NoOps vs. ZeroOps: What Are the Differences?
It’s common for the terms NoOps and ZeroOps to be used interchangeably, but they are definitely different and in some very critical ways. The most obvious is that NoOps is more of an “aspirational” goal, while “ZeroOps” actually exists today. But even beyond that, there are definite philosophical differences between the two.
What NoOps and ZeroOps Have in Common
Both NoOps and ZeroOps have grown out of the notion that companies should be spending less time, energy and, most of all, money, on everyday operational tasks managing IT infrastructure. While the desire to reduce operations costs has always been a goal, the pandemic brought it into sharp focus as IT teams struggled with the increased burden of millions of employees suddenly working from home.
Add to this Mulesoft and Deloitte’s finding that 68% of IT leaders’ time is occupied with tasks that “keep the lights on” — onboarding and offboarding users, upgrades and maintenance, and so on — it’s no surprise that companies began to look for ways to decrease that burden in earnest.
That’s a goal that both NoOps and ZeroOps share: to decrease the burden on IT teams, both to save money and, more importantly, to enable those professionals to provide greater contributions to the organization at large. Both use automation to achieve their goals, but they go about it in different ways.
What NoOps Is and How it Works
The basic idea behind NoOps is that all actions normally taken by an IT administrator are automated. In some cases, this means using self-service systems like Infrastructure-as-a-Service such as OpenStack or Mesos for virtual machines. Or an automated Kubernetes-as-a-Service for containerized applications. Or it might mean automated deployment scripting for other applications or for CI/CD operations and everyday operations such as employee onboarding.
For more advanced systems, NoOps would include AIOps or the ability for the system to automatically know when something is wrong and provide remediation without human intervention.
NoOps is exactly what it says: it proposes that an organization can be set up in such a way that there are literally no operations personnel needed; all operations are automated.
In general, there is just one problem with NoOps: it does not, at the moment, exist, according to our extensive research.
While there are pieces of NoOps one can implement today, an overall system that completely automates everything is still in the future. Yes, there are companies in the NoOps space, to lesser and greater degrees. Yes, you can probably automate all of the declarative pieces of the puzzle and perhaps even many of the pieces that use AI to detect issues. But technology has not yet advanced to the point where every single issue can be remediated without human intervention, in every single situation. After all, there will always be edge cases that no one has predicted yet. And, as impressive as engines such as GPT4 may be, we’re not yet ready to give over control completely.
What is ZeroOps and How it Differs from NoOps
ZeroOps, on the other hand, takes a more balanced, workable approach than NoOps. Like NoOps, the idea is to minimize the “everyday” burden of operations on the IT team. Unlike NoOps, however, ZeroOps is meant to enhance an organization’s IT team, not replace it entirely.
ZeroOps works from the philosophy that a company’s IT team is uniquely positioned to create innovation that services the organization — if it has time to think, rather than constantly chasing tickets or dealing with upkeep, that is. With more time free, IT teams might create new infrastructure that provides enhanced performance for specific corporate applications or might suggest ways in which current applications can be improved. The opportunities are limitless — if only operations teams had the time to do what they need to be doing! And with ZeroOps, they finally can.
A ZeroOps provider works with the IT team to create an environment that is ideally suited to the organization, but in which the ZeroOps provider uses a combination of intelligent automation and remote support to relieve the IT team of the general burden of ensuring the system runs properly. Removing these burdens from a team’s shoulders allows them to place focus back on where it should have been in the first place. In other words, innovation and creation are actually possible again, instead of being bogged down by the backlog of things to do to keep everything running.
The end result is that normal operations are being performed — albeit with a higher-than-usual level of automation — but by an external ZeroOps provider. Typically, a ZeroOps provider offers several benefits, including access to skilled labor that is often difficult to hire, a greater breadth of knowledge than can typically be maintained in a local team, proactive remote monitoring and round-the-clock availability.
The biggest difference, of course, is that ZeroOps doesn’t try to eliminate humans completely. Instead, it tries to automate as much as is feasible, then it uses experts where appropriate, in the places where NoOps is not yet ready to take on the burden. ZeroOps also places a premium on helping to create an environment in which operations staff can continue to innovate on the overall infrastructure.
Most of all, unlike in NoOps environments, ZeroOps ensures that an organization’s staff always has someone to turn to if there are questions or problems. ZeroOps is a partner, a true resource, not a replacement for an entire team. ZeroOps works with your team, for your team.
Putting it All Together
So overall, both NoOps and ZeroOps are designed to take some of the operational load off IT teams, but they go about it in different ways and have different pros and cons. The goal of NoOps is to completely automate all operations tasks and remediation, which is great if it works. Unfortunately, at the moment, this is still a future goal in most all cases. What’s more, even if you were to achieve a complete NoOps environment, you’re creating a situation in which users have no one to turn to for support.
ZeroOps, on the other hand, provides the same type of service, but typically through an external provider. It does require more investment, which is a downside, but on the upside, once it’s in place, users can experience a self-service environment, but with support standing by in case it’s needed. Most importantly, it can be implemented today, and ZeroOps providers already exist.
Finally, both NoOps and ZeroOps are designed to lighten the load of an organization’s IT team so that it can break free from everyday tasks and provide better service; which one you choose depends on whether you are looking for a concrete solution that you can implement today (ZeroOps) or something more aspirational (NoOps).