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Virtualization Is Changing IT, What Will Change Business?

Virtualization and cloud are transforming the way that we implement IT

Over the last several years, and for several more to come, virtualization and cloud are transforming the way that we implement IT. The purpose of the department is the same – to serve users in the best manner possible – but the agility with which that service can be offered has increased by a magnitude or more. Bringing up a brand-new server took weeks, now it is hours. The entire focus of Server Administrators shifted from hardware, so that it is a small part of what they do on a daily basis, the number of servers you can offer the business is now tenfold or one hundred fold what it was a few short years ago.


SUCCESS BREEDS FRUSTRATION

And all indications are that the business is taking advantage of these facts. Like an explosive gasp, server requests ballooned, with business people thinking that IT was no longer the bottleneck. And sadly, that caused more frustration, since often IT needs time to implement the other parts of a successful system. Networking, load balancing, VM distribution, storage allocation, security, development/integration, you name it. Things are faster because one of the big time sinks is gone, but they’re not instantaneous, because only one of the big time sinks is gone, the others hang about and require work to be successful.

This continued business frustration – the feeling that there is so much more the business could do if IT wasn’t slow to react, almost always accompanied by an unrelated anecdotal point of reference about how so-n-so does it so much faster than our IT, is often even worse. Having been led to believe that virtualization would make IT more adaptable and responsive, business customers now take fast spin-up time for granted and wonder why everything else still takes so long.

And therein lies the source of much pressure toward cloud computing from the business side. They’re aware that things can be made more efficient, they’ve seen it. They want those systems – that are almost  always one crucial part of a much larger business initiative – to be ready for use faster. They have been told that cloud will allow them to bypass IT. And they’re going to try it. For years industry pundits have been telling CIOs that they need to communicate more, I think we now have ample evidence that unless we can find a way to educate the entire business about the complexity of “I just want one server” when all the other factors are taken together, IT will continue to be seen as a roadblock rather than a facilitator.

Picture from UCSD


SOMETHING HERE SHOULD CHANGE

So you essentially have two options. You can break out every discussion with business people to include each part of the IT process as a distinct and separate procedure – treat each group as a separate entity and drive home how many moving parts there are to the process required – or IT Management at all levels can start doing what we were told in the 90s a good CIO had to do… Be the agent of business change.

Seeing articles where companies, sometimes even IT management, brag about how many virtual hosts per admin they have makes me a bit queasy. Seriously. So you’ve got 285 virtuals per admin, good for you. Are those admins sane? Do they have the other responsibilities normal to an IT department? Do they sleep? How many virtuals you’ve dumped upon an admin is not nearly as important as what your rate of IT turnover is. And we don’t have an actual number for what is acceptable. Of course it varies, but the numbers most frequently kicked around out there – 90 virtualized hosts per admin – seem more to be a number pulled out of the air (or somewhere worse) that the progenitors then went to find empirical evidence to support. I’d love to see enterprises turning up a number that makes sense for them, and using it as a goalpost for hiring. After all, virtualization makes you more adaptable and saves money on hardware, if hiring to maintain both is an issue, I worry for your employer.

More generally, now that the fetters of hardware have been shed from server creation, I contend that the business needs to self-police more effectively. You seriously cannot do everything, and business prioritization of IT related projects has somewhat been chucked out the window because it is “easy to spin up more copies”. Some businesses – like universities – need a model where users can spin up whatever they like, whenever they like. Most businesses just do not fit in this model. Even if business departments had the capability to automate the entire creation process, it is still just a server that needs something running on it.

Returning weight to the business prioritization process is likely the best way to handle such a conundrum. When it comes down to it, telling the business that they have to prioritize and you’ll place numbers around what it takes to get the job done and work as far down the prioritization as possible is a viable solution, but continues to leave the business dwelling on how IT held them back. Better, if you can manage it, is what some companies have done – a return to charge-backs. This model is very good for encouraging business owners to reconsider their needs on a regular basis, but does require even more overhead from your IT staff. The time invested will likely pay dividends in forcing the business to reconsider their IT usage on a regular basis and fits well in any model that includes cloud computing, but still creates friction with business units because they, like consumers, are always certain they can find a better deal somewhere else. Which of course they likely cannot, at least not if they need security, interoperability, integration, and access to the organization’s databases, but for some, all of that is stuff that will “work itself out”. It will if you let it happen, when the application and all of its problems return to you. Lori has a great blog about this topic.


NOT AN X+Y=Z PROBLEM

Truth be told, I have some ideas on how to fix the problems of an adaptive infrastructure fueling explosive growth, but in the end, I don’t have the answers. Nor does that consultant you hired. It is a difficult problem that (yet again) places IT in the unfortunate position of being necessary to support the business, while the business often feels IT is slowing it down. To my mind the problem is complex, and includes issues both within IT (like analysis paralysis and standards bloat) but the facet that seems key is the part where the business has been telling IT to do more with less for so long that it is time for the business to do less and try to be good at what they do. Quality versus quantity. Some will gasp and want to talk about external pressures and “have to have” applications to keep up with the competition. I hear those concerns. I also hear that IT is groaning under the pressure, and it is not a failure to perform, nearly all of the IT staff I know is working hard, very hard, and barely keeping their heads above water.

Some days I think it would be very cool to see a medium sized (or larger) enterprise dump their entire infrastructure to the cloud and then magically expect things to be better. Then at least business would have an abject lesson in the reality of the situation… But sadly, we have those examples with outsourcing the entire IT department, and it doesn’t seem to teach the correct lesson. Instead of learning that computers are every bit as complex as IT claims, business leaders learned to avoid IT-replacement outsourcing contracts. I’m a fan of helping, but some problems are not technology problems, and the tension of business vs. IT is one of them. Just remember that they don’t think they have unreasonable demands, they think “no” is an unreasonable answer, and since IT doesn’t (generally) contribute to the bottom line, they don’t want to spend one penny more than necessary on it. Discussing “necessary” is a good place to start, though it really is just a starting point.

The short take-away is that today you can virtualize practically your entire data center. With products like LTM VE, ARX, and EDGE Gateway you can virtualize the vast majority of your infrastructure along with your servers. But the three things you cannot virtualize are data, process, and people. That virtualized infrastructure still needs apps, security, etc, your people still need sleep, and your data is a key business asset, but is useless without applications to access it. So the problems aren’t gone, and cloud doesn’t change that fact. Virtualization merely solves a small slice of the problem, the rest is up to your organization.

And of course, take away the fact that the business has to be more stringent on what gets priority. This is complex in a large enterprise, “the business” is not so readily defined and many times different lines of business have competitive streaks where resources like IT are concerned… But dumping that business problem on IT just because it’s complex and IT is the obvious center point? Not the answer. Not that the business listens to me when I say that, but it’s true.

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More Stories By Don MacVittie

Don MacVittie is founder of Ingrained Technology, A technical advocacy and software development consultancy. He has experience in application development, architecture, infrastructure, technical writing,DevOps, and IT management. MacVittie holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Northern Michigan University, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.