SDDC and Self Service: Two Old Problems are New Again

A while ago, I attended an excellent conference held by EMC around the software defined data center (SDDC). It was an eye opening experience into the types of efficiencies an SDDC can offer, but beyond that, it gave a glimpse into the future of IT, at least from the participating vendors’ point of view.

Over the course of that day, IT was embraced as the enabler of customizations and flexibility for the end user while driving down costs. Two main results from the SDDC (or similar cloud initiatives) were self-provisioned VMs/storage and highly customized and portable applications. Despite the touted benefits, both of these brought to mind legacy problems though that centralized management strived to remove. While there are ways to mitigate the pitfalls, it harkened back to issues IT has been trying to resolve for years.

Self-Provisioning Virtual Servers and Storage
Prior to the Y2K bug, IT organizations were a little more lenient with end users. You might have found that end users would go talk to software vendors and purchase the software and servers they needed. If they needed a file server, they may have even gone out and purchased a server with some internal storage and given it to IT to implement (or stood it up under their desk). Perhaps your IT organization back then interjected, but in a lot of cases, I’m betting they didn’t. This was the time before standards and their cost savings were even realized. Folks needed what they needed and they got it through their own budgets.

At its core, this is self-provisioning in that it is end user driven. A user has a set of requirements, found a solution and asked IT to implement it on some infrastructure (or they did it themselves). In current times, IT will work with the end user to plan out resources and get them what they need. In the SDDC, we’ve reversed that. End users can now go to a portal and self-provision the infrastructure they need. IT provides the underlying infrastructure, the end user finds the solution and can implement it themselves using the automated self-provisioning portal. IT can create standards to lower costs, perform chargebacks for cost tracking and can potentially provide many diverse platforms, giving the end user the flexibility to use IT as a service.

The caution here though is stagnation and another divergence of standards at the end user level. The good news is that stagnation can be mitigated with the proper controls around server and storage expiration. This does require some care and feeding on the IT side. You certainly can’t have a user leave the company and their critical VM expires and is removed. IT needs to build processes after the self-provisioning occurs to move things into a production supported environment. Management cannot assume that the self-provisioning removes the need for IT. The IT staff’s responsibilities shift in a different direction.

IT should also perform investigation as applications are brought up to determine if there might be duplication. For example, if you work at an engineering company, you might have an IP management system. Let’s assume a new group has been acquired and they are starting to investigate IP management systems on their own. Someone should know what this group is doing so that you can take advantage of the existing IP management system (if possible). At a large organization, this consolidation of services can be hard to see without IT’s involvement.

In-House Developed Applications
How many of us have struggled with legacy applications that were developed in-house? Back before there were massive ERP applications and APIs for everything, a lot of development work was done to customize new applications built around your business. As time went on, these applications may have traded hands and, as cost cutting measures won the battle for IT, the developers were let go, but the application continued on. No one wants to acknowledge these applications exist, but of course they do! Not only that, these applications are critical to your business and haven’t been updated in years.

What the SDDC (and the cloud) can offer, along with self-provisioning, is a new application landscape that, again, harkens back to this original flaw. A developer can now be enabled to have instant platforms available to them and is encouraged to code it to be portable. We’ve only solved one problem here, namely the availability of resources or speed to deployment.

IT departments have to commit to the developers and the applications. Cost savings cannot trump the development work that needs to happen to keep the application modern. The SDDC and the PaaS based solutions require a commitment to modernizations and upkeep. If not, you will end up with yet another application that is minimally supported, but still critical to your business.

SDDC, PaaS, and IT
While the SDDC and cloud offer instant access to the latest platforms quickly and without much IT involvement, there are still concerns that need to be addressed and monitored by IT. The investment in these solutions requires a long term commitment to infrastructure and the applications running on them. EMC did an excellent job of outlining this strategy and it is certainly a convincing way to manage infrastructure and empower end users if managed and planned out properly.

If nothing else, the SDDC requires a lot of thought put into it and shouldn’t be entered into without a deep level of analysis and thought.