Cattle, Not Kittens – Revisited

Cowboys, Cattle, and Dog

Content By Devops .com

The early days of DevOps were filled with pronouncements that we needed to treat our servers as cattle, not pets (kittens). For a year or so, the refrain was everywhere. And we did. We detached servers from dedicated hardware, we made spin up and spin down so easy that we just replaced malfunctioning servers (which has caused its own problems), we have even made servers designed to spin up, do one thing well, then spin back down until needed again – something unthinkable even a decade ago.

And we’ve reaped benefits. Servers suck up less attention from the DevOPS side, and standardization has made it easier to code for them, moving things along and allowing members of another team to pitch in when there is a crunch because of familiarity.

But IT is filled with people, and something happened in the transition. In hindsight, we should have seen it as a possibility, but things changed so much, so fast that I don’t think anyone was considering this possibility.

Our DevOps tools/toolchains/processes became our pets (kittens).

Now the special snowflake that requires specific knowledge and has to be treated with kid gloves is the DevOps step, not the servers it uses. Like pet servers, a fragile step that is working is avoided like the plague, when it should be shored up. Like pet servers, a process that is locked into a specific tool, OS, or platform is left that way, even when other options are a better solution. Like pet servers, the person who “knows all about” that is left to manage the step that should, by all rights, be easily understandable by anyone on the DevOps team.

It’s time to start treating DevOps like cattle, not kittens. Some steps (like some servers) will be more difficult to make less pet-like and more cattle-like, but if history is any gauge, the payoff is worth the investment.

We don’t have a cross-toolset language, other than doing things in the various shells and calling the shell scripts from a given toolset (not the best solution, just an example of where we’re at), but that shouldn’t stop us from standardizing and genericizing as much as possible. Less fragility, more reusability and a broader support team is good for everyone.

You all are knocking it out of the park. We – all of us – are spending more time at work and at home in the digital space than ever before, and, generally speaking, the tools “just work.” That’s all on you. Keep kicking it. But standardizing to keep things running smoothly just makes sense. You know your org; it is possible that the easiest route to cattle is to standardize on a single toolchain (perhaps one or two toolchains with reusability documented) possibly to shove a bunch of steps into scripts and share amongst whatever tools each team chooses (I, and history, strongly discourage this approach, but neither I, nor history, has to live in your environment. There might be a good reason for this, so I include it here).

All I’m saying is, don’t re-implement every step over and over if you can avoid it, and don’t make steps so arcane that you need a specialist (not internal, and definitely not external). Keep rocking it, and get those cattle moving!

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