IT Operations: Coping with Cloud
You’ll find no shortage of blog posts and thought pieces about how cloud computing has forever changed the IT landscape. The topic is usually addressed in an “adapt or die” argument: cloud is coming for your on-prem applications, and without applications in your data center, there’s no need for IT operations. You’ll encounter terms like “dinosaur” and “curmudgeon” when bloggers refer to IT professionals who have decades of experience in the data center, but have not yet mastered the skills necessary to manage a hybrid or cloud-native environment. It’s a bit self-serving. While it’s partially true that cloud will drastically change how your Ops staff go about their work day, the notion that on-prem IT is dead is a bit much.
At least for now.
While you could opt to continue about your day managing on-prem like cloud is just a fad (remember when that was the overwhelming sentiment in the mid-2000s?), you’d be wise to use this time to determine if your IT operations staff is structured to facilitate a pivot to the cloud. The journey from IT Ops to No-Ops is a long one, but rest assured, it will happen. So how do you get your intrepid Ops teams ready?
OMG NO MOAR SILOS
Dividing operations teams into groups based on common technical skillsets and resources is a deceptive practice when it comes to cloud. In many cases, these silos are the result of contracting preferences: many large organizations find it easy to contract for a specific skillset (e.g., let’s hire a company to handle and monitor our Windows servers). That contract is then managed by a single manager who simply refers to the team as “the Windows team.” Or maybe your mainframe days are not too far in the distance, and the big iron crowd referred pejoratively to the new IT staff as “the Windoze team,” and it stuck. A decade or two later, and you find yourself with the familiar silos: Windows, storage, network.
This is not an unreasonable approach to managing legacy on-prem. But it does get complicated when you layer on abstraction technologies like virtualization. And it gets absolutely bonkers when you go hybrid IT. Don’t believe me? Take your most experienced storage engineer and put her in front of the Google Cloud Storage console for the first time. Suddenly, all that experience and knowledge of storage protocols and disk partitioning strategies becomes irrelevant. Successfully managing cloud storage is an exercise in working directly with your development teams, becoming fluent in their development and deployment practices, and ceding control of the storage infrastructure to a cloud service provider.
The same is true for staff who may find themselves provisioning Kubernetes (that’s k8s for the cool kids) pods after deploying on-prem VMs for a decade. The very nature of provisioning resources in any cloud is an application-centric endeavor; it’s time to let go of the VM as the ideal unit of abstraction. We don’t have the problems in the cloud that pushed us to x86 virtualization in the data center.
One option is to shake up your teams a bit, and look to Agile team-building practices to guide your transition. Look beyond the eye-rolling crowd here; not everyone likes Agile and nearly everyone has a bad story about a failed shift. Build teams that cover the whole spectrum of your IT needs, and give those teams time to gel. Forming, storming, and norming are essential to achieve that sought-after team stage of performing.
By decoupling your teams from discrete IT resources, you’re encouraging a culture change that’s essential to adopting cloud.
Training for the Cloud
IT Ops veterans acquire a wealth of knowledge about more than just how the IT works in your organization: they have perfect knowledge of finding points of failure in systems, and how to design around those failures. They have intimate knowledge of your applications, and know which ones are more politically sensitive than others. And their diagnostic and troubleshooting skills are second to none. These are the exact skillsets you want in a cloud engineer, as these skills are not specific to on-prem infrastructure. With the right training, your staff can easily adopt cloud services. For example, a systems engineer who knows that you never put all of your VMs in a single chassis would quickly realize that you should never put all of your cloud VMs in a single region. Encouraging your on-prem staff to become familiar with the lexicon of cloud monitoring will make your journey to the cloud that much simpler.
Make Mistakes in Cloud Labs
Most CSPs provide free or low-cost access to lab environments so your staff can get acquainted with the UX of the cloud management console. Or you may allocate some budget to each of your IT ops staff to use in the provisioning of various cloud microservices. Whatever your method, give your Ops staff a safe place to make mistakes. They surely will, and you want those mistakes to be isolated from your production environment. Your staff will gain valuable first-hand experience with these new tools.
Just the Beginning
It’s folly to believe you can describe how to prepare your Ops teams for the cloud with just a few ideas. The transition to cloud is a journey, as they say. That word is carefully selected to reflect the long and arduous nature of moving from all on-prem to hybrid IT. Don’t expect your staff to simply become site reliability engineers overnight. Give them time and the resources to adapt and grow.