IT Operations vs. DevOps: What's the Difference?

What's the difference between IT operations and DevOps? This guide will help you understand these two comprehensive approaches to technology management.

Christopher Tozzi, Technology analyst

March 16, 2023

9 Min Read
employees working together at workstation

Table of Contents
1. What Is IT Operations?
2. What Is DevOps?
3. Similarities Between ITOps and DevOps
4. Key Differences Between IT Operations and DevOps
5. ITOps vs. DevOps: What to Use When
6. FAQs About ITOps vs. DevOps

IT operations and DevOps serve closely related needs at many modern businesses. Yet, although there are many similarities between the two roles, there are also important differences, and it would be a mistake to conflate IT operations with DevOps.

This article breaks down the similarities and differences between IT Ops and DevOps by explaining what each type of role does; how they compare in terms of processes, tools, and culture; and how to decide whether your business needs IT operations, DevOps, or both.

Related: Top 10 In-Demand IT Operations Skills, and What They Mean for Business

What Is IT Operations?

IT operations, also known as ITOps, is the process of managing the day-to-day activities of an organization's information technology (IT) infrastructure. This includes everything from installing and maintaining hardware and software, to managing network and security protocols, to providing technical support for employees and customers.

IT operations is an integral part of every organization's IT strategy. It helps ensure that the organization's IT infrastructure is efficient, secure, and cost-effective.

Related: 7 Open Source Tools That Benefit IT Operations Teams

What Is DevOps?

DevOps is a set of practices that combine software development (Dev) and information-technology operations (Ops) to optimize the software development life cycle.

By leveraging tools, practices, and philosophies that emphasize communication, collaboration, integration, automation, and measurement of cooperation between software developers and IT operations professionals, DevOps aims to improve the speed and quality of software delivery.

History of DevOps

Historically, most larger businesses had IT operations departments and development departments that operated independently. Starting in the late 2000s, the DevOps model emerged as a means of bringing ITOps and software development into better alignment, and ensuring that ITOps engineers and developers supported each other instead of working at cross purposes.

This means that, to do DevOps, you need ITOps first, in most cases. But ITOps is only one part of DevOps.

Similarities Between ITOps and DevOps

Broadly speaking, IT operations and DevOps are similar because both functions help to manage and optimize IT resources within a business. However, as we explain below, they do this in different ways, and they have different areas of focus.

Key Differences Between IT Operations and DevOps

If you've read this far, you know that IT operations is part of DevOps. The other part of DevOps is software development, and the core goal of DevOps is to bring ITOps and software development teams into collaboration.

Thus, the main difference between DevOps and ITOps is that DevOps focuses on collaboration between teams to improve automation and deployment processes, while ITOps focuses on the core technology infrastructure, such as servers and networks.

A variety of other differences distinguish ITOps from DevOps in terms of the way each type of team thinks, functions, or operates.

IT operations vs. DevOps: Team structure

IT operations teams are organized into specific roles, such as system administration, network administration, database administration, and technical support. In contrast, most DevOps teams are composed simply of DevOps engineers.

In addition, there is more variation in the way organizations structure and manage their DevOps teams than there is for ITOps. Some businesses maintain stand-alone DevOps teams, which operate separately from ITOps and software development teams. In other cases, businesses embed DevOps engineers into their IT operations and/or software development teams.

So, when it comes to team structure, ITOps has a deeper and more consistent hierarchy than DevOps.

IT operations vs. DevOps: Processes

The processes that ITOps and DevOps focus on are different. ITOps is primarily concerned with processes related to deploying systems, monitoring them for issues, and responding to problems within production infrastructure and applications.

In contrast, DevOps concentrates on the software delivery process. DevOps engineers focus on optimizing software design, coding, testing, and deployment processes. Although DevOps teams might also help manage software once it is in production, that responsibility falls primarily to ITOps at most organizations rather than to DevOps.

IT operations vs. DevOps: Tools

There is some overlap between ITOps and DevOps tools. For example, both types of roles can use infrastructure-as-code (IaC) tools to help configure infrastructure.

But for the most part, DevOps has its own set of tools, which focus on optimizing the software delivery process. DevOps engineers use continuous integration (CI) servers to integrate newly written code, for example, and they might leverage test automation frameworks to help assess whether a new application build is ready for production.

In contrast, most ITOps tools are geared toward monitoring and managing production environments. ITOps teams use observability software to detect problems with production applications, and they leverage incident management platforms to help respond to performance or availability problems.

IT operations vs. DevOps: The culture

It's hard to generalize about ITOps versus DevOps culture because culture can vary widely from one organization to the next, or even from one particular team to the next.

But on the whole, it's fair to say that DevOps emphasizes collaboration as a core cultural value to a greater extent than ITOps. This isn't to say that IT operations engineers don't care about collaboration; they do, and indeed, different types of IT operations engineers (like systems and network admins) need to collaborate with each other on a frequent basis.

Still, because achieving collaboration across teams is the foundational purpose of DevOps, DevOps generally has a stronger cultural commitment to collaboration — particularly collaboration between different types of teams — than does ITOps.

IT operations vs. DevOps: Use of the cloud

IT operations and DevOps teams can both use the cloud, but they tend to use it in different ways.

For DevOps teams, the cloud is valuable as a platform for implementing software delivery cycles. By building and testing code directly in the cloud, DevOps teams can increase the velocity of software delivery and avoid the risks associated with deploying applications that were built in one environment into a separate, cloud-based environment.

For ITOps, the cloud is a place to build production environments that host applications. ITOps teams may also use various types of cloud-based services to monitor and troubleshoot applications running in the cloud.

IT operations vs. DevOps: Security

Security is crucial for both IT operations and DevOps. But because each role focuses on different processes, it has somewhat different priorities when it comes to security.

DevOps security is oriented around keeping software delivery tools, such as CI servers and source code management platforms, secure. DevOps teams are also often expected to help design application architectures that maximize security.

In contrast, because IT operations is focused more on what happens within production environments, the role of ITOps teams in security is geared toward detecting and responding to security incidents that arise after applications have been deployed into production.

It's worth noting that traditionally, neither ITOps nor DevOps teams are expected to be security experts on their own. To optimize, they are supposed to collaborate with security experts through a model known as DevSecOps.

ITOps vs. DevOps: What to Use When

So, do you need ITOps or DevOps?

The answer for most modern businesses is that they need both. IT operations is critical for delivering basic IT services and functions to the business. Meanwhile, DevOps helps optimize software delivery processes and ensure that ITOps aligns with broader digital initiatives, such as the development of new applications.

That said, there are situations where a business doesn't need DevOps and can rely just on IT operations:

  • The business doesn't develop any software in-house.

  • The business has a small number of software developers who collaborate well with ITOps without requiring a specific function devoted to that purpose.

  • The business's IT operations team is highly skilled in practices related to software development, and can therefore function as something similar to a DevOps team without needing an actual DevOps team to guide it.

There are also cases where DevOps alone might be sufficient:

  • The business is very small and can rely on DevOps engineers alone to manage its IT needs, without requiring a dedicated IT operations team.

  • The business can meet its IT operations requirements from an outsourced IT provider, while relying on a DevOps team to manage the rest of its operations.

Unless your organization falls into one of these categories, however, it will most likely benefit from having both an IT operations team and a DevOps team to help optimize different parts of its IT strategy.

FAQs About ITOps vs. DevOps

To contextualize our comparison of ITOps and DevOps, let's look at some common questions about how the practices relate.

What are the main benefits of DevOps?

The main benefit of DevOps is that it accelerates the process of software delivery by automating the workflow and shortening the development life cycle. This leads to a faster time-to-market, allowing companies to quickly respond to customer feedback and market trends. In addition, DevOps can increase efficiency through automation.

What are the main benefits of IT operations?

The main benefit of IT operations is that it lays the foundation for healthy and strategic use of IT resources. Without some form of ITOps (which could include outsourced ITOps), it would be impossible for businesses to leverage basic digital resources, like PCs, servers, and cloud computing.

Is DevOps better than ITOps?

It doesn't make sense to say that DevOps is "better" or "worse" than IT operations. Each function has somewhat different goals and areas of focus, and each complements the organization in a different way.

Can you use DevOps and ITOps at the same time?

Yes! As we explain above, DevOps and IT operations complement each other (and IT operations is a prerequisite for DevOps), so the two functions commonly go hand-in-hand.

About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Technology analyst, Fixate.IO

Christopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.

Sign up for the ITPro Today newsletter
Stay on top of the IT universe with commentary, news analysis, how-to's, and tips delivered to your inbox daily.

You May Also Like