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DevOps Life Skills: Working with the Infrastructure Team

Zach Westall Miniatur
Zach Westall
Published December 12, 2019
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For application developers, working alongside a large infrastructure-platform team can be a blessing or a curse on any given day. When that team provides infrastructure, networking, and security services in a managed, self-service model—thereby relieving developers of the toil of managing infrastructure—it is truly a blessing. In comparison, if the infrastructure team’s primary delivery is a week(s)-long backlog and a revolving door of handoffs, app developers can feel cursed.

The question is, what can you do in the latter case? How do you deal with a slow, cumbersome infrastructure team that is, quite frankly, limiting your ability to produce at the pace that is expected of you?

The answer, of course, is as old as conflict itself: Start by increasing your understanding of the big picture, throw in a healthy dose of empathy, and baste it all in an atmosphere of mutual respect and shared goals. (Let me know where to pick up my Peace Prize.)

OK, maybe it’s not that simple, but this plan is a great place to start.

The Big Picture

App developers are typically bound by a number of immovable (or less movable) constraints. Enterprise infrastructure, policy, security necessities, and audit requirements are all critical business considerations and are therefore critical application considerations. In many organizations, however, the NetOps and SecOps teams that are responsible for these critical elements often move more slowly than DevOps, and this in turn creates friction.

In some ways, saying NetOps is slower than DevOps is comparing apples to tangerines. Over the last few years, the DevOps profession has undergone some dramatic changes, adopting a more agile workflow and embracing automation at every turn. NetOps, on the other hand, is only now gaining access to its own set of automation tools. As a result, many organizations are poised for another big boost in speed and productivity (this time in infrastructure services), but it will require that NetOps teams evolve their skills so they can take advantage of new networking automation tools.

A Healthy Dose of Empathy

The fact that DevOps has had access to automation tools for a lot longer than their NetOps counterparts is an important difference between the two groups. But this difference is not the only thing for DevOps teams to know about the infrastructure team.

Here, then, are five recommended things to know (or in some cases, remember) about NetOps:

  • NetOps professionals are masters of vendor technology and experts in the platforms they manage. You’ve no doubt heard the term “hybrid-cloud,” or something similar. It refers to the fact that many organizations utilize resources from a variety of sources and will piece together a solution using on-premises infrastructure, private cloud resources, and/or public cloud services like AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure. Your NetOps team has to know and master them all—no small feat.

  • NetOps professionals understand that networking operations can often be the difference between a poorly performing app and a great customer experience. Window sizing, congestion control algorithms, segment sizing—there’s a whole arsenal of important features and capabilities going on in the background that most app developers don’t even think about. But NetOps does.

  • The CLI comes naturally to the NetOps pro, and they’re typically very comfortable with scripts. But most won’t have dealt with asynchronous execution and callbacks, or other programming techniques.

  • They like doing a good job (as do we all) but they work in an environment where it often can feel as if the only things that get noticed are the things that go wrong. This is often because some team has gone around them.

  • Never, ever ask them to explain BGP Routing. Seriously, this is the basis for existence of the Internet. Open this wormhole and you may never get out.

Shared Goals, Mutual Benefits

As you well know, automation is the key to faster deployment. Do the work to get your NetOps colleagues on the same page. Be sure to talk to them about the value of automation in the app development lifecycle and encourage them to explore how automation can benefit their workflows as well. Programs or events that promote cross-pollination among disparate teams can help bring this shared focus into light. At F5, we find a lot of success with lunch-and-learn sessions to span traditionally unconnected divisions.

In addition, F5 helps networking professionals take steps toward automation and evolve their skills through a range of free Super-NetOps courses online. This Super-NetOps program helps network operations professionals learn the skills necessary to standardize critical application services and gain the ability to effectively utilize automated toolchains. Automated toolchains that can, by the way, reduce time to service from days to minutes—while also ensuring all applications meet necessary compliance, policy, and performance standards.

The Way Forward

As you engage your colleagues around topics like increased automation and self-service infrastructure, keep in mind that everyone is working towards the same outcomes. When there is friction between teams or when one teams moves at a slower pace than the others, it is easy to think of your colleagues as being adversaries, standing between you and ultimate success. In reality, sustainable success is achieved when friction is eliminated (or at least significantly reduced), and every department moves forward in support of the others.

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