Infrastructure organizations are feeling more pressured than ever to innovate. They are being pushed by business unit leads and application teams to deliver on their part of software toolchain stacks at a faster pace. They are increasingly expected to be flexible and agile in how they operate and manage the platforms they engineer.
Despite this, many infrastructure groups still focus primarily on the delivery of physical hardware platforms rather than viewing their roles from a more holistic, ready-to-consume service perspective. In my opinion, that unwillingness to grow beyond engineering physical infrastructure, no longer a key differentiator within IT systems, is the single most limiting hurdle that infrastructure practices face today.
In this blog post I want to delve a little further into what I’m seeing in the field when it comes to changing infrastructure consumption models. I then suggest what I believe needs to happen for more companies to realize the tremendous advantages that a DevOps approach to infrastructure can bring.
When I’m out performing assessments, I’m seeing companies at three stages:
- While many customers are pushing at the boundaries of compute virtualization and often do have highly virtualized compute environments, the majority of VMware customers are still not taking advantage of the benefits that storage and network virtualization technologies offer in terms of abstracting, pooling, and creating the potential for automation of provisioning and management. In contrast, the most progressive infrastructure leaders respond to the needs of IT stakeholders by virtualizing the entirety of their physical infrastructure (compute, storage, and network). Doing so adds a layer of software-defined abstraction across the board rather than in the singular silo of compute. Completing the final steps of the virtualization journey that began over a decade ago, then, is really the first step to becoming a DevOps-driven infrastructure practice.
- With the foundation of virtualized compute, storage, and network platforms in place, the next step is to develop a service orientation. Infrastructure teams that are at this point package infrastructure capabilities into fully-defined services, enabling more advanced consumption models such as self-service consumption of infrastructure services (IaaS, PaaS, etc.). The services are exposed via portal-based user interfaces or via standardized APIs.
- The final and perhaps the most important change that infrastructure leaders drive is bridging the gap between applications and operations teams that developed over the past few decades. They are creating cross-functional teams that include all of the skills required to deliver an end-to-end infrastructure service to market in a standardized, iterative fashion.
By initiating and driving these three key changes, infrastructure leads are opening the door for their practitioners to apply best practice DevOps principles. Examples include continuous integration and deployment and automated delivery of infrastructure services and capabilities.
Key Benefits of DevOps Approach
Consider an example of the very real benefits that the approach can bring: one of our clients adopted a DevOps-oriented, agile approach to development and reduced the delivery cycle for infrastructure services from months to weeks almost immediately upon completing the transition. This resulted in deploying more functionality to the newly developed cloud infrastructure platform during each four-week delivery cycle than they had delivered in the previous year’s worth of development. Application developers immediately recognized the effects of this change and the organization’s CTO significantly increased the team’s budget for the next financial year. The intent of that budget was to accelerate the deployment and adoption of private and public cloud services across IT.
Stories like this suggest where infrastructure organizations should increase focus in the future: moving towards fully embracing DevOps not so much as sequence of particular steps to take in a specific order, but as guiding the organization’s culture.
DevOps is not, after all, a prescriptive framework. It’s much more a way of doing things – “a culture, movement or practice that emphasizes the collaboration and communication of both software developers and other information-technology (IT) professionals while automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes,” to quote Wikipedia’s pretty good definition.
Easing the Shift for Infrastructure Teams
What I’m also seeing is that DevOps isn’t an easy shift for infrastructure teams. Fear of change and a lack of exposure to DevOps concepts and practices are very hard to overcome. The territorial boundaries developed by operations over years, operating in silos, become comfort zones that are not easily penetrated. Operations employees, like anyone else, are susceptible to a general feeling of hopelessness, thanks to the fact that they are usually buried in existing work (break/fix, project enablement, etc.) and have no time to spare for true innovation.
Infrastructure teams, therefore, need assistance. However, help they need is not usually what they think they need, for example just another tool, application, or quick fix. What is needed are targeted initiatives that jumpstart more holistic change across all the fronts of people, process, and technology. Further they need ongoing mentoring and coaching to usher change from the initial stages of incubation to full adoption across the entirety of their organizations.
The payoff is tremendous. Successful DevOps transformations empower infrastructure organizations to deliver each release more robustly and better aligned to customers’ needs. When those needs change, they’re not stuck in a long delivery cycle, but can instead reprioritize and deliver something of immediate value in the next cycle. By increasing speed and frequency of releases, they offer better value per release, and better time to market – directly impacting business results. That, ultimately, is the only purpose that IT should be focused on, because without measurable business results, there may well be no business for IT to support.
Josh Miller is a Business Solution Strategist within VMware’s Accelerate Advisory Services practices and is based in Oklahoma City, Ok. You can connect with him on LinkedIN.