as a Service, GestaltIT, Virtualization

Virtualization makes me say “Who cares about your hardware or operating system?!”

When you come to think about it, people who work in the IT sector are all slightly nuts. We all work in an area that is notorious for trying to make itself not needed. When we find repetitive tasks, we try to automate them. When we have a feeling that we can improve something, we do just that. And by doing that, we try to remove ourselves from the equation where we possibly can. In a sense, we try to make ourselves invisible to the people working with our infrastructure, because a happy customer is one that doesn’t even notice that we are there or did something to allow him to work.

Traditional IT shops were loaded with departments that were responsible for storage, for networking, for operating systems and loads more. The one thing that each department has in common? They tried to make everything as easy and smooth as possible. Usually you will find loads of scripts that perform common tasks, automated installations and processes that intend to remove the effort from the admins.

In comes a new technology that allows me to automate even more, that removes the hassle of choosing the right hardware. That helps me reduce downtimes because of (un)planned maintenance. It also helps me reduce worrying about operating system drivers and stuff like that. It’s a new technology that people refer to as server virtualization. It’s wonderful and helps me automate yet another layer.

All of the people who are in to tech will now say “cool! This can help me make my life easier”, and your customer will thank you because it’s an additional service you can offer, and it helps your customer work. But the next question your customer is going to ask you is probably going to be something along the lines of “Why can’t I virtualize the rest?”, or perhaps even “Why can’t I virtualize my application?”. And you know what? Your customer is absolutely right. Companies like VMware are already sensing this, as can be read in an interview at GigaOM.

The real question your customer is asking is more along the lines of “Who cares about your hardware or operating system?!”. And as much as it pains me to say it (being a person who loves technology), it’s a valid question. When it comes to true virtualization, why should it bother me if am running on Windows, Unix, Mac or Linux? Who cares if there is an array in the background that uses “one point twenty-one jiggawatts” to transport my synchronously mirrored historic data back to the future?

In the long run, I as a customer don’t really care about either software or hardware. As a customer I only care about getting the job done, in a way that I expected to, and preferably as cheap as possible with the availability I need. In an ideal world, the people and the infrastructure in the back are invisible, because that means they did a good job, and I’m not stuck wondering what my application runs on.

This is the direction we are working towards in IT. It’s nothing new, and the concept of doing this in a centralized/decentralized fashion seem to change from decade to decade, but the only thing that remained a constant was that your customer only cared about getting the job done. So, it’s up to us. Let’s get the job done and try to automate the heck out of it. Lets remove ourselves from the equation, because time that your customer spends talking to you is time spent not using his application.

as a Service, General, GestaltIT

Jack of all trades, master of… the solution stack?

Stevie Chambers wrote something in a tweet last night. He stated the following:

The problem with an IT specialist is that he only gets to do the things he’s already good at, like building a coffin from the inside.

And my first thought was that he’s absolutely right. A lot of the people I know are absolute cracks or specialists in their own area. I’ll talk to the colleagues over in the Windows team, and they can tell you everything about the latest version of Windows and know each nook and cranny of their system. I’ll talk to the developers and they can write impossible stuff for their ABAP Web Dynpro installations.

But then I ask my developers what effect a certain OS parameter will have on their installation. Or perhaps how the read and write response times from the storage array in the back-end might influence the overall time an end user spends while he’s waiting for his batch job to complete. And you know what answer you get a lot of times? Just a blank stare, or if you are lucky some shoulders being shrugged. They’ll tell you that you need to talk to the experts in that area. It’s not their thing, and they don’t have the time, knowledge, interest or just simply aren’t allowed to help you in other areas.

So what about our changing environment? In environments where multiple tenants are common? Where we virtualize, thin provision and dedupe our installations and create pointer based copies of our systems? Where oversubscription might affect performance levels? Fact is that we are moving away from isolated solutions and moving toward a solution stack. We no longer care about the single installation of Linux on a piece of hardware, but need to troubleshoot how the database in our Linux VM interacts with our ESX installation and the connected thin provisioned disks.

In order to be an effective administrator I will need to change. I can’t be the absolute expert in all areas. The amount of information would just be overwhelming, and I wouldn’t have the time to master all of this. But being an expert in only one area will definitely not make my job easier in the future. We will see great value in generalists that have the ability to comprehend the interactions of the various components that make up a stack, and are able to do a deep dive when needed or can gather expertise for specific problems or scenarios when they need to.

Virtualization and the whole “* as a Service” model isn’t changing the way any of the individual components work, but they change the interconnect behavior. Since we are delivering new solutions as a stack, we also need to focus on troubleshooting the stack, and this can’t always be done in the classical approach. In a way this is a bigger change for the people supporting the systems than it is for the people actually using those systems.