I’ve visited a few large organizations where the server, network and storage functional groups had, for the most part, never even met. I’ve been been to many others where the different groups knew each other, but didn’t get along. Virtualization blurs the the former crisp lines of functional demarcation, rendering this stovetype model of IT specialization obsolete. Adoption of hybrid cloud environments brings additional pressures for change.
IT Organizational Gaps can be a Barrier to Pervasive Virtualization
CA Technologies’ Andi Mann and others have discussed various reasons behind the widespread problem of stalled virtualization projects. A common factor is a lack of IT processes geared toward a virtual environment. The CA-sponsored 2011 study, The State of IT Automation, showed that 47% of virtualized organizations still take a week or longer to provision a virtual machine. The server teams are stymied by the manual processes required such as procuring a LUN from Storage or a VLAN from the network group.
As virtualization breaks down the functional IT silos with unavoidable interdependencies, disagreements about domain responsibility can negatively impact effective collaboration. This dissonance will only increase with the convergence of desktop and voice as part of a unified virtual infrastructure fabric. Virtualized desktops, for example, typically run as workloads in the data center alongside the server VMs. So the question becomes, who is responsible for managing them, the desktop group or the server team? A similar issue faces the VoIP group as their isolated physical servers become just another set of virtual workloads.
Even an absence of collaboration challenges does not preclude virtualization induced organizational disruption. A former California local government agency CIO recently told me that most of his server administrators were directly tied to the physical servers for which they were responsible. They were uneasy (especially those less adept) with virtualization since server management now would become far more transparent. And the idea of moving the servers to the cloud would likely be perceived as an outright threat to job security since a virtual server in the cloud can be maintained by anyone, anywhere. There would be no need to for card-key access to press the on/off button for hard reboots, or to escort vendors in to upgrade memory, or switch backup tapes. The former CIO believes that government IT shops at all levels will play the “security” and “privacy” card if the talks get serious about moving their infrastructures to the cloud.
Integrated Stacks Reshaping Virtual Infrastructure Management
Organizational change is difficult to accomplish in either government or private enterprises. But new integrated computing stacks such as Vblocks and FlexPods are helping drive transformation by forcing roles-based and policy-driven administrative processes that span compute, network and storage. These stacks also eliminate much of the manual “rack and stack”, cabling and software installation required when purchasing the components separately – leaving the IT teams with more time to focus on productivity enhancements such as application optimization.
The integrated stacks enable the IT specialists to continue managing their own domains, yet collaborate far more effectively with their peers. But the writing is nonetheless on the wall that these specialists need to broaden their skill sets to incorporate a more holistic architectural perspective. The server team needs some understanding of IP routing. The network group should know how to do minor server troubleshooting and basic reinstalls. Storage specialists need familiarity with proper VMFS sizing and best practices. All three groups should understand the implications of how virtual infrastructure security affects their domains.
Organizations are adjusting to the requirement for cross-functional skill sets by changing reporting structures to effectively create a data center team. While this is a huge transition from the functional segregation model, many more changes are in store.
IT-as-a-Service Demands a Service Mentality
Data center computing appears to be heading toward a hybrid model that includes a private cloud for the majority of workloads but also federation to SaaS providers and public clouds. CIOs emphasize that the most appealing attribute of cloud computing isn’t a reduction in cost, but rather an increase in speed. Responding quickly to business requirements is imperative to maintaining a competitive advantage.
One of the objectives of cloud is the automatic provisioning of virtual infrastructure. Business units specify the SLAs of desired applications from a services catalogue. The required servers, storage, network and security components are automatically created and charged back based upon usage, thereby driving optimal utilization of corporate resources. Users should neither know nor care whether the servers are residing internally or with an external cloud provider.
IT must determine which workloads are better served in a private cloud and which are OK to outsource to public cloud providers. The recent Amazon outage illustrates that workloads cannot simply be placed with a public provider and then forgotten. Providers must be assessed on numerous criteria including performance, availability, recoverability, pricing, monitoring, reporting and clarity of invoicing – among others. Effective architecture of this environment demands knowledge around security, regulatory compliance, project management and negotiation. Applying additional safeguards to certain workloads may entail both provider transparency and alternative contingency plans. The IT staff must furthermore continually monitor, measure and test provider claims.
In addition to acquiring a broadened skill set, IT personnel also need to understand their roles as service providers to the business as a whole. This means adopting a mantra of “not giving no for an answer”, and becoming advocates for business unit objectives such as increased revenues and improved customer service. IT is in a prime position to help rapidly, yet economically, achieve them by creatively utilizing cloud computing capabilities.
Author Note: I will be speaking further on this subject at GTC West 2011 in Sacramento, CA on May 10th.
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