The term “availability” that is the moniker for this site can mean a great deal more than just system uptime and lack of downtime. At its most basic level you can easily argue that the term “Availability” means the mere presence of sufficient IT resources to drive the business. And one of the most important elements that impact this basic level of availability is having the flexibility to quickly and efficiently deploy IT resources for new applications or to meet changing requirements of a business process.
The focus on agility has become almost manic in the last year, and it shapes up as one of the absolutely critical capabilities that IT staffs need to have. As organizations have developed more and more experience with metrics for IT systems and investments, the focus has enlarged from not only the actual experience when the system is running, but the time it takes to deploy a system, whether it’s a new system or application, or changes to an existing system.
In the past, the ability to drive agility and system change was perceived as primarily impacted by the skills and imagination of staff and partners. The idea of having “good” people was seen as the best way to drive agility and response time, combined with having substantial resources.
That is no longer true.
First, the levels of staffing are now down to a point where “bare bones” is seen as a luxury, so the idea of having resources to throw at a problem just isn’t feasible. Further, the cost of buying resources on a project basis to drive your own agility often destroys the ROI of a new initiative, or can’t be done within current budget constraints. This means that there are other tactics and approaches that need to be put in place if you are to gain agility and improve responsiveness.
One of the most important strategies to drive agility is to implement system virtualization and drive standardization. The use of a virtualized environment allows the organization to mitigate the unique set up, management, software loading, and deployment that accompany a plethora of systems. Instead, the virtual system looks the same to all applications, security systems, management tools, and networks. This makes the actual installation far easier, and in many cases, new applications or workloads can be added to current virtual systems without any new hardware by using extra cycles or unused bandwidth. Another important element of virtualization is that this approach removes the whole “specific vendor decision” process that can slow down the process as various sides undertake arguments to support their favored platform.
Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) is always mentioned in this context as well, but personally, I’m not as “wowed” by this approach. While the notion of reusability to build things faster is fundamentally sound, real world results aren’t showing the level of reuse that makes the numbers really work. Longer term SOA does have many benefits and should deliver on the promise, but it’s still not here today.
Another part of the process that can yield very impressive agility results is to improve how change management is handled. The fundamental difference between the agile organization and the turtle, relative to change management, is that the “hares” drive changes in smaller, incremental steps, not one giant project. Even in the case of new systems, this improved change management approach starts with a minimalist view of functionality, and then rapid additions and improvements. By scaling back the initial implementation, it becomes simpler, and easier to do more quickly.
Finally, there are additional areas of standardization that can help the process as well. Standard PCs, Servers, and networking are well known and broadly implemented. Yet, there are a number of other areas that show promise. These include system management tools, SAN/NAS integration, Racks/Infrastructure in the data center, and compliance/audit demands.
The single most commonly cited demand of IT is now speed and agility. The reality is that business process is now dependent on technology process, so the inability to react can become a major liability to an organization. There are some new steps that can help you become more agile that don’t require rethinking the entire IT environment.