Agile IT has been widely heralded (and equally widely decried) as a way to align the pace of change in IT with the pace of change in the broader business.
At its core, Agile IT is making the very basic point that if in house IT cannot keep pace with the business there are a rapidly increasing number of cloud and SaaS providers for whom that is not a problem.
In short, IT must innovate around time to market or die a death of a thousand credit card cuts as individual developers outsource the IT they need to Amazon and other public cloud providers.
But what is the core activity that drives the shift to agility? Most often this shift is characterized as a vat migration to cloud. This is true, but it misses the key driver of IT agility: orchestration.
How Orchestration Drives The Cloud
IT automation deals with performing a particular task, such as setting up a single compute node. IT orchestration manages execution of multiple, interdependent tasks. For example, an orchestration workflow manage dependencies such as the need install a database before installing an app.
A cloud without effective orchestration is more like a demo - if it works at all, it is likely to break the first time the need arises to update the apps, data or infrastructure supporting that cloud. Key areas of focus for cloud orchestration include:
- Reference architecture - any orchestration solution must start with a clear understanding of how the pieces fit together, particularly to guarantee reliability at a specific scale and set of workloads.
- OS patching - far from being a settled capability, OS patching remain more of a dark art than a science. While patching itself is straightforward, for every 100 servers patched, several will not reboot properly, causing cascading faults across the cloud. Next-gen computing companies like CoreOS are offering some innovative approaches to solving the OS patching problem.
- Infrastructure lifecycle management - OpenStack upgrades are notoriously challenging and one of the reasons companies like Mirantis have achieved such success in helping customers build and manage large OpenStack installations.
- Application lifecycle management - a cloud is only as valuable as the applications running on it. Orchestration and DevOps is needed at the application, infrastructure and OS level.
How to Get To Agile IT
Here are a few hints to simplify the task of building an orchestration-first cloud:
- Usage drives design - Understand intended usage (workloads and scale) before you design the architecture. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” cloud - the cloud architecture is dictated by its intended use.
- Don’t skimp on designing and testing the reference architecture - understand what happens to network, storage and compute at scale running realistic workloads. Work through failure scenarios (think chaos monkey) and ensure that HA and DR work under real-world conditions
- Don’t just automate, orchestrate - while small, pilot clouds can be managed with manual processes and single-node automation, large, production-quality clouds require a significant investment in multi-node orchestration and change management.
- Address organizational and business process disruptions up front. Understand the impact of cloud on individual IT roles/responsibilities, career paths and opportunities for advancement