Date: 16 November 2016

Author: Matt Bynum

The Times, They are a Automatin'

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In Remembrance of the “Good Old Days”

Do you remember how much less complicated IT used to be?  Don’t get me wrong, being in IT has always been challenging.  There’s always been enormous pressure on IT from the business, mostly because there has been this pervasive struggle to leverage IT to create an advantage against competition. Therefore, in lieu of strategic value, IT has sometimes been relegated to the category of “cost center”.  Some of you may even be in IT departments that report up to the Chief Financial Officer…a true sign of IT as a Cost Center (ITaaCC?) status. 

Then there’s the compute, storage, and networking technology stack.  The pace of change seems so much faster these days compared to “back in the day.”  “What do you mean there’s a new firmware update for all my servers?! I JUST got the maintenance window approved and work completed to do the last update!” Sound familiar? Writing this, I almost envision myself wearing overalls and in a rocking chair in front of a data center.  “Back in my day, we didn’t HAVE a Storage Area Network. You kids and your crazy infrastructure.”

Today, our companies might even be writing software in-house to stay competitive as well as to drive more engagement with end customers.  Unless your company has traditionally SOLD software, that’s a fairly recent development.  Maybe just the number of applications that you run and maintain is approaching, or already in, triple digits.  “Back in my day, all our applications were on the desktop, and we liked it!”

Lastly, there is the decision of which applications we are going to run in our own facility, and which ones we don’t want to deal with.  We are faced with more options than we’ve ever had for on-premises data center infrastructure technologies.  There is also a plethora of OTHER company’s data centers that we can choose from.  Notice I didn’t use the word “cloud” there…because signing up for an Azure or AWS account is basically just signing up to use their data center solutions.  We keep using the word “cloud” to refer to them, because that’s an acceptable level of abstraction that we’re willing to understand.  Inside their environment, a lot of things happen in the background that seem mysterious and unexplainable.  We use the ol’ Visio diagram approach of slapping a “cloud” on their solutions…. because we just don’t know how they work.  Or do we?

 

Is it just me, or does this Data Center make my butt look big?

The public cloud solution has exploded in recent years.  I know that’s not a shock to anyone reading this, as we’re all living in a world where AWS and Azure are referenced in our IT departments if not every day, several times a week.  The public cloud exists because the off-the-shelf tools available for data center operators has not traditionally been interconnected or even abstracted enough to deliver a simple experience for application owners.  When the people that have budget have to play the IT waiting game of disparate department silos and disaggregated solutions, you can bet their money will find an alternative path.  IT hasn’t led the journey towards the cloud, but instead, is often drug along kicking and screaming.

It’s gotten worse with the advent of methodologies like Scrum and DevOps, that deliver very real results in terms of velocity of application development teams.  If the teams creating your applications have gotten faster, but the processes around your data center infrastructure is still slowing deployments down...well, it’s time for a change.

The answer on how to Make the Data Center Great Again (*ducks*) is to look at the data center as a holistic system that SHOULD have a variety of inputs and a predictive set of outputs.  If that sounds a little too simplistic…that’s because it should be simple.  I’m not talking about the behind the scenes components being simple, JUST the user experience of your customers.  When you start to prioritize an application owner’s experience above the specs in the equipment that gets chosen, or the specific topology of your data center network…then IT’s relevance in today’s business starts to exponentially increase.  What I’m describing is systems thinking, which is often shunned within IT in favor of IT politics or IT religion.  Developing a SYSTEM that blends compute, storage, and networking into a seamless experience for those application owners…that’s going to be what revolutionizes IT. 

We already see this trend ticking up and to the right.  A survey from RightScale, shows that 77% of respondents are now adopting private cloud, which was up from 63% last year.  Unfortunately for everyone, how you define the term “private cloud” is used a little more liberally than it should be.  I would opine that VMware’s vSphere does not a private cloud make, nor does the SCCVMM solution from Microsoft.  Hyperconverged solutions from the likes of Cisco, Nutanix, and Simplivity are much closer to being like a private cloud, but there isn’t a true self-service portal for your end customers (read: application owners) unless you layer something else on top.

 

Automate, Don’t Hate

Okay, so it’s going to be a little while before you can buy a private cloud as an off-the-shelf solution.  Until then…it’s time to cozy up with the idea of working smarter, not harder.  This means a lot more dynamic interaction between systems through scripting and API calls.  A lot more standardized deployments of underlying infrastructure.  A lot more thinking like you’re a public cloud provider to your end customers.  If there’s one thing we KNOW that AWS and Azure have figured out, it’s that to deliver the best possible experience, the infrastructure should deploy itself.  You cannot do this without some automation element within your environment.

The case against IT automation usually goes something like this: “Well, I don’t know how I could possibly automate anything in our environment, it’s all static.  I mean, to automate anything is going to take a lot longer than it would if I just deployed everything manually.”  Can you imagine if modern manufacturing had held the line on not using robotic machinery on production lines?  Me either, I very much like all my extremely complicated electronics that could NOT have been made by hand.  Not to mention everything would cost a lot more because of the time it would take to assemble.

Automation is the linchpin that can put disparate solutions from various vendors together into a homogenous experience for workload deployments.  Getting your environment automated is absolutely going to be painful to setup, but the long-term benefits will be felt in your organization for years to come.

 

Private Clouds are for Winners

If you look at the four categories of work that Gene Kim, George Spafford, and Kevin Behr wrote about in the book The Phoenix Project: business projects, IT projects, changes, and unplanned work...building an end to end private cloud experience is all about trying to accelerate the tasks in the business project buckets, while reduce the number of tasks in the last three buckets.  How much happier would your CEO be if IT was suddenly a business enabler vs. a business hurdle?

A better way of thinking, some strategic planning, and the right partner can help you arrive at this IT promised land of business relevance.  Bedroc has the talent and the necessary mix of status quo challenging consultants to help you get there.  Give us a call!

 

  

Stats from RightScale’s 2016 State of the Cloud survey: http://www.rightscale.com/blog/cloud-industry-insights/cloud-computing-trends-2016-state-cloud-survey