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Clouds will be tough to manage without control

With virtualization becoming mainstream, managing a server sprawl is becoming a huge challenge for CIOs. Peter Edwards, Executive Consultant—Integrated Service Management, APAC, IBM shares his perspective on how service management and frameworks like ITIL can play an important role in solving this issue.

Being in the industry for so long, what kind of changes you have observed in the IT space since the mainframe era?

When I started in the industry, it was highly centralized. Everything in an organization ran on either a Mainframe or something like a HP 3000. That was the first generation of computing which was dominated by IBM. Then came the PC and Wintel server era that was dominated by Intel and Microsoft. It changed the whole model as it previously took months to request a new service. The PC environment brought down cost, provision stuff a lot quicker, provided a lot more of computing resources to the users but then things started growing exponentially. It started to get more and more difficult to manage the environment.

We are now moving into the era of mobile computing -- an era of iPads, iPhones, Android, cloud computing. This is the mobile era and it’s going to be interesting to see who will emerge as the strongest player in this environment. Google, Amazon and even Apple are out there as interesting providers in this environment. It is truly changing the way IT works.

To look at it, from the mainframe era to today’s era, we have moved from a highly centralized environment to a highly decentralized environment. Today you are talking of billion of devices that have the potential of being a part of the IT environment. As a CIO, you will end up thinking on how do I manage this environment? With hundreds and hundreds of servers, people are not being able to manage them and are looking back at highly virtualized mainframes or other consolidated platforms. Many organizations see cost benefits from starting to consolidate things back.

How do you define integrated service management? How does IBM achieve this?

For many years, CIOs are buying the boxes and software and putting it together. That works for a limited period of time. The box that is going in is hopefully tested and the applications that go in are hopefully tested. But then the question is have you managed your quality time, have you delivered IT services into the business that offer quality and efficiency. And that’s where service management really comes in.

ITIL is a process framework that sits in the middle of integrated service management. Tivoli then brings in all the tools that sit across the process framework. So when IBM talks about integrated service management, it is looking at both the processes and the tools and looking at it from the perspective of making a business sense out of it. IT dashboards have been around for a long time but it is also important to integrate it with some business aspects so that it is not just IT staring at its name.

How has cloud computing changed the service management?

I think people are not yet thinking about how to actually manage the cloud services over time. Cloud brings in a whole new set of management changes and risks. As cloud services are typically outside your environment, they are changing more dynamically, bringing about questions around security, capacity management, availability management and finance management.

While we have moved from a CAPEX model to more of an OPEX model, how do you manage that OPEX from blowing out of control is a big question because you have got people who are potentially just requesting more and more services.

In IBM, for many years, we had the ability to request team loads which get provisioned automatically. But for that you need to have all the systems and processes in place to make sure that you are actually managing the cloud. With automatic provisioning, you need to ensure that you have the capacity, the availability, and the OPEX managed and the security intact. I think the cloud is incredibly exciting and offers incredible potential but for those of us who have been in the industry long enough, we would start saying that this could be scary to manage.

For many years, the business of the IT industry is to come out with the next killer solution that the business would love. The big promise of outsourcing was to reduce the IT cost. I personally get a bit skeptically that start from bringing cost under control unless the CIO genuinely sticks to the promise of bringing the cost under control. Unfortunately many CIOs say they are going to bring cost under control but they actually use it as a nice story to get approvals from the CEO. I think it is genuinely possible to reduce cost through cloud but the CIO needs to remain very focused and need to make tough decisions because sometimes this may mean firing some people. At other times, this would mean moving to newer locations and sometimes it may mean consolidating and making tougher architectural decisions.

Reducing cost is really tough and there is no silver bullet to that. The CIO needs to have people who understand what the financial costs are about. You need to have some financial analyst sitting next to the CIO when he is talking about consolidating the data centers, reducing the staff and changing service providers. Cloud will not reduce cost if a CIO sits back and just says that the cloud would reduce cost. You need to be ferocious about reducing costs.

Are there any new changes in ITIL and ITSM related to cloud?

There is an organization called the IT service management forum or ITSMF, which is a global IT society that specializes in service management best practices. It is the professional society that specializes in ITIL and related service management frameworks. There is an ITSMF chapter in India as well. ITSMF is heavily involved in the continual updating of ITIL. While there is a refresh taking place in ITIL, there is nothing specific to cloud in ITIL because ITIL basically lays out best practices but then it isn’t specific to any specific environment. If a user is experiencing difficulty in using an IT service, ITIL tells him this is what you should do.

When you start to talk about specific platforms like cloud, that’s when the vendors start to come in. Increasingly, there is a growth in intellectual property processes around virtualization and cloud. For example, around 1.5 years back, I was working with an Australian bank where they were virtualizing their environment and moving to the x86 platform. That was the first step towards cloud. They were asking how do we manage demand over a virtualized environment on the cloud, how do we manage architectural issues because as you provide cloud environments, you could quickly find yourself in a situation of anarchy because it becomes so easy to provision a server that after an year you’ll find thousands of virtual servers all over the place and you get into duplication of IT services. Having said that, virtualization and cloud have great potential but the danger is that if you provision things too quickly, you can have serious architectural issues and you can start finding that you’ve got duplicated IT services, you’ve got test and development that are running our of control. That’s where an integrated service management comes into control to make sure that nothing runs out of control.

When you talk about over provisioning, isn’t it specific only to private clouds as de-provisioning can be done easily in public clouds?

De-provisioning becomes easy only when you assume that there are architects and analysts who are monitoring what’s going on in public clouds. If you are looking at the config management system, you need to look if it is only working internally or is it also monitoring what goes out in the public cloud. You need to have visibility, control and automation. For visibility and control aspects of the cloud, you need to make sure that they extend to the external resources that you are using.