In part 1 of this series, we discussed the cultural challenges of operating IT according to technology silos. In today’s post, we’ll contemplate why technology silos are a legacy way to organize IT.
What does a data center really do? If you’re a technologist, then your answer to this question is likely that the data center does many different things—and what those tasks may be probably depends on your area of expertise. For instance, a data center delivers lots of packets to many hosts very quickly. A data center stores and retrieves information. A data center houses databases. Energy-conscious folks might note that a data center consumes energy in the forms of cooling and electrical draw.
However accurate each of those perspectives might be, to my way of thinking they all miss the point: A data center is an engine for business.
Who’s Driving What?
We technologists can’t be faulted for thinking of data centers in terms of technology—that’s what we love. But data centers don’t exist for technology alone. They exist to drive the business. If there were no business needs, there would be no data center.
Let’s pause for a moment to envision a data center in terms of an internal combustion engine. In an engine, there are many parts. There is an engine block with cylinders, pistons, cylinder heads, connecting rods, a crankshaft, exhaust headers, a starter motor, spark plugs, a fuel injection system, an oil pump, and more. Connected to that engine are accessories such as the cabin air conditioner, the alternator, and belt tensioner pulley. Some engines might feature a turbo or supercharger. Modern engines are equipped with several computer systems that constant tweak engine inputs and monitor engine outputs.
As car buyers and drivers, do we think about the many systems and individual parts that make up the engine? No—to most of us, it is “that thing under the hood that makes the car go.” So it is with data centers. In business, few people think about the storage systems, virtual servers, hypervisor hosts, Ethernet network, and security infrastructure that are all integral parts of the data center. They think of the data center like most of us think of an engine—that thing behind the secure doors that makes the business go.
Now, perhaps “making the business go” is vague—fair enough. Let’s modify it to agree with business stakeholders and say that the data center “engine” exists to deliver business applications. When all the parts of the data center hum along together, that is precisely what they are doing—delivering applications to business users in such a way that they can get their work done.
Your Favorite Memory
Now, let’s shift gears for a moment and think about the most successful IT project in which you ever participated. My “most successful” project was a data center migration for a payment processing company. During the migration, several teams of people collaborated to forklift hardware and migrate data and applications from one facility to another—all without interrupting service to all the customers relying on us to process financial transactions for them.
Why was this project memorably successful? In my opinion, the project succeeded because individual IT silos worked together to accomplish each project milestone. We had to in order to continue delivering card transactions, facilitate reporting, keep payment gateways available, and just generally keep the engine running. All silos were interdependent. The network team was dependent on the cabling team. The application team was dependent on the infrastructure teams. The server team was dependent on the storage team. We all had to learn a bit about what the other teams did and needed from one another in order to successfully complete each move as it happened. We all worked in the context of application delivery.
An interesting takeaway is that data centers operate as unified wholes, whether we think of them that way or not. To bring this back around to the monitoring of IT infrastructures, our focus should be on monitoring application delivery rather than on siloed infrastructure systems. Monitoring infrastructure is important, to be sure, but the true goal is correlating the data to explain how applications are being delivered. To loop back to the engine analogy, we should never lose sight of our goal—to drive success—because that’s the reason we’re here.
In part 3 of this series, we’ll consider how an IT team that works across technology silos thinks about and monitors applications.