Completing the OODA Loop of DevOps

Adam Bowen, World Wide Innovation Lead, Delphix, explains how DevOps speeds up OODA Loops.

Good strategy on the battlefield can often be applied for a winning strategy in the marketplace. As the book Scrum: Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland points out, the ‘OODA Loop’ is a methodology which holds many parallels in the technology sector.

Back in the 1950s United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd identified four stages of combat strategy: Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. Completing those four stages returns participants back to the Observe phase where the process begins again. Boyd maintained that the way to defeat an enemy was to complete this process, known as the OODA Loop, faster than your enemy can lap theirs.

The DevOps methodology

As Jeff Sutherland highlights, the ideas behind outpacing competitors using faster decision-making processes aren’t just prevalent in warfare, but instead appear throughout government activities. Nowhere are they more crucial than in software development. The catchphrases that power DevOps (for example, ‘continuous feedback,’ ‘fail fast,’ ‘agile development,’ and ‘SCRUM’) all point back to the model proposed in Colonel Boyd’s OODA Loop.

And indeed, DevOps has proven itself invaluable in expediting an organisation’s OODA Loop. Thanks to DevOps tools and methods, companies like Amazon do a distinct code change to production once every 11.6 seconds (video). That’s over 7000 times a day! They are able to observe market trends and user feedback in real time, make a decision about that information, release new features which respond to that information, and then observe the effect of those changes. This loop is completed many thousands of times each day, allowing them to fly past their competition.

Allowing organisations to treat infrastructure as code

DevOps speeds OODA Loops by automating the many numerous touch points that are required in software delivery: support desk, infrastructure, Ops, DBA, storage, security, project managements, etc. Great tools like Puppet, Jenkins, Chef, and Ansible have automated the codified process flow and allowed companies to trim down environment requests from weeks or months to days or even just hours. In addition to the speed gains, the continuous feedback made possible by DevOps has allowed organisations to treat infrastructure as code and leverage version control to raise the overall quality of products and projects.

Companies can now build applications as fast as they can imagine them – with one major caveat. Application projects still require a great deal of waiting due to the antiquated approach the industry currently takes to data delivery. You can have the world’s fastest car, but having the world’s slowest pit crew negatively affects your ability to cross the finish line.

In addition to application development projects, there are many activities that experience this high speed, high drag effect.  Development and modernisation projects, data center and cloud migration projects, disaster recovery failover exercises, data masking and auditing, and BI reporting, all require an unnecessarily long waiting period – hours, days, or weeks – during database and application resets and refreshes as terabytes of data are restored and copied across the network. That drag can be pinpointed to the refresh/reset process. A 10 minute destructive/failover test of data often requires a reset process that takes between ten and a hundred times longer than the actual test. And that’s if the IT team even bothers to attempt these tests. Instead, they’re often dissuaded by the degree of time and effort required.

Eliminating bottlenecks through data virtualisation

OODA Loops can only move as quickly as their slowest bottleneck allows. Data mobility has hampered the DevOps OODA Loop for far too long. Whoever can puzzle through data delivery in a new and more efficient way has a great deal to gain. If seconds matter, then what about the days, weeks, and even months it takes to provision data sets? What is that costing our mission?

New technologies like data virtualisation have been reducing the strain on the OODA Loop by decreasing the time needed for reset/refresh activities down to minutes and a few mouse clicks. That means that feedback cycles can happen over twice as quickly. When applications or database environments have fresh data near-instantly and on demand, IT teams aren’t stuck waiting while they should be acting. Instead, they’re making use those valuable hours, days, weeks that they’ve gotten back from more efficient delivery of data; Observing, Orienting, Deciding, and Acting. Suddenly, data virtualisation morphs DevOps operations from high speed, high drag to a coveted high speed, low drag scenario.

By delivering data faster through virtualisation, organisations are able to tighten their OODA Loops, in order to get ahead of the competition. The resultant real time updates can make all the difference for customers, who are also beholden to their own OODA Loops.


Edited from press release by Cecilia Rehn.