IT ops paves the way for agile

DevOps and agility requirements are putting immense pressure on the IT ops team.

There is an incredible amount of noise around software development these days, and quite rightly - without it, there is no application economy. But, another major question that should be asked is: "Is IT ops just about keeping the lights on?"

Well, to answer this question, I must tackle the enemy of IT, which is complexity, and it comes in a variety of shapes and forms.

A Freeform Dynamics 2016 survey of 400 IT professionals across Europe, the Middle East and Africa looked at the evolution of demands and challenges, and how IT ops teams in medium and large companies respond. People were interviewed from large and midsized companies; IT strategists accounted for more than 50% of those interviewed, plus IT specialists across a variety of vertical markets.

To ensure the study had a deep understanding of the correlation between the responses and the importance of IT for the people interviewed, the work started with a few simple statements that revealed startling results. For example, 82% strongly agreed that IT is critical for companies to differentiate and compete, and 84% felt most of their major business initiatives have a significant IT component to them. Seventy-five percent agreed that effective competition requires enabling the best digital customer experience.

So, if that's the case, why are IT ops professionals taking strain?

The answer should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Under pressure

The pressure from dev and agile practices was reported by 68% of the senior IT professionals surveyed as the most important reasons for the pressure felt by IT ops. Escalating compute requirements was stated by 92% of respondents to be a major reason for the pressure, and 80% thought managing rapid software release and deployment, and co-ordinating on-premises and cloud activities, added to the bonfire. These reasons can't necessarily be controlled; they are simply things that happen because IT ops does more now than ever before.

Limited knowledge is an important reason for complexity.

Many people interviewed said their IT Infrastructure was unavoidably complex. What's causing this complexity? One would think in a world where the expectation is to complete tasks more quickly and efficiently, it would make sense for IT complexity to be reduced as much as possible. Therefore, what conditions can be controlled that are currently left unchecked?

Limited knowledge is an important reason for complexity. People choose technologies they know - either open source or otherwise - which are not necessarily the best options for corporate IT.

Poor communications and a lack of balanced influence from stakeholders are also factors. Monitoring and management is an ongoing challenge. And these are disciplines that have been mastered for decades already, so why is this such a big issue?

Cloud and data security - protecting data in the cloud - is a significant challenge.

But, there are many more findings that have an impact on IT complexity, and these include: mergers and acquisitions; a bad mix of skills and experience; chasing the cheapest option; the desire to use the latest technology; and even poor procurement disciplines. These are all challenges that can be faced and resolved.

Operational management capability

Enterprise IT ops is about monitoring and managing the complex environments in today's enterprises, but the IT team needs the processes and tools to do this.

Inefficiencies can arise because of outdated or inadequate tooling, for example, or because of excessive reliance on manual processing. Whatever the cause, the results include: high overheads; more mistakes and a slower response to change. Just as with infrastructure complexity, there are overarching aggravating factors coming into play as monitoring and management capabilities are considered from a higher-level perspective.

Why some companies do better than others

Rationally, one would think there are reasons why some companies are doing better. The Freeform Dynamics study segmented companies into three distinct groups: high achievers; mixed achievers and under achievers.

Once the performance groups were identified, respondents were determined to be above or below average in relation to infrastructure standardisation and monitoring management capabilities. Results showed high achievers are much more likely to have made efforts on infrastructure consistency, and tended to have superior monitoring and management capabilities in place.

However, it is important to keep things in perspective. Aiming for a totally standardised infrastructure and the perfect set of processes and tooling is unrealistic. An enterprise IT environment is, and always will be, in constant flux, and this is an essential part of keeping up with business demands and market opportunities in today's digital world.

Against this background, the way an enterprise or a company acts will depend on its current position. If parts of the environment have drifted into a particularly chaotic or unnecessarily complex state, for whatever reason, then consolidation and modernisation work will often pay back convincingly. This can be especially true if the technology team is coming under increasing pressure to cut overheads, innovate more, improve service levels, availability and performance, reduce operational risk, and generally become more responsive. It can be hard to find the time and resources to spend on such exercises, but if an important part of the IT environment is highly fragmented or dependent on old or obsolete technology, then it will continue to hold the business back until the issues are addressed.

Success with digital business requires the delivery of good customer experiences. It does not solely hinge on offering appealing mobile apps and Web interfaces, but also on backend systems that are fast, reliable and secure, and flexible enough to keep pace with modern DevOps delivery.

The evidence is abundant that IT ops is most certainly about keeping the lights on, but it is also as mission-critical as the ops in DevOps, in terms of the success or failure of a business operating in the digitally demanding application economy.

Jaco Greyling
Chief technical officer, DevOps, at CA Southern Africa.

Greyling has been building complex infrastructure solutions for over a decade. He joined UBS Investment Bank in 2000, where he helped to build the first e-commerce Web infrastructure for UBS in partnership with Savvis. In 2002, he joined the Middleware Technology Services’ Distributed Infrastructure Solutions team, responsible for over 500 application servers globally. In 2005, he joined Equities IT, charged with developing various infrastructure solutions, also forming part of the SSENG design team responsible for the infrastructure architecture and environment specification. In 2006, he became the Equities IT service delivery manager for distributed platforms. In this role, he was responsible for application delivery throughout the software development lifecycle. In 2010, he joined CA Southern Africa in the capacity of solution strategist specialising in application performance monitoring solutions. In 2012, he was tasked with driving CA Southern Africa’s application delivery strategy.

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