The rigid flexibility of modern IT

May 9, 2010

Mike Laverick’s ‘stupid IT’ series ( http://bit.ly/bY5vxS ) which I liked a lot, inspired me to write this post. But this one isn’t directly related to IT stupidity. Instead, it’s more about the great flexibility that comes with modern IT technologies, and the chaos, panic, and disasters that ‘old-style-IT-guys’ create by not grasping the potential and understanding the inner dynamics of these new multi-dimensional environments.

‘Multiple dimensions’ is one key factor here, the other one being flexibility in those dimensions. Many IT environments have multiple dimensions, and those dimensions are there for a reason: they address specific requirements, and have unique features that involve planning, managing, monitoring, etc in a very specific way. Each dimension of course is part of a whole, and ‘control’ is what you get when you understand and manage ‘the whole thing’ ( this is ‘governance’, in the parlance of our times 😉 ).

A quick example: storage systems are multi-dimensional in their very nature, even if some single-neuron/single-threaded/mono-dimension IT guys think that storage=bunch of rotating rust that it’s supposed to hold data, eventually. Dimensions here are: protection level (raid), throughput (iops), bandwidth (gbps), scalability, tiering capabilities (automated or not), just to name a few. Add to that storage-related functions, such as SANs or replication, and a whole lot of new dimensions come into play, with varying degrees of impact in the overall architecture.

Some may argue that this multi-dimensional nature leads inevitably to complexity. I do believe that it mostly leads to flexibility (and coolness, but that’s the geek in me speaking). Flexibility is imho what makes an architecture really succesful, as it allows for change and growth when your business requirement vary: that’s why enterprise architectures exist, after all.

Flexibility comes at a cost, indeed: enterprise architectures force you to think in many ways at the same time, and require that you understand the need of careful planning, operating and monitoring the whole thing, to keep it current and aligned to business goals/requirements. That’s where the ‘rigid flexibility’ comes from: the multi-dimensional nature is there, whether you want it or not. It’s up to you to get the whole picture and transform flexibility into business advantage (or instead take everything for granted and prepare to suffer massive pain 😉 ).

I had the luck of living the growth of such an architecture, from the very basic needs (few standalone servers) up to a mature environment (consolidated storage, replication, D/R-B/C, virtualization, and so on). That allowed me to deal with one (well, sometimes more than one) dimension at a time, and to fit the new scenarios in the whole design.

I like to think that one of my tasks is to keep up to date with technology and with business requirements, so that both keep converging. If I look back on what we’ve done with our architecture, it has really been an evolving journey towards flexibility. Accordingly, the ‘rigid flexibility’ I mentioned is a good thing imho, since it forced us to broaden our thinking instead of letting us choose some shorter (and maybe simpler) path.

Obviously, pushing towards the cutting/bleeding edge isn’t always well accepted by coworkers and users (I don’t really understand the need to sit and watch as most do, but I take it as a component of the whole environment), but by taking the risk of braking some eggs, I saw a good number of pretty made omelettes.
Actually, the way of knowing which eggs you should break, is knowledge, again. The more you know your architecture, the products and solutions the world has to offer (and where they’re going, too), the more succesful you can be in planning and designing your own evolution. That’s why plan & design is soooo crucial nowadays (and that’s why a VCDX is a killer figure 🙂 ). Sure, flexibility allows for remediation, but that’s something you’d like to avoid if possible, right?

Ironically, what I’m seeing lately is that while there are some great vendors that show clearly their faith and endorsement in innovation, some others are actually pulling the handbrake and slowing things down, unacceptably. This is done by applying ridicoulus/anachronistic licensing or support policies (yes, ORCL, I’m talking to you), or throwing tons of FUD against mainstream/leading technologies such as virtualization.

While this pisses me off (A LOT), I use to take a deep breath and try to remind myself that this is evolution. Evolution will allow those that embrace flexibility and innovation to succeed, and at the same time will leave in the dust those sitting on their golden support contracts and once-shining technology.

So, dear vendor, since I have no intention of standing still, you better do the same… Or I’ll look elsewhere
>:-D

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