The drive for IT agility is everywhere; to the extent that the word of 2017 is “transformation.” Whatever you call it, I find it astounding how fast we are innovating. The adoption of “cloud-like” architectures and microservices is outpacing the impact of virtualization just a few years ago.
Many drivers influence IT decision makers, but the consistent themes are cost savings, elasticity, and the agility to have applications live almost anywhere. However, just as before, these applications are dependent on various services such as load balancing, SSL termination, security, analytics, etc. True agility is now one of the most paramount requirements for these services.
Ironically enough, the very infrastructure that claims to provide said enterprise with “Agility” is limiting their potential and leaving them with a “fragile” infrastructure for their application services. Heck, the cardboard packaging the appliances arrive in, are even stamped with a symbol to alert you. Don’t take my word for it, let’s look at some real-world examples where this fragility is most prevalent:
Proprietary Hardware Appliances: Can anyone guess the number one cause for failures & outages? Ding Ding! That’s right, a hardware failure. It’s ironic that enterprises pay all this money to deploy purpose-built appliances to ensure resiliency and yet RMA rates continue to rise. The most basic components fail regularly…hard drives, power supplies, etc. Why do enterprises keep buying these things? In fact, these devices are so fragile that appliance vendors require you to buy two just in case one fails! Agility or frAgility?
Architecture: Software defined principles are being adopted all throughout the data center. Not only do enterprises want to run software on commodity x86, they also desire to orchestrate that software. This becomes very challenging when both the management and control plane reside on that same piece of code. I regularly hear customers share experiences where their appliances have been unreachable due to large amounts of traffic impacting their ability to interact with appliances, in some cases rendering the appliances useless. Agility or frAgility?
Operational Complexity: Ever heard, “if it’s working, don’t touch it”? This is a consistent phrase I hear when it comes to legacy appliances delivering application services. On top of that, what happens when your [insert vendor name here] expert is not available? Nothing happens, that’s what. If the appliance is so complex that it takes a specialist to run and you avoid touching it at all costs, is that Agility or frAgility?
Upgrades: Time for an upgrade…simple right! Uh, no. Let’s schedule an outage window, notify 15 LOBs and pull 20 people on a bridge at 2 am. What’s worse, we get to do it all again next week for the remaining three pairs that will not get done tonight! Appliance-by-appliance upgrades are very time-consuming and very disruptive which has caused enterprises to avoid upgrading/patching at all costs. Therefore, they are running legacy code, not taking advantage of the latest features and likely stifling innovation. Agility or frAgility?
Automation & Tooling: So, data center transformation is here! Automation is all the rage, and the DevOps mindset is overtaking traditional IT. Virtually all aspects of the stack have evolved to align with the demands of the “new IT.” All, but the appliances delivering our application services. We are still managing individual appliances and provisioning services through IT ticketing systems. Enterprises have built amazing self-service portals that allow their LOB’s to self-provision their applications. What happens when it’s time to apply an updated SSL profile, WAF functionality, multi-site redundancy? Open a ticket and wait a few weeks. Agility or frAgility?
Black Box: Why is the load balancer broken again? When diagnosing an issue, this might be the most common question raised. Enterprises struggle with understanding where a problem is occurring, what resources are affected and even more important, whether the issue is impacting end user performance. IT is tasked with predicting when errors will occur and having infrastructure that can learn and react. Legacy appliances make this very challenging and typically require significant investments in 3rd party tooling or additional personnel analyzing TCP dumps to assist in exposing these data points. The “let’s wait for the phone to ring” or “let’s wait for it to happen again” mentality no longer works. Agility or frAgility?
Blast Radius: I’ve heard this phrase used frequently. “I want to limit my blast radius.” What is the enterprise doing? It is consolidating large subsets of applications into large monolithic chassis based solutions that portend to provide redundancy, segmentation, & flexibility. What happens when there is an issue with that chassis? Many of the above issues apply, only now we are exacerbating the problem as we have all our eggs in one basket. Agility or frAgility?
In summary, the evolution of IT is ongoing. Attempting to Band-Aid legacy technology or allow marketing spin to influence the future of an enterprise’s transformation is a big mistake. New & innovative technology platforms continue to emerge that assist IT in recognizing “True Agility.” They do so by helping enterprises recognize their blind spots and avoid wasteful spending. They do so by aligning product strategy with where the market is headed, not where the highest margins are. They do so by intently listening to the challenges the enterprises are facing and applying those learnings to the very products they provide. Removing the frAgility is not always easy, but what is your alternative?