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Don MacVittie

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If I Were in IT Management Today...

Where I'd spend my management time

I’ve had a couple of blog posts talking about how there is a disconnect between “the market” and “the majority of customers” where things like cloud (and less so storage) are concerned. So I thought I’d try this out as a follow on. If I were running your average medium to large IT shop (not talking extremely huge, just medium to large), what would I be focused on right now.

By way of introduction, for those who don’t know, I’m relatively conservative in my use of IT, I’ve been around the block, been burned a few times (OS/2 Beta Tester, WFW, WP...The list goes on), and the organizations I’ve worked for where I was part of “Enterprise IT” were all relatively conservative (Utilities, Financials), while the organizations i worked in Product or App Development for were all relatively cutting edge. I’ve got a background in architecture, App Dev, and large systems projects, and think that IT Management is (sadly) 50% corporate politics and 50% actually managing IT. I’ll focus on problems that we all have in general here, rather than a certain vertical, and most of these problems are applicable to all but the largest and smallest IT shops today.

By way of understanding, this list is the stuff I would be spending research or education time on, and is kept limited because the bulk of you and your staff’s time is of course spent achieving or fixing for the company, not researching. Though most IT shops I know of have room for the amount of research I’m talking about below.


VIRTUALIZATION – management

If you aren’t doing virtualization today, the short-and-sweet of the benefits are these – quicker time to bring up a new server on an existing project, potential reduction in hardware (though not necessarily dollar savings, since VMWare isn’t free), unanticipated standardization of images (cloning becomes your friend, making all servers look similar), more responsiveness – ten minutes to bring up a VM or the purchasing process to get new hardware? The primary drawback is political… We’ve been purchasing servers by project, and that model needs tweaking in a virtualized environment.

The first big problem is Virtualization. Most shops have started implementing, many are to the point where it is the standard method of deploying new servers. This is good, but early adopters of virtualized everything are showing the growing pains. Virtualization Sprawl is not just a catchy term, it is a real problem. Once you reach the point where VMs are the replacement for what used to be physical servers, you need policy and procedure to manage that inventory like you would have physical servers. There are several sound reasons for this statement – first is resource utilization (which I’ll delve deeper into in a future blog), second is security, the third is talked about below – the storage explosion is sometimes exacerbated by VM copies lying about – and getting replicated – when they’re not in use. Some shops have moved to some virtual infrastructure, with Lori’s whitepaper (pdf, in related articles list below, so just keep  reading) being a good guide to a mixed vADC/pADC environment.

So depending upon where your organization is at on the deployment scale, I would be doing one of the following

  • Considering increased IT responsiveness and agility with virtualization
  • Planning for an overall virtualized environment including automation, which is lacking today
  • Figuring out how to manage VMs in an efficient manner that optimizes server utilization
  • Working out an infrastructure to insure that Virtualization does not become a hindrance

CLOUD – Control and Education

The cloud is coming. Lori and some others believe that public cloud will be part of your infrastructure, like it or not. I disagree with that bit, but you will indeed have cloud discussions over the next 6-12 months that, depending upon your corporate culture, will be combative or informative. I prefer to inform and educate where possible, but if you have that business owner that thinks he is not getting proper service from you, well you may end up in the “public cloud will be part of your infrastructure” boat. Let’s hope not though.

There are several definitions for cloud still being floated out there, and there are several different aspects of cloud that you can consider. The most appealing to me (remember I’m a storage guy) is cloud storage, but there are some issues with storage in the cloud today. More on this in a future blog, but consider a cloud gateway as a short-term solution to what I call the cloud storage accessibility conundrum. If it makes your cloud storage look and (mostly) feel local, that solves one big problem, the other is security. Today the files you move to the cloud that might contain sensitive information should be encrypted. That statement will likely change as time goes on, but for now, that’s truth. Another bit that is intriguing me more and more is the idea of DMZ apps in the cloud. If you can drop your web server on someone else’s turf and they’ll guarantee both uptime and dynamic response to changing usage patterns, then all you need is something like our EDGE Gateway to secure that server’s connection to your DB. Concerns about shared hardware are much less when we’re talking a web server that is already out on the public Internet getting attacked.

But you need to do several things now, to pave the way for a successful cloud deployment. If you haven’t yet, go read Lori’s blog on taking control of public cloud, it’s a good read on the potential issues you need to head off. Following that, I’d be talking and educating. The following are the points the business needs to understand:

  • “Cloud Services” that claim to be developer-free aren’t going to be integrated with corporate data, nor are they generally going to pass security audits.
  • Cloud Services that offer file storage offer astounding availability, but ask them about security and screen candidate files appropriately.
  • The corporation will be held responsible for corporate data no matter where it is stored. Caution must be used when talking about customer PID.
  • Cloud Services that offer to extend data center functionality have a high probability of usefulness, but must be evaluated for integration with the DC.
  • IT Management will not be held responsible for data others place in the cloud, so IT should be involved early in evaluation of suitability to the cloud.
  • WAN Optimization. If you are going to be dealing with public cloud over constrained or shared lines, you need to know what’s available to you to speed up that communication. If you have more than one data center this isn’t a bad idea anyway, but we’re in the cloud section, so think of the volume of data you’re likely to be shipping to the cloud and the size of your existing pipe. You can upgrade the pipe for a monthly fee or check out products like our WOM and EDGE Gateway.  EDGE Gateway is more appealing if you want to extend access control to the link shared with the cloud.
  • If you’re considering a private cloud, then schedule brown-bags or meetings to help business owners understand the difference between internal cloud and external cloud.

STORAGE – reign in, improve usage

Storage has come such a long way in such a short time! There is so much you can do today that even five years ago wasn’t an option – converged networks, primary data de-duplication, a variety of options for where you store information… But this stuff all takes time. Figure out what fits with your organization and start reviewing it for suitability to your needs. Here’s a short list, no doubt others will think of other options for you to consider. Just assign people to start researching, don’t rush off to implement until you’re sure what you’re getting suits your needs.

  • At-rest De-duplication, be it primary or not. This is currently the buzz of the storage world, led by NetApp. Make sure that the background processing fits within your levels of service, and that the de-duplication process is reliable and reversible. Today they generally are reliable and reversible, but I don’t know what vendors you will end up with, so check into it, ask for customer references.
  • De-duplication at store, be it primary or not. This is de-dupe as writes are performed. It is EMC’s Data Domain based solution to primary storage de-dupe and is also available for many other platforms. Again, check it out, ask for references, make sure you know what you’re getting.
  • Cloud Storage Gateways. I have a personal opinion on these and where they’re headed, but you should build an informed opinion based upon research in your own environment. The idea of local cache with remote write is appealing, but these do not say anything about the security and availability of the cloud provider you set them up to write to.
  • Cloud Storage in general. Remember that you pay for what you use, so this can be a painful problem if you don’t have good control of your storage. But as a place to deposit encrypted backups? Why the heck not? Well, that’s what the research would be to determine… Why the heck not, what other use cases fit your organization, etc.
  • If you’re not already doing it, file virtualization. Let’s face it, a simplified storage interface with security improvements is in-line with the type of savings gained from server virtualization. We offer our ARX product line to help with this and Data Manager to help you understand what you’ve got stored where. There are other products in the same space, but of course I  don’t think they’re our equal ;-). If you are a homogenous storage shop, there is likely a vendor-specific solution to this problem for you, but there just aren’t a ton of single-vendor storage shops out there, never were.

That’s a start!

That’s my top three for the next six to twelve months. Sure, things like SSD might be appealing too, but that is much more dependent upon the moment-to-moment speed requirements of your specific applications than the above are, so I left it off.

Though this cycle waxes and wanes, I like some others believe we should consider re-instituting the chargeback model where cloud services (internal or external) are concerned. It makes a lot more sense in a cloud environment where they’re paying for a service, and will make business owners think about how much they actually need. Though they’re terribly unpopular with most business owners, so I’m only making a generalization.

These are things that either are impacting you, could make your life easier, or will be impacting you soon. That’s why I’d spend research and education time on them now. No doubt there are others with different advice, if you’re one of those people, feel free to blog your version of this post and link back to us. If there are enough I’ll create a directory of blogs in this vein. Of course my thoughts are influenced by both my employer and my job, but I think these are in line with what’s worrying you the most technologically.

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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.

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