Learning from The Cloud

Anyone selling an on-premises IT solution today is not competing against other on-premises providers.  They’re competing against the public cloud.  The simple, easy to use experience that public cloud vendors provide has altered customer expectations.

If one has to perform a task only occasionally – say every six months – then chances are remembering the details of that task will be difficult when the time comes to perform it.  This is a very real problem in IT today.

Consider, for example, the systems administrator of an organization with 500 users that doesn’t experience a great deal of IT churn.  They may only have to log into their switches to make changes every six months.  This doesn’t really allow much opportunity for the commands used to stick in their memory.

Each time the systems administer goes to make changes, it could take them quite a bit of fumbling around with help commands to find the right syntax to make the changes they require.  This is annoying and something of a time sink.  In general there are two solutions to the problem: automation and ease of use.

Automation is a natural fit for IT.  As a general rule, people are lazy, and IT practitioners are professionally lazy.  Their job is – at least in part – to automate mundane tasks.  If a task has to be repeated more than twice then it is probably worth automating that task.  This is especially true if the task to be repeated doesn’t occur regularly.

Not everything can be automated, however, and this is why ease of use in technology is important.  If one only has to periodically interact with a technology then a solution that is easy to use is preferred over one that isn’t.

Ease of Use Versus Cost

The public cloud has made the above the central issue of the entire IT industry.  Anyone with a credit card and a few minutes can create a virtual machine or subscribe to a Software as a Service (SaaS) application for an entire organization.  There’s no need to install hardware, submit provisioning requests to IT, or wait on a human being to make changes.

The automation and ease of use that makes the public cloud what it is seems amazing, until the bill comes due.  Subscription costs add up quick.  It doesn’t take organizations that engage with the public cloud long to start looking for ways to cut lower their costs.  An entire industry has emerged around exactly that, with many organizations eventually looking to bring workloads back on-premises.

Once one has seen what the public cloud can do, however, returning to traditional on-premises IT designs and methodologies is unpalatable.  Time consuming and/or labour-intensive processes are now unacceptable.  Both IT vendors and IT teams are under pressure to deliver an experience rivalling the public cloud’s ease of use without the crushing costs.

Hyperconvergence Eliminates Layers

Fortunately, vendors are evolving.  Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) is a great example of a technology category that is enabling organizations of all sizes to reduce their IT burden in a cost efficient manner.

The basic premise of HCI is folding storage, virtualization, backups, disaster recovery and at least part of networking into a single product.  In and of itself, this already reduces an organization’s IT burden by eliminating the need for multiple systems administrators to be involved in the provisioning process for new workloads.

With HCI, a single systems administrator can provision and deploy workloads quickly using a single user interface.  The better designed HCI solutions include a great deal of automation.  Monitoring, high availability, load balancing and more are simply handled by the product without anyone having to think about it.  No nerd knobs to twiddle, no obscure command-line syntax to remember, and all at a price that even the smallest organizations can afford.

Moving Focus Higher Up the Stack

The public cloud’s attraction lies in the fact that individuals can order solutions without having to worry about the underlying tech.  In short, public cloud customers are free to focus what the technology they’re engaging is supposed to do, rather than how it accomplishes the goal.  This is also true of HCI.

Not everyone is ready to go “all in” on the cloud.  Some organizations do better with a capex model for financing.  Others have workloads that need to communicate with on-premises equipment, and find the cost of WAN connectivity would be punitive if those workloads were running in the public cloud.  The reasons vary, but on-premises IT unlikely to disappear in the near term.

Despite this, it is quickly becoming clear that change in how on-premises IT is run is necessary to maintain business advantage.  HCI is part of that change.  A great HCI solution is one that has learned the lessons of the public cloud: automate as much as possible and make what can’t be automated easy to use.  Thankfully, in this day and age, customers looking to evolve their on-premises IT are spoiled for choice.

Trevor Pott
Trevor.p@egeek.ca

Trevor Pott is a full-time nerd from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He splits his time between systems administration, technology writing, and consulting. As a consultant he helps Silicon Valley start-ups better understand systems administrators and how to sell to them.



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