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3 challenges facing telecom operators in shift to devops

Defining devops

The most universal understanding of devops is a business model for managing a company’s software teams by bringing together developers and operations managers. But that basic definition is only the simplification of a concept with many intricacies and misunderstandings. For one, defining the broad categories of “developer” and “operations” is essential to establishing the concept of devops.

The title “developer” usually refers to someone who creates any application, using code, from the ground up. But can also mean anyone involved in the development process from quality assurance to product management. Operations, on the other hand, includes system administrators, operations staff, release engineers, database admins, network engineers, security professionals and a number of other positions, according to Ernest Mueller of The Agile Admin. He defines devops as:

“The practice of operations and development engineers participating together in the entire service life-cycle, from design through the development process to production support.”

That seems simple enough, but implementation can cause more problems than one might expect, especially in the telecom industry, where a number of companies are in the middle of virtualizing their networks.

Here are three challenges telecommunications companies face when transferring to a devops model:

New lifestyle outside of the silo

Telecom companies are inherently large. The amount of software development and hardware deployment needed to create a network requires operators to employ thousands of workers. AT&T, for example, employs well over 200,000 people, while Verizon employs just short of that mark, according to Statistica. And with the move to network virtualization, those jobs are becoming more and more about creating and maintaining software. Telecommunications companies have traditionally separated developers and operations teams into their own silos, where they can put their heads down and focus on whatever work they have in front of them. Devops turns that model upside down, forcing developers and operations to sit next to each other while working on an application. That might sound like an easy feat, but some employees have been working with the same waterfall methodology for decades, which presents a real challenge for those unwilling, or unable to adapt to change.

source: presentation process/Youtube
source: presentation process/Youtube

Legacy tools and learning new workflows

One of the biggest changes will be the adoption of new, virtualized processes to replace legacy equipment. Both developers and operations employees will be required to learn new skills in order to bring about the efficiencies envisioned in the devops model. Telecom companies have tools that have been in place for decades, which are now dated. New, more complex tools need to be learned by both developers and operations. These skills will require workers to have more general abilities, crossing disciplines in order to work with their new partners. This is where the efficiencies of the devops model are realized, and also where some workers will be left behind.

It’s a culture thing

source: Reddit
source: Reddit

While not unique to telecom, devs and ops generally don’t get along, according to an hpcloud.com blog. It’s not hard to see why: developers create an application or update and push it off as ready-to-go to the operations team who makes sure everything is working as it should. Of course, developers want operations managers to release their creation as quickly and painlessly as possible. Operations managers, however, see new code as potential for error, and can slow down the deployment process looking for potential problems. Being a developer in devops requires the ability to take critiques in stride, while operations managers will need to be understanding of a developer’s desire to finish and release their work in a timely fashion.

Deceivingly difficult

While the premise of devops is fairly straightforward–developers and operations managers working together–there is an amount of flexibility, learning and communication that needs to be realized by both developers and operations managers in order to create a successful devops environment.

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