DevOps

From DevOps to No-Ops: El Reg chats serverless computing with NYT's CTO

Or how to stop worrying about infrastructure and love lock-in

By Thomas Claburn in San Francisco

12 SHARE

DevOps, a combination of development and operations, may have to be rethought because ops is on the outs.

In recent years, those who develop applications and those who manage the machines hosting the apps have tended to tended to be distinct. Even recently, as physical machines have given way to virtual machines and containers, there's still a separation of concerns. At least in large organizations, the person creating application code probably isn't the one overseeing Kubernetes clusters, network infrastructure, or dropping by the data center in the wee hours.

Serverless IT architecture doesn't eliminate those concerns but it does shift a lot of them to Amazon, Microsoft, Google, or other cloud service providers.

"There's the no-ops dream," said Nick Rockwell, chief technology officer at The New York Times, in a phone interview with The Register. "Many people snicker, but I think for many applications, we can get very close."

Rockwell is bullish on serverless, yet another term that should be revisited, but for being a misnomer rather than in response to industry change. Serverless IT requires servers; it's just that those using them don't have to deal with them because the service provider does so.

"I've come to feel this could be bigger than cloud," said Rockwell, who has written on the topic and said as much at conferences. "You don't have to think about scaling or availability."

At The New York Times, said Rockwell, Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) is the main platform for apps. And the newspaper's engineers have been using Google services such as Cloud Pub/Sub, Cloud Spanner, Cloud Datastore, App Engine, Container Engine, and BigQuery.

However, Rockwell isn't all that keen on containers; he'd rather rely on Google's App Engine, once referred to as a platform-as-a-service, and now fitted for current fashion with the serverless sobriquet. His goal, he said, is for all new apps to be serverless by 2019.

"Serverless" has tended to be used to refer to cloud services that execute functions on-demand like Lambda, Azure Functions, and Cloud Functions rather than more complex applications. But between Google App Engine, Amazon's newly announced Fargate – containers without the management – and its Aurora Serverless database, restricting the concept to functions no longer seems adequate.

As Rockwell defines the term, serverless means any platform that abstracts scaling and reliability. But in all likelihood, serverless will become as overused and meaningless as AI.

Whatever you call the path toward ignoring infrastructure – serverless or folly – there's less ops in the mix. Dev(ops), anyone?

"We're in the process of a transition where you're seeing the ops team get smaller," said Rockwell. "We went from hosting our own Hadoop cluster to BigQuery and Pub/Sub. We went from a giant admin headache for Hadoop to no-ops."

Rockwell argues that the dev side of things matters more because it demands more resources. "As a CTO, I spend so much more money on development than infrastructure," he said. "If serverless helps optimize development, that has a bigger impact on the organization."

We survived today's Amazon news avalanche to bring you this: Yes, a managed Kubernetes service will be a thing

READ MORE

Not everyone is sold on the idea. By Rockwell's own account, his presentation on the subject at O'Reilly Media’s Velocity Conference last month was not well received.

But others in the industry see serverless – managed? – IT making gains. Via Twitter in August, Subbu Allamaraju, Expedia's veep of cloud, said: "Serverless patterns are pulling the rug from underneath container cluster managers faster than the latter becoming industrial grade."

When The Register spoke with Alex Polvi, CEO of enterprise container management biz CoreOS, earlier this month, he too suggested serverless – aka PaaS – has a bright future, once the open-source community delivers an alternative to the proprietary lock-in of Amazon's Lambda.

Rockwell didn't see that as much of an issue. He said lock-in is a concern but it's a trade he's willing to make given the benefits. "I will gladly lock myself into the best platform because the benefits are so significant," he said, suggesting that the innovation in IT infrastructure right now is being driven by the big cloud service providers and standing on the sidelines means missing out.

"If you don't accept lock-in, you won't get the most out of these platforms," he said.

Who'd want to see a pair of handcuffs go unused? ®

Sign up to our NewsletterGet IT in your inbox daily

12 Comments

More from The Register

Huawei enterprise comms kit has a TLS crypto bug

You don't want insecure kit from a vendor the Pentagon hates, do you?

Apple is Mac-ing on enterprise: Plans strategic B2B alliance with HPE

Hiring suits in UK for phase 1 of corporate conquest

SUSE Linux Enterprise turns 15: Look, Ma! A common code base

If you're wondering about versions 13 and 14, ask superstitious folk

Plunk: SK Hynix drops 72-layer 3D NAND on enterprise SSD market

Korean flasher poised to enter enterprise SSD market

Google buffs Chrome Enterprise with new tub of PartnerShine™

Face it, you're not going to adopt ChromeOS without integrating stuff you already run

BT rearranges deck chairs, launches good ship Enterprise

Onwards and upwards...until the next reorg

SUSE bakes a Raspberry Pi-powered GNU/Linux Enterprise Server

Industry can have a slice of steaming supported stability ... if it can afford to pay

Two years and $19bn later: What happened to WD's SanDisk enterprise flash advantage?

Analysis Market position evaporating in front of our eyes

Docker enterprise kit gets cozy with Kubernetes

Enterprise Edition 2.0 focuses on K8s without the ops hires

Enterprise storage sitrep: The external array party is over

Let's go to all-flash arrays' house instead