A business mentor of mine once told me there are only four rational reasons why a company invests its capital, and those reasons are to improve revenue, decrease costs, reduce risk or improve agility. I asked if agility really deserved its own category, and he answered with a quote from Charles Darwin: –
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”
He continued that improving revenue is actually almost arguable, because it’s the one thing over which the company has the least control, and that in a fast changing business environment, you’d be better off investing in agility so you can take advantage of uncertainty.
I was reminded of this recently because it’s been a little over ten years since Nick Carr wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review stating the IT doesn’t matter. I opened with this during NetApp’s recent Elevate conferences in Adelaide and Perth, and pointed out that IT that doesn’t improve top line revenue or a company’s agility is a recipe for a focus on nothing more than cost and risk reductions. I was surprised that my comment still provoked a pretty defensive result in some IT professionals.
As I talked about how IT infrastructure teams could learn a lot from agile software development methodologies, and that a datacenter built on software defined infrastructure would allow this, it struck me what was causing this defensive posturing. Risk management was THE key issue that had to be addressed before any of this could happen. To be sure, costs are important, but without a way of dealing with risk effectively, none of this agile, software defined, cloud nirvana was ever going to happen, or certainly not within the timeframes anyone outside of IT was going to tolerate.
This insight was particularly relevant to me because in IT, vendors talk a lot about private cloud to our customers. We talk about accelerating journeys, we talk about how it’s your cloud, we talk about the benefits and we publish case studies. At the same time our product organizations spend increasingly large amounts of their development time and resources on delivering technology to create service catalogs, analytics capabilities and automation and self-service frameworks.
Internally, and between ourselves in the breaks between presentations at events and conferences, many of us wonder why, despite the clear business benefits and available technology, the adoption rate is much slower than we would have expected, and many companies business units are leapfrogging their IT departments internal cloud developments to go directly to large public cloud offerings.
It wasn’t until I got home and I heard my wife say “That’s awesome, they’re teaching the concept of the undo-key” that I had my real epiphany. What she was talking about was a kickstarter project called Robot Turtles, a board game created by Dan Shapiro of Google that teaches primary school kids the basics of programming. While the concept is awesome, it struck me that the ability to easily undo a mistake so fundamental to Agile software development, that it is one of the first concepts you would teach. It was also the reason why infrastructure agility was something that was talked about far more than it was done. People can’t take the same risks with their data infrastructure that you can with software development, or a word processing document, and the reason is that for almost all of us, there is no genuinely effective equivalent of Control-Z for our infrastructure.
Imagine that, in order to roll back a mistake in a word processing document, that first you had to
- Open up a brand new document
- Copy all the text from the first document and past it into the second document, one paragraph at a time
- Run an macro that read the formatting on the first document
- Paste the results of that macro into the second document
Then if you made a mistake that you had to
- Delete your entire paragraph that had the mistake
- Copy the paragraph from the second document
- Find the portion of the script that had the formatting for the document you just copied back
- Run that portion of the script on the original document, and hope that it doesn’t affect any of the other paragraphs or muck up the indexing or cross referencing
Furthermore, imagine that your copy was usually twelve hours old, and you could only recover your data after you’d received permission via a formal change request that had to be approved by three managers who checked them into the change control systems, then arranged for them to be sent back, buried in soft peat for three years and then finally recycled as firelighters.
Clearly, nobody would use any software program that had those limitations, and yet that’s exactly the kind of thing infrastructure professionals have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s no wonder that their perception of risk management and that of the rest of the business are so different.
Agile methodologies deals with risk in a completely different way, it requires that you build your progress on small iterative steps, and that at the end of each step you gain some insight, which you then turn into action. Continuous testing, and continuous deployment significantly reduce the risks of major project failures previously associated with waterfall methodologies. Even with an entire data-center built on software defined infrastructure, without an easy way of testing new infrastructure builds, and fixing and correcting mistakes early, infrastructure operations will never be able to fully support the kinds of agility the business increasingly demands from IT. So long as internal IT lacks an effective undo-key, they will be stuck in the world of waterfall methodologies, and a cost effective, agile private cloud built on software defined principals will remain a future vision instead of a present day reality.
The nice thing from my perspective is that NetApp uniquely provides a well proven set of tools that provides the fine grained undo that works from a single document on a home drive, all the way up to a petabyte scale data-center. We provide a Control-Z that lets you innovate safely, and realize the benefits of private cloud on technology that is already in production in thousands of data centers.
Future blog posts will concentrate on specific technologies like Snapmirror, SnapCreator, and NetApp Shift and how they create and enable a Universal Data Platform that can be used to eliminate the risk that stands between where virtualization stands today, and a truly agile, hybrid cloud tomorrow.