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Forensic IT: Discover Issues Before Your End Users Do

 (This is a repost of original from the VMware CloudOps blog)

by Paul Chapman, VMware Vice President Global Infrastructure and Cloud Operations

Paul Chapman-cropIf you’ve ever watched five-year-olds playing a soccer game, there is very little strategy: all the kids swarm the field and chase the ball trying to score a goal.

Most IT departments take a similar sort of “swarming” approach to service incidents and problems when they occur.

For most of my career, IT has been a reactive business: we waited until there was a problem and then scrambled very well to solve it. We were tactical in terms of problem solving in a reactive mode, yet monitoring was focused on availability and capturing degradation in services, versus being proactive and predictive, analyzing patterns to stay ahead of problems. In the new world of IT as a service, where expectations are very different, that model no longer works.

New and emerging forensics tools and capabilities give IT the tools to be proactive and predictive—to focus on quality of service and end-user satisfaction, which is a must in the cloud era.

Forensics: A new role for IT
As an example, with new network forensics tools to monitor and analyze network traffic, it may seem a natural fit for network engineers to use them, but at VMware we found the skillsets to be quite different. We need people who have an inquisitive mindset — a sort of “network detective” who thinks like a data analyst and can look at different patterns and diagnostics to find problems before they’re reported or exposed into user impact.

Those in newly created IT forensic roles may have a different set of skills than a typical IT technologist. They may not even be technology subject matter experts, but they may be more like data scientists, who can find patterns and string together clues to find the root of potential problems.

Adding this new type of role in the IT organization most definitely presents challenges as it goes against the way IT has typically been done.  But this shift to a new way of delivering service, moving from the traditional swarm model to a more predictive and forensics-driven model, means a new way of thinking about problem solving. Most importantly, forensics has the potential to create a significant reduction in service impact and maintain high level of service availability and quality.

Quality of service and reducing end user friction
Every time an end user has to stop and depend on another human to fix an IT problem, it’s a friction point. Consumers have come to expect always on, 100 percent uptime, and they don’t want to take the time open a ticket or pause and create a dependency on another human to solve their need. As IT organizations, we need to focus more on the user experience and quality of service—today’s norm of being available 100 percent of the time is table stakes.

With everything connected to the “cloud,” it’s even more important for IT to be proactive and predictive about potential service issues. Applications pull from different systems and processes across the enterprise and across clouds. Without the right analysis tools, IT can’t understand the global user experience and where potential friction points may be occurring. In most experiences, IT finds out about a poor quality of service experience when users complain — perhaps even publicly on their social networks. Unless we get in front of the possible issues and take an outside-in, customer-oriented view, we’re headed for lots of complaints around quality of service.

At VMware, we have seen a significant reduction in overall service impact since using network forensics, and we’re keeping our internal customers productive. Focusing on quality of service and finding people with the right skillsets to fill the associated roles has us unearthing problems long before our end users experience so much as a glitch.

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Follow @PaulChapmanVM on Twitter.

5 Ways Cloud Automation Drives Greater Cost and Operational Transparency

 (This is a repost of original from the VMware CloudOps blog)

By Kevin Lees

Kevin_cropThere has always been tension between IT teams and their end customers — not the good kind of tension, but rather the contentious kind that rarely ends well.

It breaks down like this: IT never believes it has enough time, resources, or money; and the line of business (LOB) really doesn’t understand what they want. On the other side, the LOB is rarely happy with IT because response times aren’t fast enough or IT is missing the mark with its capabilities.

This tension leads to inefficient use of resources, both equipment and people. Shadow IT happens when those outside of IT take matters into their own hands and shirk IT policies and procedures. This can mean inefficiencies in the allocation of capital because finance is challenged to track exactly what it costs for IT to deliver. This becomes especially difficult in a shared resource environment, and it will only get more challenging as we move to a fully virtualized stack as defined by the software-defined data center (SDDC).

This can lead to all sorts of problems, fostering mistrust, lost profits, and lost opportunities. You get the idea.

In this post, we’ll explore key ways that cloud automation is critical to fulfilling the promise of cloud and how automation provides opportunities to practice cost and operational transparency as a way to help drive business alignment.

The Promise of Cloud Management
Cloud holds great promise and great responsibility. It provides many advantages to both IT and its stakeholders, but without effective cloud management and automation, the true value will never be realized.

This is true regardless of the type of cloud, whether private enterprise cloud, an external cloud provider, or a hybrid cloud.

As the figure below shows, there are five areas to focus on that not only provide opportunities to drive business alignment, but also provide opportunities to practice the cost and/or operational transparency needed to gain the business stakeholder’s trust:

5 Ways Automation-Lees

 

  1. Service quality: The business has to know it can count on the service it’s consuming.
  2. Predictability: Of course, the service has to be predictable. Outages are unacceptable.
  3. Agility: The business needs to quickly react to changing business conditions or proactively get to market before the competition, so IT needs to keep up.
  4. Smart economics: It also has to be cost effective. If it’s not, shadow IT rears its ugly head, and any degree of governance as well as economy of scale efficiencies dissipate into the cloud, outside of IT’s control.
  5. Clear communication: Business stakeholders have to truly understand what they’re getting and how much flexibility of choice is available to them.

That said, IT cannot deploy and run an effective and successful cloud in a vacuum. A truly successful cloud, one that adds real business value, requires alignment among IT, LOB, and finance. It requires a lot of interaction, listening, discussing, and agreeing. Yes, there will be trial and error.

Fortunately, one of the big benefits of cloud when done right (namely agility) is the ability to fail fast, fail often, and try something else.

With alignment and the clear communication required to achieve it:

  • IT can provide solutions and services that add value to the business by meeting its needs, because business is involved in the service definition.
  • LOB stakeholders will have a much better idea of what they’re getting and know it will meet their needs.
  • Finance will understand service costs within a business context to make more informed decisions about how to maximize the budgets and ensure a degree of cost predictability.

If all goes well, the end result is trust and business alignment between the parties.

One final note for IT: you desperately need to take a course in Marketing 101. IT needs to get better at advertising its services and demonstrating its value add so everyone knows what an asset the group is. At VMware, this is something we address explicitly when we help IT customers set up their processes for defining, costing, and offering cloud-based services to their LOB market. Taking a technical service to LOB market is no different than the business taking a service to market. Would they do that without proactive marketing? I don’t think so.

If you found this post helpful, stay tuned for future posts on this topic. Next time, I’ll offer my thoughts on ways to turn IT’s “trust debt” into true business alignment through greater transparency, agility, and technical alignment.

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Kevin Lees is Global Principal Architect, Operations Transformation Practice.

Reflections on IDC’s Worldwide CIO Agenda 2014 Top 10 Predictions

 (This is a repost of original from the VMware Accelerate blog)

By Paul Chapman, VMware Vice President Global Infrastructure and Cloud Operations

Paul Chapman-cropAs I read through IDC’s Worldwide CIO Agenda 2014 Top 10 Predictions, I was reminded that in the world of IT, one thing is certain: change. The roles of the CIO and the IT organization overall continue to evolve and increase in complexity at the rapid pace of technology evolution. The IDC report tackles this complexity, presenting areas of focus and solid guidance around critical topics. Here are a few key topics that caught my eye.

Addressing the Skills Gap
While IDC’s first prediction regarding a need for CIOs to focus on innovation and business strategy isn’t news, it reinforces a truth we as IT executives know all too well. The difficulty in shifting from technology services to business strategy and services stems directly from the skills gap. In my organization, I see us trying to move people from deep technical roles into data analytics roles, and it’s not something they gravitate towards. For example, a network engineer is not necessarily the best person to do network forensics. The focus on business services will happen gradually, as new skills are recruited or trained into mature organizations.

The skills gap shows up as an important theme in the report, which says, not surprisingly, that new skills are required for these new cloud-related jobs. I equate the situation today to placing an ad for an Oracle database administrator 25 years ago. You wouldn’t be able to find one because they didn’t exist. We need to create new roles, like cloud services administrators. At VMware, we are developing a college grad program where we immediately put new hires into new types of roles to help seed the acceleration.

A Need for Mobile Services
That leads directly into the report’s call for a rapid shift to ensure support for the “ubiquitous mobile and socially connected lifestyle.” IDC suggests that within the next 12 months organizations “create a portfolio of mobile services for inclusion in the IT service catalog.” This is bigger and broader than mobile. It’s imperative that every organization builds a holistic strategy around end-user computing. IT may place more heavy emphasis on technology but this is really about organizational change management. New generations of employees embrace change much faster then previous digital transients; they adapt much faster, they consume technology differently, and their expectations are different.

New Cloud Security Concerns
IDC also predicts increased exposure to risk through cloud adoption in an attempt to reduce IT costs. Of course, security is always a major concern, but we have to keep in mind the distinction between private and public cloud options. On the public side, cloud services companies’ reputations depend on their ability to provide the best security available. Many organizations worry too much about doubling-down on security when the service provider has it covered more fully than most companies could do themselves internally.

On the flip side, some companies will never move to public cloud because of security and IP protection concerns. That doesn’t prevent them from taking a similar internal private cloud approach. You can take the same kinds of capabilities, flexibility, and agility from a public cloud and build your own internal private cloud. This way you can control the security.

Outsourced Enterprise Architecture?
On the topic of employing consultants to support enterprise architecture, I’m not necessarily sold. I think enterprise architecture will change drastically in the coming years, and what we build today may be obsolete fairly quickly. I see enterprise architecture shifting to a central focus around the network and the data center. We’re moving so much compute into massive data centers and they all have to be connected together; performance and quality of service have to be the focus. Architecture will need to have a heavy focus on networking and physical location. You can’t just push everything out to the cloud and expect them to perform—you need to know where things are and have the right tools and forensics is place to proactively manage quality of service.

Budgets Shift to LOB
When it comes to shifting budget to the lines of business (LOB) for third-platform investments, this typically means the IT organization processes do not get the LOB what they need fast enough. This shift isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Investments in some business processes are better off using an external provider. IT should manage the crown jewels: the cash register, the strategic things that differentiate you in the market place, and the things that need strong protection. Finance has to play a bigger role to say it’s okay for people outside of IT to buy services independently. I think it’s a good thing as long as IT embraces it and partners to deliver, instead of resisting and trying to control it. At the end of the day, the company is paying for all of it. At VMware we embrace this model and partner with our LOB leaders and come up with the right decisions together.

I highly recommend reviewing the IDC paper—there are interesting new insights alongside some core points that bear repeating.

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Paul Chapman is Vice President, Global Infrastructure & Cloud Operations at VMware. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulChapmanVM