image Gear shifting in a modern car is a highly virtualized application nowadays. Whether you’re driving a stick or an automatic, it is certainly not the same as your great grandaddy’s shifting (assuming he owned a car). The huge difference between a stick and an automatic is how much work the operator has to perform to get the job done. In the case of an automatic, the driver sets the car up correctly (putting it into drive as opposed to one of the other gears), and then forgets about it other than depressing and releasing the gas and brake pedals. A small amount of up-front effort followed by blissful ignorance – until the transmission starts slipping anyway. In a stick, the driver has much more granular control of the shifting mechanism, but is required to pay attention to dials and the feel of the car, while operating both pedals and the shifting mechanism.

Two different solutions with two different strengths and weaknesses. Manual transmissions are much more heavily influenced by the driver, both in terms of operating efficiency (gas mileage, responsiveness, etc) and longevity (a careful driver can keep the clutch from going bad for a very long time, a clutch-popping driver can destroy those pads in near-zero time). Automatic transmissions are less overhead day-to-day, but don’t offer the advantages of a stick.

This is the same type of trade-off you have to ask about the goals of your next generation architecture. I’ve touched on this before, and no doubt others have too, but it is worth calling out as its own blog. Are you implementing virtualization and/or cloud technologies to make IT more responsive to the needs of the user, or are you implementing them to give users “put it in drive and don’t worry about it” control over their own application infrastructure?

The difference is huge, and the two may have some synergies, but they’re certainly not perfectly complimentary. In the case of making IT more responsive, you want to give your operators a ton of dials and whistles to control the day-to-day operations of applications and make certain that load is distributed well and all applications are responsive in a manner keeping with business requirements. In the case of push-button business provisioning, you want to make the process bullet-proof and not require user interaction. It is a different world to say “It is easy for businesses to provision new applications.” (yes, I do know the questions that statement spawns, but there are people doing it anyway – more in a moment) than it is to say “Our monitoring and virtual environment give us the ability to guarantee uptime and shift load to the servers/locales/geographies that make sense.”

While you can do the second as a part of the first, they do not require each other, and unless you know where you’re going, you won’t ever get there.

Some of you have been laughing since I first mentioned giving business the ability to provision their own applications. Don’t. There are some very valid cases where this is actually the answer that makes the most sense. Anyone reading this that works at a University knows that this is the emerging standard model for the student virtualization efforts. Let students provision a gazillion servers, because they know what they need, and University IT could never service all of the requests. Then between semesters, wipe the virtual arrays clean and start over. The early results show that for the university model, this is a near-perfect solution. For everyone not at a university, there are groups within your organization capable of putting up applications - a content management server for example - without IT involvement… Except that IT controls the hardware. If you gave them single-button ability to provision a standard image, they may well be willing to throw up their own application. There are still a ton of issues, security and DB access come to mind, but I’m pointing out that there are groups with the desire who believe they have the ability, if IT gets out of their way. Are you aiming to serve them? If so, what do you do for less savvy groups within the organization or those with complex application requirements that don’t know how much disk space or how many instances they’ll need?

For increasing IT agility, we’re ready to start that move today. Indeed, virtualization was the start of increasing IT’s responsiveness to business needs, and we’re getting more and more technology on-board to cover the missing pieces of agile infrastructure. By making your infrastructure as adaptable as your VM environment, you can leverage the strategic points of control built into your network to handle ADC functionality, security, storage virtualization, and WAN Optimization to make sure that traffic keeps flowing and your network doesn’t become the bottleneck. You can also leverage the advanced reporting that comes from sitting in one of those strategic points of control to foresee problem areas or catch them as they occur, rather than waiting for user complaints.

image Most of us are going for IT agility in the short term, but it is worth considering if, for some users, one-click provisioning wouldn’t reduce IT overhead and let you focus on new strategic projects. Giving user groups access to application templates and raw VM images configured for some common applications they might need is not a 100% terrible idea if they can use them with less involvement from IT than is currently the case.

Meanwhile, watch this space, F5 is one of the vendors driving the next generation of network automation, and I’ll mention it when cool things are going on here. Or if I see something cool someone else is doing, I occasionally plug it here, like I did for Cirtas when they first came out, or Oracle Goldengate.

Make a plan. Execute on it. Stand ready to serve the business in the way that makes the most sense with the least time investment from your already busy staff.

And listen to a lot of loud music, it lightens the stress level.

I was listening to ZZ Top and Buckcherry writing this. Maybe that says something, I don’t quite know.