6 New Challenges of IT Operations
June 05, 2013

Michael Butt

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IT operations: you’ve come a long way. No longer shuttered in the corner of the data center, IT ops personnel are front and center to the needs of the business, taking care of critical applications and users. With the cloud, mobile, social and all the other countless apps, devices and tools that companies are incorporating into their enterprise, this transition should come as no surprise. It’s nice to get some attention, but on the other hand, IT operations managers are taking a high percentage of the blame when apps and sites stop working.

We can point fingers for all for this at Facebook and Google, but it doesn’t change the fact that users love the new, instantaneous experience these companies have delivered and as a result, have extreme impatience for sluggish response times and technology that doesn’t work with the touch of a button. That fact has raised the lever on the IT department to deliver quick and smooth results, all the time. And, if something does break down, users shouldn’t suffer for long. Here are a few more pressure points on IT operations today:

1. Dealing with speed

Companies of all sizes, particularly those that generate significant revenue streams online, are moving to next-generation cloud architectures so they can respond to opportunities faster, scale with demand more easily and develop products and services more quickly. This calls for Agile development methods, which means frequent code releases and updates. IT operations personnel are struggling to keep pace with this constant flow of change to the environment.

2. The tangle of interdependency

In days of old, the applications were monolithic. Of course that world is nearly gone as modern Internet applications depend upon many components and services, all of which are shared by other applications across geographically distributed infrastructure. An issue occurring on one instance may end up quickly creating slowdowns on another, and so on and so on. Untying that mess when problems arise is the job of operations, ready or not.

3. More tools to manage

Given the complexities of today’s hybrid environments, physical and virtual infrastructure, modern IT operations teams are moving away from traditional, on premise monitoring suites to point solutions. Products such as Puppet, Chef, Pingdom, Jenkins, AppDynamics and New Relic are taking place of the old guard. In addition, most operations teams add home-grown tools and custom instrumentation to the mix, enabling IT to be more responsive yet adding complexity if the tools are not integrated well.

4. Making sense of the noise

Because of the need for multiple monitoring and analysis feeds, an operations team may receive a dozen or more notifications for a single problem. They may have to look at multiple consoles to correlate the information. Then they have to figure out the source of the issue.

5. IT organizations are slow to change

CIOs and CTOs are struggling to help their organizations shift to this new world of real-time alerts and dynamic change-- especially in large organizations. Departmental silos persist, and even with the advent of DevOps, performance management is too often reactive. Operations people may be stuck in the middle between IT leadership and developers, with unclear guidance for managing change.

6. Lack of data and metrics

As the IT management vendor community develops its offerings for analytics and alerting, the widespread lack of visibility into a company’s IT ecosystem will improve. Yet a continual flood of new threats, languages and technologies makes the visibility challenge if not insurmountable, frustrating at best. Conversely, there is the emerging problem of having too much data but not enough insight. “A decade or so ago, companies were primarily looking at the app server, the Java server,” says Dennis Callaghan, an analyst with 451 Research quoted in the Boundary blog. “Now, they are also looking at network service levels, database performance, the storage array, the web server and they also need to get some decent end user metrics at the browser level.”

Callaghan’s observation of the growing metrics equation in IT operations begs the question: How will companies manage the Big Data aspect of performance management to filter out the urgent information when it matters?

IT operations people are clever, and they generally enjoy solving puzzles and problems. That’s the good news. As well, a whole new VC-backed sector of modern IT management tools has been in development for well over a year now, and that trend is showing no sign of slowing.

Perhaps the most challenging hurdle for companies will be to adapt processes and attitudes which enable highly collaborative, rapid responses to abnormal events. Business and IT alignment is more important than ever -- and progressive IT departments are finally able to deliver on what users want and when.

Given the stakes, there’s never been a better time to be in IT operations.

Michael Butt is Director of Product Marketing at BigPanda.

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