Everyone wants to be agile these days. In fact, agile is now considered essential for survival in the emerging service-driven economy, and this has stoked fear in larger organizations that have invested years, if not decades, in building the monolithic data environments that are anathema to agility.
But even as the enterprise comes to accept the “adapt or perish” mindset that is the first step in digital transformation, it is important to note that agility is not only dependent upon an abstract, cloud-based infrastructure but changes to processes, business models, and the very fabric of the organizational culture.
In terms of software development, agility actually dates back to mid-century when engineers at IBM and Motorola needed a more efficient and effective means of leveraging these amazing new machines called computers, says AltexSoft CEO Alex Medovoy. Since then, a number of methodologies have emerged to extend agility from small teams to large-scale organizations, but they all require a significant commitment from management to overcome the inertia that inevitably builds up around long-standing practices. In the end, though, agile development deployed at scale can accelerate innovation by as much as 80 percent.
While agility does not spring from virtual infrastructure on its own, it is fair to say that it is very difficult to achieve within a static, silo-laden data center. This is why organizations should be working overtime to convert key resources, such as storage, to more agile, software-defined architectures, says Shachar Fienblit, CTO of Kaminario. For starters, organizations should work toward establishing consistent performance across unpredictable workloads, in part by deploying a means to scale capacity and performance independently. Without this, the enterprise must maintain massively over-provisioned infrastructure in order to meet increasingly demanding user requirements. As well, storage infrastructure must have the ability to incorporate new technologies, like Flash media, without disrupting existing processes.
Agile is also next to impossible without new networking and network management, says William T. Cannon, CEO of Monolith Software. In many cases, organizations are trying to build service-based architectures using systems that were created at the turn of the millennium, before many of today’s services, and even the virtual layer they reside in, were even conceived. What’s needed is an overarching Service Assurance Manager of Managers (MoM) that provides end-to-end visibility across operational and business support systems by accessing device-level interfaces for both data-centric and virtualized assets. At the same time, it should provide runbook automation capabilities for real-time service assurance and provisioning.
Indeed, don’t underestimate the power of automation in support of agile infrastructure, says IBM’s Osai Osaigbovo. In fact, with infrastructure resources increasingly being provisioned as code, it will be nonsensical not to incorporate this into the agile Dev/Ops model along with everything else needed to support the product. Not only does it speed up the development and deployment process, it provides for a more consistent service environment across the board, allowing multiple services to work together, even learn from each other, in a coordinated manner. Systems like Chef, Ansible and IBM’s Cloud Orchestrator are only the first step in the transformation, however. They will need to be supplemented by release orchestration management, plus security and governance tools, to ensure that the automation stack is in tune with evolving processes and workflows.
Creating the agile enterprise is kind of like building the perfect house; there is always room for improvement. This is why most organizations will adopt agility as a never-ending strategy rather than an operational goal.
Agile infrastructure can help the enterprise lay the groundwork for agile development, but meaningful transition relies on more than just technology. It will take time, effort and, most of all, vision before you start to see successful outcomes, and in the meantime, get ready for a fair amount of griping about how much better things were in the old days.
What IT leaders need to keep in mind, however, is that the old way of managing data and infrastructure is holding the enterprise back, and it is a burden that nimble, service-driven start-ups do not carry.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.