Maintaining Control in a Self-Service Enterprise

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

Cloud Forecast: Where It's Been and Where It's Heading

The enterprise is firmly on board with scale-out, cloud-facing infrastructure and is now turning to automation and system intelligence to make it as user-friendly as possible.

But when it comes to supporting self-service functionality for things like resource provisioning and deployment, there is often a slight bit of hesitation before the front office pulls the trigger. This is understandable because the powers that be need to keep tabs on both the cost of data operations and the security and other risks that data is exposed to as it traverses distributed environments.

Public cloud providers, of course, have no qualms about self-service because, frankly, it’s not their data. And users are already gravitating more toward the flexible environments that the cloud provides for vital applications like business intelligence. According to a recent study that Forbes Insights conducted for Qlik, 64 percent of IT and business pros say that self-service data analysis offers a significant competitive advantage over traditional methods. And the same percentage says that the expansion of self-service capabilities in the enterprise will take place due to formal initiatives in the enterprise and bottom-up pressure from the rank and file.

Indeed, now that the self-service genie out of the bottle, there is no going back. Emerging platform providers like BlueData are showing that self-service is not only preferable in areas like Big Data and the IoT, but critical. The company recently teamed up with hyperconverged infrastructure developer Nutanix to provide an integrated analytics solution that puts infrastructure deployment and configuration tools in the hands of users, not IT. In this way, the company says it can reduce costs by 75 percent and cut deployment times down from days or weeks to just minutes. And with cloud-like functionality at their disposal, users are less likely to contribute to shadow IT by deploying on unauthorized cloud infrastructure.

Naturally, this will not sit well with those whose job it is to deploy and manage infrastructure. But with the proper outlook and adequate retraining, there is no reason why today’s IT administrator cannot thrive in an automated, self-service enterprise, says Rob Whiteley, vice president of marketing at software-defined storage developer Hedvig. At the moment, he sees two distinct career paths for admins: a DevOps path that forges the link between infrastructure and applications, and an analytics path that provides insight into how infrastructure can be optimized to support the business process. Both paths will require retraining on tools like Python and Hadoop, but since when has the life of an IT professional not involved constant exposure to new technologies and new ways of working?

For the enterprise, though, there is a fine line between fostering greater autonomy among users and giving up control of data and infrastructure altogether. So the perennial challenge will be to foster the highest level of productivity without risking high-value data assets. According to Meghna Reddy, ITSM evangelist for ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus, this is a tricky dance, but not impossible. It starts with building an informative self-service portal in which the user has a high degree of independence but remains firmly within the confines of a thoroughly fleshed-out governance model. As well, the portal should be easy to use with multiple templates for popular architectures, as well as seamless log-in and full navigation, tracking and search functions. A solid knowledge base is also a must, since it allows users to solve their own problems quickly and easily and frees up IT to concentrate on higher-level strategic and architectural initiatives.

A self-service data environment does not impart upon the user the right to do anything at any time with enterprise data or resources. Rather, it allows people to complete their assigned tasks quickly and easily without having to navigate a lot of bureaucratic red tape.

And in most cases, IT will find that people are not interested in experimenting with unknown configurations and architectural constructs – they just want to get better at their jobs.

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.

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