Five Things to Implement in Your Infrastructure Operations Team in 2015

Another year is about to make its way in to the history books, and what a year it has been.  We’ve seen a major focus by almost every vendor on Hybrid Cloud, Automation and everyone’s favorite, the “Software Defined Data Center”.  We also saw the rise of everything Docker and OpenStack and for better or for worse, saw the word DevOps appear in the most curious of places.

I would like to end the year off with a wish list of sorts.  With all of the new technologies, terms and acronyms being tossed about this year, I would like to make note of the five things that I think all Enterprise IT groups should look at implementing in the year to come.

1 – Configuration Management

If your organization can run with only one improvement project this year, let it be the adoption of configuration management or the tightening or expansion of existing Configuration Management programs.  From deploying an initial Configuration Management tool like Puppet, Chef, Ansible or Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager to further defining your existing server configuration templates and workflows, this will give you the base from which all future automation and cloud scale-out will flow.

2 – Automation

If you are already automating some or a lot of your operational processes, great!  Keep automating and try and find five new processes to automate or take five existing processes and review/improve them.  If you are just starting your automation journey pick five processes that can be automated, such as server deployments – to go along with that new Configuration Management system, LUN creation or user account creations.

3 – Log Management and Analysis

We all log stuff.  Lots and lots of stuff.  If your organization is like most, there are different logging systems for network devices, storage systems, Windows and Linux servers, and the only time that they are really looked at is when audit and compliance or the security team says that you have to.  Take the time to look at what you log and how you log it and start to funnel your logs into a central system like Splunk, Logstash/ElasticSearch or Boundary and start to link log events across multiple sources and uncover operational issues and help determine root cause for performance, capacity and failure events and start thinking about log collection and reporting beyond SIEM.

4 – Stop Caring about Docker and OpenStack and Start Caring about Docker and OpenStack

You’ll have to excuse me for being a little bit meta here, but over the last year both Docker and OpenStack have gotten a large amount of press, and rightfully so.  Both are well on their way to turning into fantastic game-changing technologies – just not yet, for most of us.  Over the next year both of these technologies will start to hit a maturity level where they can start being adopted by businesses other than start-ups and large cloud providers, probably seeing true enterprise viability by sometime in 2016.  With this in mind, take 2015 to evaluate them, play with them and start to identify what you need to change or do in your organization to accommodate them from both a development and an Infrastructure Operations perspective.  These two technologies change the way that you will be running your shop in the future, so the more that you understand how they impact your existing processes the better.

5 – DevOps for non Devs

DevOps has been thrown around a lot this year as the must have thing for your organization.  Personally I love the idea, but hate the fact that it has become all about Continuous Delivery and Continuous Integration and less about Operations people working with and understanding the Development and Application support teams.  If you are like most medium sized enterprises that have an Operations team and a Application Support/Development team, make it a point this year to try and introduce the agility that the App and Dev teams crave to your Infrastructure Operations and Solution Architecture teams.  Test out shorter project sprints and cross-functional teams a la Scrum, use the 5 Whys method from Lean for root cause analysis or look at using Kanban to measure your teams workflow and identify backlogs visually.  There are a lot of things about Agile/Lean that don’t really work with Infrastructure but there are many more that do.  Take a look at what Agile and Lean have to offer and see how you can apply some of the concepts to your organization.

So long for now and have a great new year!

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Putting the Ops back in DevOps

I’ve been taking some time as of late to contemplate the role of DevOps in the enterprise and more specifically within operations teams.  In the broadest of terms, the concept of DevOps is meant to break down the barriers  between development teams and operations teams, get them all on the same page and automate as much stuff as possible so that the development team can iterate as fast as possible.  After a lot of thought I started to ask myself, what about the great divide between different operations functions?

From the perspective of development teams or application support teams, operations are generally thought of as the group of people that make a big fuss when requirements are not set or someone decided to do something out of the ordinary like attract an extra few hundred users to an application in the course of a few days.  The reality is, operations teams tend to be made up of highly specialized admins that often feel the same way about each other as developers and application admins feel about them.  There are storage admins, windows and Linux admins, visualization admins, people that take care of user accounts and directory services, dedicated messaging and collaboration teams – the list can go on and on and get more and more complex as organizations get bigger and bigger – that don’t necessarily know what each other are doing and nor do they care.  Certain things are out of their sphere of influence, expertise and more than likely their manager.

Any organization that is taking a serious look at bringing in DevOps practices into their IT department needs to have a good look at the operations department as well as development, and perhaps even more so.  When all of the specializations within operations are working together, understanding what each other are dong and have a common toolkit in place for process, automation, monitoring and reporting, it’s just as nice to watch as a development team using configuration management to deploy a new test farm.

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Dell and Nutanix Hook Up

Last week, Dell and Nutanix announced a new OEM partnership that will see Dell introduce a new line of converged appliances running the Nutanix OS.  The XC series will be available in the forth quarter of this year, and will be based on PowerEdge servers.

I have been a fan of Nutanix for quite some time and think that this could be a rather good relationship on both ends.  Dell will benefit from a rapidly maturing solution that is showing a quick adoption rate among small to medium businesses, and Nutanix will benefit from Dell’s deep channel network that could create more exposure to enterprise customers.

Final Thoughts

Nutanix has a great product offering and from a branding perspective, blows away Dells current Active System and VRTX offerings.  If Dell want’s to get serious about a converged offering, this is the way to do it and I would not be surprised if I’m writing about Dell turning this into an acquisition at the same time next year.

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Moving Towards IaaS and Other Cloudy Things

Much has been said about the rise of the cloud and how companies can leverage IaaS (Infrastucture as a Service) to save capital and staff costs.  Pretty much every major vendor has put forth some sort of cloud strategy and have more than likely already given you some sort of presentation about how your organization can benefit from leveraging their solution stack.

As much as I see a lot of great benefits by jumping in to some of these solutions, it is important for every organization to take a step back, regroup, and figure out what this major shift means to them.

There are a lot of benefits that organizations can reap from these technology offerings, but before you commit there are some important things that you should consider.

Is Your House in Order?

It is important to ask yourself if your organization has a really good grasp on current internal processes.  Do you have some base SLAs in place and does the business have a good grasp on what they need in terms of up-time requirements, Recovery Point Objectives (RPO) and Recovery Time Objectives (RTO)?

Do an audit of your directory services (Active Directory for instance) and make sure that you fully understand any requirements that you may have that are over and above what most cloud providers support.  Also make a list of all applications and services so that you know what the lay of the land is.

What Does the Business Need?

It always amazes me how little most IT departments know about the goals and requirements that the business units have.  A lot of the time all that it takes is to sit down with some of the managers of of various departments and listen to their concerns and lay out a number of solutions to their problems.  You may be surprised to know that you already have solutions in place that they are just not aware of.

Build a Private Cloud

As every good engineer knows, there is nothing better then testing, testing, testing.  based on the above exercises, you should be able to get a really good idea of what kind of cloud services are right for your organisation.

Start to build a private cloud based on the needs of the business units that will most benefit from it.  You more than likely already have a platform that you have committed to, be it VMware, HyperV or maybe you want to go all in and have the talent pool to go with a platform like OpenStack.  Take that platform, build it out, and then figure out how that will scale up and out to the cloud

Once you do it in house, you will have a much better idea of what you need from your cloud provider and it will help you to ask the right questions and pick the right partner.

Final Thoughts

This will be the infrastructure platform that you will need to expand and support for quite some time, so it is important that you and your major stakeholders truly understand where you stand and where you want to go.  Take the time to analyse where you are now and where you want to be in the near future.  In doing these three exercises, you will be much better placed to select what offerings are applicable and how you will be able to leverage them.

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The Death of the Datacenter?

I read an interesting article this morning that talked about the recent declines in data center consolidation projects and how the move to cloud services is shaping the look of professional service and consulting divisions.  Although I do agree with a lot of the points regarding the fact that a lot of the big, multi-year consolidation projects are going by the wayside due to clients looking to cloud services as a way of consolidating and streamlining existing data centers, I do find the concerns around the fate of the traditional data center and other corporate IT jobs a little bit off the mark.

Yes, the roles of sysadmins and and other in house IT personnel is going to change but I don’t think that they will be going the way of the Dodo anytime soon.  Once the dust has settled in the new found Valhalla of the cloud, companies the world over will still require highly technical people to innovate and move the business forward.  What will change is that every person in corporate IT will need to be very much more business aware.  They will need to be the bridge between business need and whatever tools that are the best for the job, be it services that reside in a public, private or hybrid cloud.

The role of corporate IT professionals will start to change from keeping the lights on and engaging in large scale engineering projects, to integrating together all of the different services that the business wants while maintaining security, data integrity and ease of use.  The in-house IT pros of the future will be both technically skilled and extremely business aware.

Corporate IT will still be with us for a long time to come, but they will be doing far less dictating and a lot more listening.  If sysadmins want to stay in corporate IT, it may be time to learn how the business that they server wants to operate and work with them to deliver truly innovative solutions

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New Blog Time

Alright….It’s about time that I started to lay out my thoughts in the good ‘ole world of blog land. As far as direction for my ramblings, I would like to focus on the current storage landscape, including traditional storage, data replication, virtualization and cloud architecture and integration.  I would also like to touch on the various ways that IT interacts with the business units that it supports and how we as IT professionals, can help to build and foster those relationships.

That’s it for now….more to come.

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