One of the challenges of describing DevOps is that it’s a conglomerate of technical and cultural changes. System and software engineers can easily understand the technical components of iterative software deployment, but it’s tough to describe the organizational and procedural changes necessary to implement a rapid deployment environment (“You want the developers on pager duty? How will they administer the system?”). Most engineers have a tough time interpreting The Phoenix Project, because it’s not a technical manual; they’re used to step-by-step guides, not cultural strategies.

My solution is to describe DevOps as a philosophy, not a methodology. Philosophies have general principles that you agree to abide by (such as seeking efficiency through automation, increasing feedback, and documenting problems without blame); methodologies are strategies for implementing philosophies. What this means is that as a manager, my method of implementing DevOps is probably different than yours, and there may even be differences within the organization; the key focus should be on reducing or eliminating silos through communication. Where those silos must remain (say, in a highly regulated environment where development and operations need to be separate), workflow in each silo needs to be as transparent as possible.

  1. Brownfield change is harder than greenfield development.

Greenfield projects are new software projects or initiatives; brownfield development is a revitalization of an existing project. While each has challenges from a DevOps perspective, the technical and cultural debt that is associated with brownfield development often slows down adoption of DevOps practices. It’s tough to maintain a system while making suggestions for improvement, particularly when multiple departments are involved, all with their own goals.

For me, it all goes back to two principles: tight focus, and increased communication. As a change agent, I need to carve out time each week to focus on one small, incremental change that I can make to increase efficiencies; for example, I’m currently working on developing a standard postmortem practice for tracking issues with our business service (using this free guide from VictorOps). The point is that I may not have opportunity to make sweeping changes, but I can do a little bit at a time (and encourage my team to do so as well).

  1. Compliance is a constraint.

Working in the financial industry brings some unique challenges to implementing DevOps; while philosophically the ideal DevOps process is to build automation pipelines from development through deployment, regulatory policies are written to dictate separation and control between environments. The thicker the wall, the more likely you are to successfully pass an audit, but those walls make it tough to attain rapid development. If your developers have one set of goals (deploy new features) and your operations team have another (keep the system stable with few changes), you’ve got to figure out a way to reconcile those.

Communication is key, and that includes have a common issue tracking system to report operational issues to development as soon as they occur; I don’t manage the developers in my business unit, so I can’t set their priorities. But I can make them aware of the pain points, and the expenses associated with those struggles. I can also find ways to make our infrastructure more predictable so that developers can develop code faster, and our QA teams can automate tests with some assurance. It’s tough, but it’s my goals.


I realize that this post may not be that insightful, but I’m looking at it as an effort to keep writing and thinking about these issues. Expect more from me in the future as I continue to try and learn something new.

December 12, 2016 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: DevOps, Professional Development, SQLServerPedia Syndication

#DevOps – Starting the path

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending my first DevOps conference (DevOpsDays Nashville), and the first conference that had absolutely nothing to do with SQL Server since graduate school. The conference was great; I met some new folks, and had some great moments of insight early on. The DevOps community is a very welcoming community, but as a relatively new explorer, I quickly got lost. The sessions ranged from culture to technology, and somewhere in between; the speakers were very casual, and to be honest, a little unstructured. It was very different than my previous experiences at tech conferences, where even professional development talks were goal-focused.

One the last day of the event, during one of the keynotes, I encountered the following tweet:

Paul Reed’s piece is interesting, because it helped me begin to form a schema around all that is DevOps; he defines the following frameworks underneath the umbrella of DevOps:

Automation and Application Lifecycle Management – basically, the tools needed to insure micro-deployments and increased time-to-market. The focus here is on Continuous IntegrationDeploymentDelivery, and Configuration Management.

Cultural Issues – Reed breaks these out into a relatively fine grain in a manner that he didn’t do with technology, but he defines three subsections of culture: Organizational Culture, Workflow, and Diversity. Each of these areas has a slightly different area of focus, but they all deal with the “soft, fuzzy, human interactions that lie just beyond the technology.” Organizational Culture can refer to breaking down silos, restructuring, and/or management & leadership. Workflow refers to the application lifecycle methodology, such as the conjunction of Agile and Lean methods.  Diversity is a focus on bringing different voices into technology, including feminist, LGBTQ, and minority perspectives.

The Indescribable – finally, Reed finishes with basically an “everything else” definition. Some organizations which have pioneered DevOps practices don’t really call them that; they’ve just organically grown their own processes to focus on efficiency, including minimizing silos and rapid delivery.

I have to admit, it helped me to reframe my perspective on various lectures using this structure; that may not be true to the spirit of DevOps itself (which de-emphasizes artificial constraints), but it’s given me some room for thought in terms of the areas I want to study and learn. The technology is interesting, but I don’t see myself working in those areas anytime soon; my real focus will be on organizational culture and workflow. As a manager, I want to increase my efficiency by building a team, and I think the path I’m on is to figure out how to push my team of system engineers and database administrators to prepare for continuous integration.

More to come.

November 16, 2016 · stuart · No Comments
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Getting my #DevOps learn on…

On Thursday (Nov 10), I’m going to be going to DevOpsDays Nashville; I’m excited.  This will be the first conference in several years that I’ve attended where I wasn’t either an organizer or a speaker.  Hoping to meet some new folks and learn a lot; I’m really pushing myself to get out my comfort zone (databases), and soak up some new knowledge regarding IT culture, automation, and agile operations.

If you’re around and want to say hi, follow me on Twitter: @codegumbo


November 7, 2016 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Development, Professional Development, SQLServerPedia Syndication

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! – #SQLSeuss #SQLPASS

Last week, I had the privilege to speak at the annual PASS Summit; I got to present two different sessions, but the one I’m the most proud of was my Lightning Talk: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! A Seussian Guide to the Data Platform. I bungled the presentation a bit (sorry for those of you who want to listen to it), but I feel pretty good about the content. I’ve presented it below, with the slides that I used for the talk.

The goal of this presentation was to explore the Microsoft Data Platform from the perspective of a SQL Server professional; I found this great conceptual diagram of the platform from this website a while back, and wanted to use it as a framework. I figured the best way to teach a subject was the same way I teach my 3-year-old: a little bit of whimsy.


You have brains in your head

And SQL Skills to boot

You’ll soar to great heights

On the Data Platform too

You’re on your own, and you know what you know,

And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.

You’ve mastered tables, columns and rows, OHHHHH MYYYY

You may even have dabbled in a little B.I.

You’re a data professional, full of zest,

But now you’re wondering “What comes next?”

Data! It’s more than just SQL,

And there’s a slew of it coming, measured without equal.

Zettabytes, YotaBytes, XenoBytes and more

All coming our way, faster than ever before.

So what should we do? How should we act?

Should we rest on our laurels? Should we lie on our backs?

Do we sit idly by, while the going gets tough?

No… no, we step up our game and start learning new stuff!


Oh, the places you’ll go!


Let’s start with the Theories,

The things you should know

Designing systems as services,

Are the route you might go.

Distributed, scalable

Compute on Demand

The Internet of Things

And all that it commands.

Infrastructure is base,

Platform is in line

Software and data

Rest on top of design

Once you’ve grasped this

Once you’ve settled in

You’ve embraced cloud thinking

Even while staying on-prem.

But beyond the cloud, there’s data itself.

Structured, polyschematic, binary, and log

Centralized or on the edge,

Some might say “in the fog”

Big Data, Fast Data, Dark, New and Lost

All of it needs management, all at some cost

There’s opportunity there to discover something new

But it will take somebody, somebody with skills like you.

Beyond relational, moving deep into insight

We must embrace new directions, and bring data to life

And there’s so many directions to go!


For those of you who prefer administration

System engineering and server calibration

You need to acknowledge, and you probably do

You’ll manage more systems, with resources few.

Automation and scripting are the tools of the trade

Learn powershell to step up your game.

Take what you know about managing SQL

And apply it to more tech; you’ll be without equal

Besides the familiar, disk memory CPU

There’s virtualization and networking too

In the future you might even manage a zoo,

Clustering elephants, and a penguin or two.


But it all hinges on answering things

Making servers reliable and performance tuning,

Monitoring, maintenance, backup strategies

All of these things you do with some ease.

And it doesn’t matter if the data is relational

Your strategies and skills will make you sensational

All it takes is some get up, and little bit of go

And you’re on your way, ready to know.

So start building a server, and try something new

SQL Server is free, Hadoop is too.

Tinker and learn in your spare time

Let your passions drive you and you’ll be just fine


But maybe you’re a T-SQL kind of geek,

And it’s the languages of data that you want to speak

There’s lots of different directions for you

Too many to cover, but I’ll try a few

You could talk like a pirate

And learn to speak R

Statistics, and Science!

I’m sure you’ll go far

Additional queries for XML and JSON

Built in SQL Server, the latest edition.

You can learn HiveQL, if Big Data’s your thing

And interface with Tez, Spark, or just MapReducing

U_SQL is the language of the Azure Data Lake

A full-functioned dialect; what progress you could make!

There’s LINQ and C-Sharp, and so many more

Ways to write your code against the datastores

You could write streaming queries against Streaminsight

And answer questions against data in flight.

And lest I overlook, or lest I forget,

There’s products and processes still to mention yet.

SSIS, SSAS, In-memory design

SSRS, DataZen, and Power BI

All of these things, all of these tools

Are waiting to be used, are waiting for you.

You just start down the path, a direction you know

And soon you’ll be learning, your brain all aglow

And, oh, the places you’ll go.

And once you get there, wherever you go.

Don’t forget to write, and let somebody know.

Blog, tweet, present what you’ve mastered

And help someone else get there a little faster.

Feel free to leave a comment if you like, or follow me on Twitter: @codegumbo

November 3, 2016 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, Conferences, Professional Development, SQL, SQLServerPedia Syndication

One (Last) Trip to the Emerald City for #SQLPASS

On Monday, I’m flying out to the Emerald City (Seattle, WA) for the annual gathering of Microsoft database geeks known as the PASS Summit; as always, I’m excited to see friends and learn new stuff. However, this will probably be my last Summit. Over the last few years, my career trajectory has taken me away from database development and administration, and it’s time that I start investing in the things that now interest me (technology management, and operational culture). My goals for the next year are to attend conferences like the DevOps Enterprise Summit and the SRECon; I want and need to learn more about making IT efficient, and managing large-scale applications.

I’m not entirely disconnecting from the SQL community; I still plan to stay active and involved in our local chapter (AtlantaMDF), and part of the organizing committee for our SQL Saturdays. I still want to be a data-driven professional; I’m just not a data professional. That’s a subtle distinction, but it’s important to me. I’ll still sling code part-time and for hobbies, but I’m really trying to hone in on what I enjoy these days, and it’s process, procedures, management, and cultural change in IT (all IT, not just SQL Server).

So, this year will be different for me; instead of trying to network and schmooze and elevate my own SQL skillset, I’m going to hang out in sessions like “Overcoming a Culture of FearOps by Adopting DevOps” ,Agile Development Fundamentals: Continuous Integration with SSDT“, and
Fundamentals of Tech Team Leadership“. I may visit some courses on Cloud development and Analytics, but mostly, I want to enjoy spending some time with folks that I may not see again for a while.

I truly hope to see you there; I owe a lot to all of you, so I’m probably going to have a huge bar tab after buying rounds. Should be an exciting week.

October 21, 2016 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Conferences, PASS, Professional Development, SQLServerPedia Syndication

#DevOps “We are all developers”

While thinking about the Implicit Optimism of DevOps, I started running through some of the cultural axioms of DevOps; I’m not sure if anyone has put together a comprehensive list, but I have a few items that I think are important. Be good at getting better is my new mantra, and now, I’m fond of saying “We are all developers”. I remember eating lunch at SQL Saturday Atlanta 2016 listening to a database developer describing this perspective to a DBA, and hearing how strongly the DBA objected to that label. I tentatively agreed with the developer, but recently, I’ve gotten more enamored with that statement.

Having worked as both a developer and an administrator, I get it; there’s an in-group mentality. The two sides of the operational silo are often working toward very different goals; developers are tasked with promoting change (new features, service packs, etc). DBA’s are tasked with maintaining the stability of the system; change is the opposite of stability. Most technical people I know are very proud of their work, which means that there’s often a desire for accuracy in the work we do. If a DBA is trying to make a system stable, and you call them a developer (think: change instigator), then it could be perceived as insulting.

It’s not meant to be.

Efficient development (to me) revolves around the three basic principles of:

  1. Reduce – changes should be highly targeted, small in scope, and touch only what’s necessary.
  2. Reuse – any process that is repeated should be repeated consistently; and,
  3. Recycle – code should be shared with stakeholders, so that inspiration can be shared.

From that perspective, there’s lots of opportunities to apply development principles to operational problems. For my DBA readers (all three of you), think about all the jobs you’ve written to automate maintenance. Think about the index changes you’ve suggested and/or implemented. Think about the reports you’ve written to monitor the performance of your systems. Any time you’ve created something to help you perform your job more efficiently, that’s development.

DevOps is built on the principle of infrastructure as code, with an emphasis on giving developers the ability to build the stack as needed. Google calls its implementation of DevOps principles Site Reliability Engineering, and characterizes it as “what you get when you treat operations as if it’s a software problem”. Microsoft is committed to DevOps as part of its application lifecycle management (although it’s notably cloud-focused). When dealing with large-scale implementations, operations can benefit from the application of the principles of efficient development.

We are all developers; most of us have always been developers. We just called it something else.

September 13, 2016 · stuart · No Comments
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The Implicit Optimism of #DevOps

One of my favorite podcasts lately is DevOps Café; John Willis and Damon Edwards do a great job of talking about the various trends in IT management, and have really opened my eyes to a lot of different ways of thinking about problems in enterprise systems administration. On a recent podcast, John interviewed Damon about his #DOES15 presentation, “DevOps Kaizen: Practical Steps to Start & Sustain a Transformation“. During that conversation, Damon mentioned a phrase that really resonated with me: Be Good at Getting Better.

At the heart of the DevOps philosophy is the desire to improve delivery of services through removal of cultural blockages. Success isn’t measured by the amount of code pushed out the door or the number of releases; it’s the ability to continuously improve over time. Companies that experiment (even with ideas that don’t work) learn a different way to approach any problem that they face. The freedom to experiment means that failure is not an outcome; it’s a method of improvement.

The optimism of that appeals to me; I think if you’re focusing on continuous improvement, then you’ve implicitly accepted two fundamental principles of optimism:

  1. Change is necessary for growth, and
  2. Things CAN improve (you just need to figure out how).

There’s some beauty in that; if you’re an organization facing overwhelming technical debt, it’s not uncommon to sink into a spiral of despair, where changes are infrequent for fear of breaking something. Mistrust breeds, as organizations point fingers at other teams for “failing to deliver”. You quit working toward solutions, and instead focus on fighting fires and maintaining some sort of desperate last stand.

You’re better than that.

DevOps is a cultural change; it’s an optimistic philosophy focused on changing IT culture while being open to different strategies for doing so. If you can commit to Be Good at Getting Better, you can change. It may be slow, it may be frustrating, but every day is an opportunity to incrementally move the ball forward in delivering quality business services. The trick is not to focus on where to begin, but simply to begin.

September 7, 2016 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: DevOps, SQLServerPedia Syndication

#DevOps Two Books for Operations

Over the last couple years, there’s been a subtle shift in my responsibilities at my day job (and my interests in technology overall).  I’ve been doing much less database development and administration work, and more general system architecture work.  That’s harder to write up in blog posts than SQL code, so I’ve struggled with writing, but I want to get back into the habit.  So excuse the choppiness, and let me try to put some thoughts on digital paper.

I’m pushing very hard for my company to adopt DevOps principles.  There’s a lot of material out there about DevOps from the developer perspective, but there’s few resources for those of us on the operations side of the house.  In a pure sense, there’s no such thing as sides, but in a regulated industry like healthcare or financial services, old walls are tough to break down, so they’re useful as organizational frameworks for general responsibilities.  However, we are all developers, whether or not we sling code or manage infrastructure as code; the goal is to produce repeatable patterns and tools that allow growth and change.

Two great books that I’m reading right now are:

The Practice of Cloud System Administration by Limoncelli, Chalup, and Hogan.  Tons of practical advice for building large-scale distributed processing systems, and DevOps philosophy is woven throughout (and specifically highlighted in Chapter 8).  This is one of those books that you’ll feel like diving in on some sections, and skimming over others; it’s a through examination of system administration from development through implementation, so there’s lots of conceptual hooks to grab hold of (and conversely, things that you may not have experienced).

The second book that I’ve recently started reading is Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems.  This book is a collection of essays which explore Google’s method of approaching reliability; like most things Google, Site Reliability Engineering is similar to DevOps, but specific to the ways that Google does thing.  It’s also light on documentation (insert joke about Google and beta products here).  However, it does offer several insights into day-to-day system administration at Google.  While the SRE model is not exactly like DevOps, there’s lots of overlap, and differences may be attributed more to practice than to concepts.

More to come.


August 30, 2016 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, Book Reviews, DevOps

#DevDataBhm inaugural event

I’m presenting today at DevDataDay in Birmingham.  First time in a while for me, but I’m excited about the opportunity to go to sessions again and learn something (more on that in a bit).  I realize this blog has been a bit dusty for a while, but I’m gonna try to do better about that.

TOPIC:   Theory of Cloud Database Administration
SPEAKER: Stuart Ainsworth
The cloud is more than just a marketing term; it’s a model for designing scalable, distributed systems and assigning ownership to various components of those systems.  Data is a crucial part of that model, and there are lots of challenges ahead.  This presentation will explore the history of cloud computing, the current state of data in the cloud (using SQL Server 2016), and the impact on career choices for data people.

August 20, 2016 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Conferences, SQL

Where’s your slack?

I’ve been rereading the book Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency recently.  As I alluded to in my last post, my life has been rough for the last few months.  My nephew’s passing took the wind out of an already saggy sail; I’ve spent a great deal of time just trying to balance work, family, and life in general.  Some people turn to counselors; I turn to project management books.

The premise of the book is that change requires free time, and that free time (slack) is the natural enemy of efficiency.  This is a good thing; if you are 100% efficient, you have no room to affect change.  Zero change means zero growth.  I’ve been a proponent of slack for a while (less successfully than I’d like); it makes sense to allow people some down time to grow.  Just to be clear, slack isn’t wasted time; it’s an investment in growth.  Slack tasks include:

  • Research into interesting projects.  Lab work allows you to experience the unexpected, which gives you time to prepare for the unexpected in production
  • Building relationships. Teams are built on trust, and trust is earned through building relationships.  Teams that like each other are more likely to be successful when it comes to problem solving.
  • Shadow training.  Allow team members to work in other teams for a while; learn how the rest of the company operates.

In short, slack is necessary in order to promote growth; if you want your organization to stay ahead of it’s competition, cutting resources in the name of efficiency is sure-fire plan for losing.  The best advice for slack time is the 80/20 rule; run your team at 80% capacity, and leave 20% for slack.  In the case of emergency, slack time can be temporarily alleviated, but it’s the responsibility of management to return to normal work levels as soon as possible.

So what does this mean for me personally?  In the name of efficiency, I let slack time go.  I work a full time job, a couple of different consulting gigs, act as a chapter leader for AtlantaMDF, and am an active father.  I have no hobbies, and suck at exercise.  I love to travel, but trips are planning exercises in and of themselves.  In short, I have zero slack to deal with emergencies.  When something goes wrong and time gets compromised, I immediately feel guilty because I’ve robbed Peter to pay Paul in terms of time.  That’s not living,

I’m done with that.

Change is incremental, so I’m not planning on upsetting the apple cart just yet, but I am trying to figure out ways to make my slack time more of a recharge time.  Don’t get me wrong; I waste time.  I sit and stare at Facebook like the rest of the modern world; I binge on Netflix when new series drop.  That’s not slack, and it doesn’t recharge me. Slack is using free time to grow, to change.  My goal is to find an hour a week for growth-promoting free time.  I’ll let you know how I’m doing.


April 11, 2016 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, Professional Development