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Don MacVittie

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Virtualization, Cloud, Automation. But Where Are We Going?

It is a pretty rare enterprise that can do without IT these days

I read an interesting blog the other day that is pretty spot-on about IT, customers, and what we’ve spent the last 30 years doing. We’re in a field whose purpose is to increase the capability of the enterprise while simultaneously making it easier to do whatever the organization in general and IT specifically does.


IT’S WHAT WE DO

It is a pretty rare enterprise that can do without IT these days, for systems are what the military refers to as “force multipliers” – they make the people available more effective. We blame a lot on computers, and wring our hands when they’re down or of limited usefulness, but that is simply because they are a core part of the enterprise. The size of some of our companies – insurance and finance spring to mind – would be nearly unmanageable without computer systems, and would certainly be less cost-effective. Other organizations – web based businesses are the poster child for this category – just plain wouldn’t exist without them.

Let’s follow his blog to the logical conclusion though… He’s advocating improving ourselves out of a job. After many years in the industry, I see that as a distant possibility. Sure, cloud, virtualization, and automation hold the potential to reduce staff time and overhead, but I don’t believe it will. Over the decades, each new development is translated into more power for the enterprise, and while our jobs shift in their focus, each new development brings with it a whole new array of IT challenges that must be met.


BUT WHAT IF?

So most IT staff isn’t developing systems anymore… They’re integrating them. Most IT staff is not checking Token Ring connections to see who broke the segment, they’re monitoring bandwidth and usage instead. Most IT staff doesn’t have to go into a flurry when a piece of hardware fails, they just replace it, but they do monitor for intrusions. Things have historically changed, but workloads have steadily increased. We used to troubleshoot each app, now we troubleshoot the browser and web server for each app.

We could be at that point in time where “everything changes”, but I don’t think so. And the reason that I don’t think so is simple. Even now, in the midst of virtualization, we’re getting more busy, not less. Virtualization makes IT more agile, but things like VM Sprawl show that our customers – the business – still have a seemingly insatiable desire for computing resources. As long as the number of “systems” and interfaces and network connections is going up, the end of IT is nowhere in sight. And even if IT were 100% “Cloudsourced”, there’s still plenty that needs to be done – physical desktops/laptops, intrusion monitoring, vertical application knowledge/troubleshooting, fifty forms of integration… The list goes on.

So I’m with Mr. Raayman, automate the living heck out of IT. Make everything you can easier for you. But I’m in favor of this for a completely different reason than he is. I think you’ll need it as your workload continues to increase, and other things (like cloud provisioning and “find the app in the sea of virtuals”) begin to take more and more of your time.

Indeed, it’s a good plan to look around every once in a while and see what you are/aren’t doing that could make your life easier or improve your ability to serve your customers. We get stuck in the process of dealing with today and thinking about the next big project sometimes, it’s good to take a few hours or a day and forcibly separate yourself from the now to look at what you’re doing and why. When I was an Architect at AAL (now Thrivent Financial), we did that pretty regularly. The architects would go to a restaurant for a block of four hours and just talk about what we were doing, where it wasn’t efficient, what improvements could be made, and agreeing on the top three. Then we’d go back to work, recharged, with a list of topics to research and people to talk to. That four hours once a quarter or so was pretty central to the difference between us becoming glorified project managers and keeping value in our roles as architects.

“Do more with less” we keep hearing. And it’s still solid advice. If virtualization, automation, and cloud let us do that, there will be no shortage whatsoever of things to do - like satisfy all those iPhone users who think  that their purchase is IT’s problem – so automate what you can so you can focus more on what the business needs and less on the “overhead” of last year’s business needs.

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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.