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Archive for the ‘Provisioning Toolchain’ Category

Automated Infrastructure enables Agile Operations

Automated Infrastructure enables Agile Operations


Alex Honor / 

Agile” been applied to such unanticipated domains as enterprises, start ups, investing, etc. Agile encompasses several generic common sense principles (eg: simple design, sustainable pace, many incremental changes, action over bureaucracy, etc.) so the desire to bestow its virtues on all kinds of endeavors is understandable.

But why contemplate the idea of Agile Operations? Why would Agile Operations even make sense?

Let’s start by playing devils advocate. Some of the Agile principles appear to contradict well established and accepted systems administration goals, namely stability and availability. Traditional culture in operations leans towards risk-aversion and stasis in an attempt to assure maximum service levels. Many operations groups play a centralized role serving multiple business lines and have evolved to follow a top-down directed, command and control style management structure that wants to limit access to change. From their point of view, change is the enemy of stability and availability. With stability and availability being the primary goals of operations, it’s easy to see where the skepticism towards Agile Operations comes from.

The calls for Agile Operations has initially been driven by product development groups that employ Agile practices . These groups churn out frequent, small improvements to their software systems on a daily basis. The difference in change management philosophy has been the cause of a growing clash between development and operations. The clash intensifies when the business wants to drive these rapid product development iterations all the way through to production (even 10+ times a day).

So, if operations is to avoid being a bottleneck to this Agile empowered flow of product changes, how can they do it in a way that won’t create unmanageable chaos?

To apply Agile to the world of operations, one must first see all infrastructure as programmable. Rather than see infrastructure as islands of equipment that were setup by reading a manual and typing commands into a terminal, one sees infrastructure as a set of components that are bootstrapped and maintained through programs. In other words, infrastructure is managed by executing code not by directly applying changes manually at the keyboard.

Replacing manual tasks with executable code is the crucial enabler to sharing a common set of change management principles between development and operations. This alignment is truly the key first step in allying development and operations to support the business’ time to market needs. This shared change management model also facilitates a few additional beneficial practices.

  • Shared code bases: Store and control application and infrastructure code in the same place so both dev and ops staff have clear visibility into everything needed to create a running service.
  • Collaborative configuration management: Application and infrastructure configuration management code can be jointly developed early in the development cycle and tested in development integration environments. Code and configuration become the currency between dev and ops.
  • Skill transfer: App and ops engineers can transfer knowledge about the inner workings of the runtime application system and develop skills around tooling to maintain them.
  • Reproducibility: Reproducing a running application from source and a build specification is vital to managing a business at scale. (

While some may argue that “Agile” in its entirety does not completely apply to the world of operations, an automated infrastructure based on principles like code sharing as a form of collaboration between dev and ops is a sound basis to enable business agility.


Clouds, Virtualization, and Continuous Deployment all share the same achilles heal

Clouds, Virtualization, and Continuous Deployment all share the same achilles heal


Damon Edwards / 

Recently, there are 3 “hot trends” that we regularly get asked about in our day jobs as web operations consultants:


  • Cloud Computing (meaning elastic computing resources paid for on-demand)
  • Virtualization in Production (meaning using virtual machines for non-development or QA uses)
  • Continuous Deployment (meaning the ability to automatically deploy and test a full environment automatically after each and every build that comes out of their Continuous Integration driven build process)

There is a common thread that ties all of these together — Fully Automated Provisioning**. You can’t achieve the full benefit of any of these advances without Fully Automated Provisioning.


In this previous post, we covered the reasons why efforts to harness the power of cloud or virtualized infrastructure will fail without Fully Automated Provisioning.

Continuous Deployment suffers from a similar weakness. If you don’t have Fully Automated Provisioning in place, the efforts required to provision your applications and sort out the resulting problems will outweigh whatever benefits you set out to gain.

IT automation may not be the sexiest field. However, IT automation (and specifically Fully Automated Provisioning) is the necessary foundation that lets you continually reap the benefits of the latest headline grabbing initiatives.

**To read about what the criteria is for achieving Fully Automated Provisioning, check out this blog post and whitepaper.

The real reason why enterprises aren’t moving to the clouds

The real reason why enterprises aren’t moving to the clouds


Damon Edwards / 

Visit any of the cloud obsessed blogs, discussion forums, or conferences and you’ll hear the same “reasons” as to why cloud computing isn’t catching on within enterprise IT shops. It’s always something about interoperability, service level agreements, security risks, data formats, APIs, or hypothetical legal implications.

Interesting issues, but they are all red herrings.

The inability of enterprises to take advantage of the clouds isn’t due to the shortcomings of the cloud offerings available today. The shortcoming is with the state of today’s enterprise IT shops. The real reason is that those millions of applications currently running within enterprises are hardwired into a particular environment.

I’m not talking about the application code itself. After all, Linux is Linux and Windows is Windows no matter if it’s running on native hardware, a local VM, or somewhere in a cloud. The true problem is with the way today’s applications are configured, deployed, and managed. Very few folks in enterprise IT are willing to admit to the hairballs that decades of shortsighted IT Management techniques have created.

The often offered up excuse of there being “a lack of cloud skills within the enterprise” is really just code for a general abundance of poor to outrageously awful IT Management techniques.

Let’s look at a basic and often quoted use case for cloud computing.

With server utilization rates in the 3-15% range, there is obviously room for significant reduction in capital expenditures by taking advantage of cloud-based elastic computing resources. Why isn’t there a rush of enterprises running to take advantage of this? No, the answer isn’t the often quoted fear of vendor lock-in. The answer is that these enterprises are locked into themselves.

Think of how difficult it is for an enterprise to switch datacenters. Months of effort go into planning and executing the move, but have you ever heard of one going smoothly? If it takes months to move between your own datacenters and you still can’t get it right, what hope do you have for making it into the clouds?

It’s no coincidence that the local virtualization vendors like VMware and Parallels are facing this same denial of such an obvious business case as they attempt to push their offerings out of development and testing environments and into production environments.

Rob England (TheITSkeptic) is one of the few pundits to point out the fundamental disconnect between enterprise IT and the clouds. He attributes the largest hurdle to migration costs. I would take it a couple of steps further. Migration is just a symptom of the problem. If migration was the only problem, using cloud infrastructure would be a slam dunk for new application projects. But, of course, the same old broken management techniques ingrained in an enterprise plague new and old projects alike.

The bottom line is that what passes for the status quo in IT Management is crippling enterprises. Enterprise IT can’t take full advantage of such fundamental advances as virtualization and elastic computing until an “abstracted administration” paradigm becomes standard operating procedure.

Abstracted administration means the ability to work from a point of view that is independent of any particular server instances or specific software deployments. Within the abstracted administration paradigm, an administrator manages deployment and ongoing operations from a higher level and lets the underlying framework coordinate operations across the actual physical environment. Once you’ve achieved abstracted administration, moving datacenters or re-deploying an application to virtualized servers in the cloud is as simple as updating one part of the specification that drives the abstraction. Your tools will then handle the rest.

Of course, achieving abstracted administration means that the provisioning and management of your entire application stack — from OS install to running integrated application services — must be fully automated using tools that support this specification-driven, abstracted administration paradigm.

If you look at what passes for state of the art in many IT shops, it might seem like the ability to achieve abstracted administration and fully automated provisioning is a long ways off.

That is simply not the case. The tools to get this done are already here, they work well, and they are all open source. Below is a diagram of an open source toolchain that can provide fully automated provisioning.

Still not convinced it can be done? Check out this whitepaper. The paper lays out how fully automated provisioning can be (and has been) achieved using these standard open source tools.

If you are interested in more detailed explanation of the abstracted administration paradigm, check out this detailed post by Alex on the ControlTier Blog.

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