Archive for Change

Microsoft Loves Linux and FOSS Because of Developers

Linux and Microsoft

This was published previously on the Amalgam Insights site.

 

For much of the past 30 years, Microsoft was famous for its hostility toward Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). They reserved special disdain for Linux, the Unix-like operating system that first emerged in the 1990s. Linux arrived on the scene just as Microsoft was beginning to batter Unix with Windows NT. The Microsoft leadership at the time, especially Steve Ballmer, viewed Linux as an existential threat. They approached Linux with an “us versus them” mentality that was, at times, rabid.

It’s not news that times have changed and Microsoft with it. Instead of looking to destroy Linux and FOSS, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has embraced it. Microsoft has begun to meld with the FOSS community, creating Linux-Windows combinations that were unthinkable in the Ballmer era.

In just the past few years Microsoft has:

  • Welcomed Linux and FOSS to their Azure cloud computing platform. They have even created their own Linux distribution for Azure.
  • Created the Linux Subsystem for Windows. This allows Linux server distributions such as Debian, Ubuntu, and OpenSuse to run natively on Windows. The Linux Subsystem as negated much of the need to spin up VMs with Linux for running FOSS development tools and server applications.
  • Released PowerShell for Linux and open sourced PowerShell. The PowerShell scripting language is as powerful as any available on Linux. While it is unlikely that Linux sysadmins will suddenly abandon BASH for PowerShell, it certainly is helpful to Windows sysadmins that now need to administer Linux systems.
  • Acquired Github, home for much of the Linux/FOSS community. While not strictly a Linux move, the acquisition of the popular code repository, home to much of the code in the FOSS world, shows a desire to integrate with that community (and profit form it.)
  • Acquired membership in Linux Foundation, as a Platinum member no less. This would have been anathema in the Ballmer’s time.

Why is Microsoft suddenly going full steam ahead into the Linux/FOSS world after decades of antagonism? Some of it is because of CEO Nadella. His world view seems to be different than the Microsoft of the past, even if he is a lifelong Microsoft manager.

More importantly, the acceptance of Linux and FOSS is driven by developers. The developer world used to be a Microsoft versus Linux-FOSS affair. Developers worked in a Microsoft shop, IBM shop, or FOSS/Linux shop (which included Java) and then the IBM shop merged with the Linx/FOSS one. Some companies were broken up into several “shops” for server and transactional computing (typically Linux/FOSS/Java) and desktop computing which was often Microsoft driven.

This is no longer the case. Developers move between environments, using whichever languages and stacks make the most sense for the application. On top of that, Linux and FOSS have infiltrated everywhere developers are through DevOps tools (which are often FOSS and Linux) and containers, which is a Linux technology. In addition, Linux has come to dominate the datacenter server farms and not Windows Server. To be a developer is to be part of the Linux/FOSS world even if Windows is part of the environment. Microsoft may dominate on the desktop but has had to embrace Linux in the back-end.

While the acquisition of Github was a bold move, there is still more for Microsoft to do if they wish to become viewed as “all-in” for Linux and FOSS. Native support for containers, especially OCI compliant containers, within Windows would be help developers to use Windows as their development platform and move components between Windows and Linux servers. Having to use a virtual machine image, no matter how lightweight, is opposed to the philosophy of containers. Even running containers in a Linux distribution on the Linux Subsystem for Windows is not how containers are supposed to be deployed.

A full version of Visual Studio for Linux would also help. As developers move between Windows and Linux systems, they would prefer to use the same tools. Visual Studio is an excellent development environment and would have advantages for Linux developers who code on that platform. Microsoft has taken the first step in that direction with Visual Studio Code for Linux, a Linux version of Microsoft’s excellent code editor. It’s time for the complete IDE and DevOps tool sets to become cross platform.

Of course, every Linux lover wants to see Microsoft Office for Linux.  Developers who code on Linux usually have to have a second machine to run email and Office applications or are forced to code in a virtual machine.  While this would be a help to developers, it is highly unlikely Microsoft would ever port Office to Linux. The return on investment for the development and support costs would be minimal if not negative. It would also jeopardize the Windows desktop franchise by making Linux desktops a viable alternative to Windows. It’s hard to imagine Microsoft risking both money and market share, even to appease developers.

Microsoft, after decades of outright hostility to Linux has recognized its influence in the developer world. It is in their best interest to continue to weld together the Linux and Windows worlds in ways that make it easier for developers to move between them. That means more Microsoft tools on Linux and Linux tools on Windows. No longer afraid of Linux, Microsoft should be expected to continue to embrace it as a vital component of software environments everywhere.

Managing for DevOps

This was originally published on the Amalgam Insights site in July of 2018

I am constantly asked the question “What does one have to do to implement DevOps”, or some variant. Most people who ask this question say how they have spent time searching for an answer. The pat answers they encounter typically is either technology based (“buy these products and achieve DevOps magic”) or a management one such as “create a DevOps culture.” Both are vague, flippant, and decidedly unhelpful.

My response is twofold. First, technology and tools follow management and culture. Tools do not make culture and a technology solution without management change is a waste. So, change the culture and management first. Unfortunately, that’s the hard part. When companies talk about changing culture for DevOps they often mean implementing multifunction teams or something less than that. Throwing disparate disciplines into an unregulated melting pot doesn’t help. These teams can end up as dysfunctional as with any other management or project structure. Team members will bicker over implementation and try to protect their hard-won territory.

As the old adage goes, “everything old is new again” and so-called DevOps culture is no different. Multi-functional teams are just a flavor of matrix management which has been tried over and over for years. They suffer from the same problems. Team members have to serve two masters and managers act like a group of dogs with one tree among them. Trying to please both the project leader and their functional management creates inherent conflicts.

Another view of creating DevOps culture is, what I think of as, the “CEO Buy-in Approach”. Whenever there is new thinking in IT there always seems to be advocacy for a top-down approach that starts with the CEO or CIO “buying in” to the concept. After that magic happens and everyone holds hands and sings together. Except that they don’t. This approach is heavy handed and an unrealistic view of how companies, especially large companies, operate. If simply ordering people to work well together was all it took, there would be no dysfunctional companies or departments.

A variation on this theme advocates picking a leader (or two if you have two-in-the-box leadership) to make everyone work together happily. Setting aside the fact that finding people with broad enough experience to lead multi-disciplinary teams, this leads to what I have always called “The Product Manager Problem.” The problem that all new product managers face is the realization that they have all the responsibility and none of the power to accomplish their mission. That’s because responsibility for the product concentrates in one person, the product manager, and all other managers can diffuse their responsibility across many products or functions.

Having a single leader responsible for making multi-functional teams work creates a lack of individual accountability. The leader, not the team, is held accountable for the project while the individual team members are still accountable to their own managers. This may work when the managers and project team leaders all have great working relationships. In that case, you don’t need a special DevOps structure. Instead, a model that creates a separate project team leader or leaders enables team dysfunction and the ability to maintain silos through lack of direct accountability. You see this when you have a Scrum Master, Product Owner, or Release Manager who has all the responsibility for a project.

The typical response to this criticism of multi-functional teams (and the no-power Product Manager) is that leaders should be able to influence and cajole the team, despite having no real authority. This is ridiculous and refuses to accept that individual managers and the people that work for them are motivated to maintain their own power. Making the boss look good works well when the boss is signing your evaluation and deciding on your raise. Sure, project and team leaders can be made part of the evaluation process but, really who has the real power here? The functional manager in control of many people and resources or the leader of one small team?

One potential to the DevOps cultural conundrum is collective responsibility. In this scheme, all team members benefit or are hurt by the success of the project. Think of this as the combined arms combat team model. In the Army, an multi-functional combined arms teams are put together for specific missions. The team is held responsible for the overall mission. They are responsible collectively and individually. While the upper echelons hold the combined arms combat team responsible for the mission, the team leader has the ability to hold individuals accountable. Can anyone imagine an Army or Marine leader being let off the hook for mission failure because one of their people didn’t perform? Of course not, but they also have mechanisms for holding individual soldiers accountable for their performance.

In this model, DevOps teams collectively would be held responsible for on-time completion of the entire project as would the entire management chain. Individual team members would have much of their evaluation based on this and the team leader would have the power to remediate nonperformance including remove a team member who is not doing their job (i.e. fire them). They would have to have the ability to train up and fill the role of one type of function with another if a person performing a role wasn’t up to snuff or had to be removed. It would still be up to the “chain of command” to provide a reasonable mission with appropriate resources.

Ultimately, any one in the team could rise up and lead this or another team no matter their specialty. There would be nothing holding back an operations specialist from becoming the Scrum Master. If they could learn the job, they could get it. The very idea of a specialist would lose power, allowing team members to develop talents no matter their job title.

I worked in this model years ago and it was successful and rewarding. Everyone helped everyone else and had a stake in the outcome. People learned each other’s jobs, so they could help out when necessary, learning new skills in the process. It wasn’t called DevOps but it’s how it operated. It’s not a radical idea but there is a hitch – silo managers would either lose power or even cease to exist. There would be no Development Manager or Security Manager. Team members would win, the company would win, but not everyone would feel like this model works for them.

This doesn’t mean that all silos would go away. There will still be operations and security functions that maintain and monitor systems. The security and ops people who work on development projects just wouldn’t report into them. They would only be responsible to the development team but with full power (and resources) to make changes in production systems.

Without collective responsibility, free of influence from functional managers, DevOps teams will never be more that a fresh coat of paint on rotting wood. It will look pretty but underneath, it’s crumbling.