The expansion of Software-as-a-Service offerings, mobile devices, and all variants of managed and cloud computing mean that the definition of the data center as an expensively provisioned room, with lots of power, a raised floor, incredible cooling is obsolete.
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The entire Internet is your data center now. CIOs are playing catchup in learning how to manage this new world.
When a company had just a few SaaS applications that were not mission critical, and one or two APIs or cloud based apps, this was all manageable. Many firms are just leaving this stage, prompted by adoption of more SaaS apps, and especially by Microsoft Office 365, which is going to present a host of new challenges for many CIOs.
In addition, mobile devices mean that whatever the IT department provides may be used from anywhere in the world.
This means that at any moment a CIO must be able to answer the following questions:
- Are all the applications and services in our control running properly?
- Are all the applications and services running in the cloud or as SaaS running properly?
- Is there a network problem in the network under our control?
- Is there a network problem in the public internet?
- Is there a network problem in the network of the cloud or SaaS provider?
Most CIOs can answer question 1 reasonably well. Many can also answer questions 3. But very few can get an answer to 2, 4, and 5 in a timely manner. Such questions cannot be answered with the technology used to run most data centers.
Pace of change is another problem. With virtualization and cloud technology, it is possible te create, expand, and contract infrastructure incredibly quickly. Much of the current generation of data center management technology is based on creating a model, a description of the systems being tracked. Often, when hard to answer questions can be answered in theory by existing technology, in practice they cannot because the models cannot be kept up to date.
So the situation you have at many data centers is that the stable part of the data center is well-run and highly instrumented. The dynamic part of internal infrastructure that evolves rapidly — usually the part that is virtualized or uses the public cloud – is far less well controlled and instrumented. And then the parts of the infrastructure that are completely off site like SaaS applications, are the most opaque.
In addition, the public internet has become one of the most crucial elements of uptime and performance. When someone can’t get to Salesforce.com, how do you know what’s going on? Is it a network problem? Is it inside your network infrastructure, in the public internet, at the SaaS provider? The arrival of Microsoft Office 365 will, where the number of users of SaaS will increase dramatically will make the ability to debug SaaS related network problems a crucial skill.
One thing to notice in this transition to more external resources is that the responsibility of the CIO has not been decreased. When something doesn’t work, for whatever reason, no matter where it is, the CIO and the IT department are expected to figure out what is happening and make it right.
The upshot of all this is that in a real way, the entire internet is becoming the data center. But the current set of tools and skills inside data center teams were not created to meet these responsibilities.
What most CIOs are facing is the need to systematically build a new set of skills that are based on a new set of tools. In subsequently articles I will examine technologies that are needed by CIOs to address the challenges explained above. The first three should be of interesting to early adopters. Two are quite young (ThousandEyes and Boundary) and one is well on its way to crossing the chasm (SolarWinds). I will also cover in future articles, the way that the big four of IT Operations Management – HP Openview, CA Unicenter, BMC, and IBM – and Microsoft are grappling with these challenges.
Remember, the services offered by these new products are secondary to getting a complete understanding of the problem you must solve: managing the entire Internet as your data center. There will be many ways to answer the needed questions, using the products mentioned or other methods. The most important thing is to be ready to answer the questions mentioned in this article when problems arise, as they always do.
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