Role of DevOps in modern IT infrastructure, an interview with SaltStack CTO Thomas Hatch

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Credit: Clive Darra/Flickr

"The cost of irrelevance is probably unacceptable to most organizations," says the Salt creator.

As ‘everything as a service’ is becoming a common practice in modern IT infrastructure, it’s increasingly important to orchestrate and automate the building blocks of infrastructure, including change management. That's where DevOps tools like the open source systems and configuration management SaltStack comes in.

I visited the SaltStack booth at SCaLE 14x, where they've been a sponsor since 2012. In a separate conversation with Christer Edwards, a sysadmin at Adobe, he told me about how Salt is being used in Adobe's marketing division. It captured my interest, so I reached out to Salt creator Thomas Hatch to learn more.

In an email interview, Hatch discusses the origins of Salt and SaltStack, warns of DevOps snake oil, and explains how DevOps is transforming IT. Following is an edited transcript of that interview.

How do events like SCaLE help SaltStack in reaching out to the DevOps community?

SCaLE obviously has its roots in open source, and the DevOps movement essentially got its start and really took hold first with the developers and systems administrators who understood the value of a coordinated, team approach to digital delivery. SaltStack has been a sponsor of SCaLE since 2012 for good reason. SaltStack technology makes the lives of SCaLE attendees easier as we automate the intersection of DevOps, open source, cloud and massive scale.

Tell us a bit about SaltStack

SaltStack develops SaltStack Enterprise and Salt Open software and we maintain the Salt open source project and community, one of the biggest open source communities in the world.

SaltStack software is used for data-driven, intelligent orchestration of converged infrastructure at scale and to configure the most complex application environments. SaltStack also offers support subscriptions and professional services SaltStack Enterprise customer and and Salt Open users.

What led to the creation of SaltStack?

Years ago I was a data center architect and systems administrator. I was constantly frustrated with the lack of capability and scalability of the existing tools. To be fair, the tools back then were created for a different time and a different problem set. I needed systems orchestration, automation and configuration management integrated into a single platform. So I created Salt first as a performant and massively scalable remote execution engine and then we built subsystems running on the remote execution engine like configuration management, multi-cloud control, and data-driven orchestration.

Apparently I wasn't the only systems administrator looking for a better way. Since 2013, Salt has been downloaded millions of times, has thousands of developers contributing to the project and we are about to release SaltStack Enterprise 5.0 to the market to meet the demand of hundreds of potential customers.

DevOps is a big change for companies. How are they adapting? Are they hiring new people or training their employees?

Every organization is adopting the DevOps mindset in a very different way. Businesses are diverse, as are the business' digital requirements. The transition from traditional dev and ops practices to coordinated, agile DevOps has been slow, but each organization has to move at an appropriate pace. Fear of missing out and competitive pressure has helped to accelerate adoption as the benefits of DevOps can be obvious and markets move so quickly these days.

Tools actually built to help automate human touch points in a DevOps process, or tools that orchestrate machine to machine or code to infrastructure interaction also help. But IT teams need to be careful as many of the legacy tool vendors sell DevOps snake oil. Never did a tool deliver DevOps. But we tend to see many DevOps organizations naturally adopting tools like SaltStack to support and make more efficient their existing DevOps processes and workflow. Of course these organizations are hiring people who understand DevOps and who are skilled with the relevant tools. And we are training a lot of DevOps engineers on how to use SaltStack.

How does DevOps affect cost in the long term?

Cost is tough to measure, but in the long run organizations have no choice but to modernize and digitize their approach to business. DevOps enables this transition. The cost of irrelevance is probably unacceptable to most organizations.

What role does DevOps play in companies running modern infrastructure?

Modern infrastructure is synonymous with DevOps. The DevOps teams using SaltStack (the ones we see most) are more focused on automating the "Ops" in DevOps. SaltStack is used to deploy and manage modern, converged, hybrid infrastructure, in addition to the complex applications that run on it.

What are some of the most interesting DevOps projects you see?

I'm biased but take a look at some of the DevOps use cases that will be profiled atSaltConf16. I'm constantly amazed at the work our customers and users do, and it makes me happy to see how they use SaltStack to make much of it possible.

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