HomeOps: A call for the application of Devops principles at home, too

We all have sort of gained some kind of experience in the IT world, in the way IT works and especially the way it doesn’t work. As an IT professional following recent trends and developments (you do continously keep an eye on them, right?), you will certainly have learned about (or at least heard of) DevOps principles, an ever-growing call for a different mindset on development, operations and silos in companies in general.

Fostered by events such as the series of DevOpsDays conferences spreading around the world, the term “DevOps” has reached a state where it is not only widely misunderstood but also abused to a point where you have to be extra sceptical (a mere buzzword for HP, IBM products, an obscure job definition that distracts from the real challenge).

Many of us already live DevOps principles or at least parts of them if they’re lucky enough to work in a sufficiently agile and wary organization, be it for rather common or specific reasons. Now one reason to especially justify the use of automation as but one DevOps ingredient will certainly be that, put casually, “there is no possible way we would have the time to rebuild this setup manually”. The perseverative Cloud trend practically dictates a more rational approach. So far, so good.

But recently my home server died. That is, the machine at home running mail, file and print services. And guess what? There was no possible way that I had time to rebuild this setup manually!

This is a call for what I call “HomeOps” (in the abscence of a more useful name — HomeDevOps? SOHOOps?). With “HomeOps”, I call for the extension of DevOps concepts to our home IT as far as possible.

Think about it: it is centuries ago that IT people had to deal with the management of IT entities at work only. The times where “Sysadmins” referred to “operating that mainframe at the company” and IT activities at home were limited to comparatively simple home computers are long, long gone.

Nowadays, professional IT staff effictively always deals with two, if not three networks at the same time:

  1. The company’s IT infrastructure.
  2. The (hopefully) always available Internet and our smartphones and tablets
  3. One or more computers, tablets, NAS boxes, “smart” devices such as flatscreens with Internet access, Wifi access points and a router supplying the Internet connectivity at home.

For #1, we’ve learned to apply a DevOps mindset, automation tools, continous X concepts etc., as discussed above.

For #2, I’m not talking about a need for maintenance of mobile networks, I’m talking about the implications of using a Smartphone and the Apps on it. Ever tried to backup your Android phone’s data? Luckily, Google can take care of the most important aspects such as phone numbers, calendar data etc. by promoting Cloud storage. If you trust Google, that is.

For #3, we do what? Face it:

  • Your laptop may have come pre-installed and you may use that installation. As an IT professional, you most probably don’t. How often do you reinstall and how much time does it cost?
  • You may be a Mac user and use Apple’s Time Capsule or you may use a Synology/QNAP/Thecus/Whatever NAS device that gives you a fancy GUI and makes the setup real easy. But what’s a backup worth that does not get controlled? Do you currently really actually monitor its hard disks?
  • Your Internet router may come preconfigured by your ISP. Even if it does, how much fun is configuring port forwarding?

These are, of course, just examples and some of them may apply to your home scenario, some not. In my case, for example, a NAS alone would not be enough, I run a NAS-like device but with an ordinary x86 Linux distribution. Which means it is just as much of an instance that needs management as your cloud VM no. 83424, except that you’d manage it manually. But why?

The key question is: why for heaven’s sake should we do things differently at home?

Of course we know the answer: because the efforts necessary do not seem worth the advantages. And this is where I have come to the conclusion to disagree:

  • Yes, it is “just those few devices”. But the number of devices says nothing about their personal significance to your daily life. If you need to access urgent data, eg. to reply to the tax payer’s office, and the filesystem holding it is not available, have fun!
  • Yes, you may have backed up your data somewhere in the Cloud. This does not mean that setting up things at home in a recovery scenario just became a piece of cake.
  • Don’t be fooled by looking at disaster recovery scenarios (eg. failing hard disks) only. There is one thing that you’re guaranteed to do more often and that is software updates. Unless you’re using a long time support Linux distribution, you’ll be just as much a victim to its software lifecycle as in a company. Compare installing Ubuntu 29 and configuring everything by hand to installing Ubuntu 29 and running your favorite config management tool which has just received Ubuntu 29 support by someone who needed it as well.
  • And, to some probably the strongest argument of all: how does “Some initial work now, much less work later on” sound to your wife, your spouse, your kids? Does your wife have understanding why home IT is perceived as being of less stability than eg. the telephone service?
  • Last not least, playing at home with the same tools you use at work certainly won’t hurt in gaining additional experience.

Yes, I probably won’t go as far and set up a continous deployment toolchain at home (although one could even think about that). But I’m currently automating my home server with Puppet and I’ll certainly blog more on my experiences in doing that. As well as the total “HomeOps” concept that slowly begins emerging before my eyes. Clearly with the goal of a home IT that can rise like a phoenix from its ashes.

I’m not saying this whole HomeOps idea is a “wooza brand new concept”. Or “something big”. Or “something different”. I just find it useful to give things a name to talk and discuss about them.

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