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IT ops is often so focused on solving problems that it can be easy to miss how IT ops contributes to an organization’s overall success, even if you’ve been in IT for a long time. When things get tossed over the wall from development to ops, anyone not in IT ops starts to ask, “What is IT ops?” and “What does IT operations do?” So let’s set the record straight.
In this blog, we’ll go over what IT operations is, what an IT ops team actually does, how DevOps improves work between two halves of IT, and how IT operations automation helps an entire organization make better, more strategic moves.
IT operations (or IT ops/ITOps) is the function or department in an organization that provides both strategic and day-to-day IT services. IT ops services include managing IT infrastructure and systems; patching software; backing up data; automating tasks; and ensuring compliant IT configurations.
IT operations (IT ops) is the process of managing and supporting IT services to meet the needs of users. IT ops teams are responsible for making sure that IT systems and services are available, reliable, and secure. They also work with users to resolve problems and provide support.
As the name would imply, IT operations is responsible for ensuring the operational aspects of IT. That means they make sure resources and tools are running well, that issues get fixed, and that the system is secure and compliant. IT ops teams are essential in planning new tech (Day 0 operations), deploying and configuring systems (Day 1 operations), and securing, managing, and optimizing (Day 2 operations).
But IT ops isn’t just problem-fixers and box-checkers: They’re also responsible for strategically aligning their efforts to the organization’s goals. IT operations makes sure that components of an organization’s IT system can be used to support whatever strategic business objective the organization is trying to achieve. That means finding new ways to use existing tools, exploring new ones, and improving efficiency to get the greatest possible value out of every element of an IT system.
Examples of IT operations include server maintenance, software patching, compliance, security, automation, backup and recovery, user management, and many more.
The list of IT operations use cases and responsibilities is long. So long, in fact, that some responsibilities have even been given their own specialized titles (like SysOps, which is focused on the tech aspects of system administration, and SecOps, which covers operational security in IT).
But just because the responsibilities of IT ops are broad doesn’t mean we can’t highlight a few of the most common examples of IT operations:
It’s not easy to simplify or sum up everything that an IT operations team handles day-to-day. They play a business-critical role ensuring that a company's IT systems are up and running smoothly. Without a well-functioning IT operations team, companies are at risk of experiencing IT outages, security breaches, and other massive problems that could disrupt daily operations.
The IT operations team is also responsible for working with other departments within the company to ensure that their IT needs are met. For example, the IT operations team may work with the sales team to ensure that they have the systems and tools they need to close deals.
Few teams within an org handle so much — and work with so many other functions.
The difference between IT ops and DevOps is that IT ops is actually a part of DevOps. Simply put, developers (“Dev”) build IT systems and resources, and IT operations (“Ops”) implement and maintain those systems and resources.
As the name would imply, DevOps comprises development and operations – the two broad halves of the software development lifecycle. With two different disciplines contributing to the same IT system, it’s easy for things to get ‘thrown over the wall’ from developers to IT ops and vice versa. DevOps is a way to get them pulling in the same direction.
Learn more in our blog about What is DevOps? >>
IT operations best practices include strong practices around documentation, change management, monitoring/alerting, backup and disaster recovery, IT security, optimization, compliance, and automation.
An IT ops team is tasked with anything that has to do with the way people use IT. On top of responding to tickets and offering support to IT users, they maintain documentation, manage change, carry the day-to-day operations, and build compliance evidence for audit time.
Here are a few examples of IT operations best practices that can make those functions work their best:
Maintaining comprehensive record of all IT systems, configurations, and processes.
Update documentation when anything changes – upgrades, updates, new deployments, configurations, etc.
Tracking changes to the IT environment. (This task feeds nicely into documentation.)
Work with development to ensure thorough testing and approval of any changes to the system to avoid misconfiguration, disruptions, and downtime.
Monitoring & Alerting
Creating systems to monitor potential system issues and alert stakeholders (users) before they become problems.
Create an alert escalation policy to alert the right users in a timely manner via channels they use.
Backup & Disaster Recovery
Creating backups of critical data and systems.
Schedule regular backups and test your restoration process regularly. Create a plan of action for different disaster types (breaches, outages, natural disasters, etc.).
Security & Compliance
Using tools and practices to secure systems against threats and align with compliance requirements by industry.
Implement a patch management process; use firewalls and network segmentation; automate compliance at scale with compliance as code.
Leveraging automation tools and processes to remove the manual work and human error from common IT tasks.
Use IT automation tools and configuration as code – even simple ones – to start automating repetitive tasks that take too much time.
Automation improves IT operations by streamlining frequent tasks, automating IT compliance and security, and freeing up IT ops teams to do more important work in the organization.
In a perfect world, IT ops teams would have time for more than the day-to-day. They’d have time to collaborate with business stakeholders. But because today’s IT moves a lot faster than it used to, maintaining operations necessarily requires building and implementing automations to manage the estate.
Consider these ways IT operations benefits from automation:
Automation should remove the drudgery of IT ops. If your IT operations teams spend all their time fighting fires, they're wasting time – and they’re probably not satisfied with their repetitive, mind-numbing tasks, either.
Automation can reduce or eliminate the manual effort of responding to support tickets, patching software, getting ready for audits, and more.
Security and compliance can be automated by turning it into code. First, the SecOps team can help define the desired state of security and compliance configurations in your systems. Then, a configuration as code tool can correct any deviation back to that secure, compliant state.
Turning compliance policies into code removes the labor effort of ops personnel from detecting and fixing non-compliance. When configurations are defined as code, the systems themselves become responsible for ensuring their own compliance.
As mentioned above, IT ops teams don't love just fighting fires all day. They like to use their skills and tools to contribute to strategic initiatives for the business.
When you define configurations as code, you can automate IT tasks and workflows, verify and correct configurations, and enable IT ops teams to spend more time innovating ways to do work better.
We’ve mentioned a lot of examples and best practices for IT ops in this blog. The good news is that it's never too late to start automating, and there are a bunch of great ways to get started.
Puppet Bolt, for example, is a free, open-source automation tool built for anyone who's just getting started with automation. Or, if you’re ready for more powerful automation capabilities, you can try a full-featured instance of Puppet Enterprise on 10 nodes in your system – completely free, with no time limit. Wherever you start automating, take our advice: start today.
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