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Part 2: 10 Things Vmware Server Admins Should Know About Self-Service Catalogs and Lifecycle Management

This is part 2 of the series “10 Things Vmware Server Admins Should Know About Self-Service Catalogs and Lifecycle Management” that I’ll be publishing over the next couple of weeks.

Number 2. The service catalog is the place where your user can document (communicate) their request

Let me show you an example.

If you go to an e-commerce storefront and choose to look at Cisco UCS servers, they are broken down their servers into classes (Rack, Blade, etc), which then provides different models, which can then be customized within the parameters allowed for that model.  I’m not saying this makes sense for your environment, but the break down between classes, models, and then self-service configuration is a useful construct for thinking about your templates.

What are your standard classes of environment you provide?  Could it be production, development, QA?  What about models? Could those be on-line transaction processing, extranet, intranet HR, basic web server, basic database?

We would want to ask entirely different set of questions and configuration options for an extranet, high transaction database than for a personal development environment, wouldn’t we?

It’d also make our job much simpler and faster if we know what parameters were involved for that particular request.

The service catalog is key to enable your customers to:

  1. Discover what’s available me
  2. Guide me based on my high level needs,
  3. Help me compare models, then
  4. Assist me in customizing my configuration.

And of course all the tracking, workflow and life-cycle management that the service catalog enables.  This is what makes a service catalog different from a “web form front-end” to a help desk — automation is the big difference.

 

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Part 3: 10 Things Vmware Server Admins Should Know About Self-Service Catalogs and Lifecycle Management

This is part 3 of the series “10 Things Vmware Server Admins Should Know About Self-Service Catalogs and Lifecycle Management” that I’ll be publishing over the next couple of weeks.

3. The catalog system is more than a document, it’s also used to manage the life-cycle of the resource

What’s great about VM’s is how fast and easy they are to provision, but sometimes they are hard to kill.
I see the emails going around that say: “no one is touched that instance, who owns it?”

Back when resources were scarce, our hunter gatherer customers in Application Development and QA learned to never let go of a server.  Like woolly mammoth’s they were hard to catch and came only sporadically; in the summer of ROI funding, or when great migrations came. Most of the time, QA was starved for resources.  So they hoarded.

And while executing the initial request for a server environment through the service catalog gives you a nicely documentation and speed, over time changes happen and configurations drift.

This process of managing a server or environment from “as offered,” to “as agreed,” to “as built,” and then managing the change requests against it, is what I mean by lifecycle management.

The service catalog, being the source of “as offered,” “as requested” and “as built,” contains the whole lifecycle for your VM, plus information on who owns it, for how long they need it, and any other relevant data that went into the build sheet.

Unlike a static spreadsheet, when looking at a server, you can see what the maintenance hours, SLA’s and OLA’s are. The lifecycle system an tell you what types of requests can be made against that VM (like add memory, for example).That server can be started, stopped, snapshotted, upgraded.  Notice they are all verbs against a thing, the VM instance.

The result is we have complete business context information about the server, the history of requests about it, subscription information and of course the proper technical build sheet, including workload requirements.  As one VMware admin recently said, “I wish I’d known that you can only work on that server on Saturdays after 5pm.”

 

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Can it be Self Service without Automation?

Leading IT shops like to have a single pane of glass that is the IT storefront to all employees.  This is a very noble goal.  Having worked at a few large companies this is indeed a moving target as supporting the end user employee can mean a lot of different entry points, contexts and presentation technologies.  When it comes to have a central location for ordering services it is very important to on board all of the employee based and data center services in a consistent fashion.   Some of the key use cases include employee on boarding (and off boarding), virtual desktops, virtual machines and physical servers in the datacenter and access to applications.  Typical IT departments may have several hundred orderable services, many of which are bundled (think of employee on boarding).

Interestingly some organizations first drive towards a common catalog and then automate what they can afterwards.  At first you can take orders through the service catalog and then work the tasks to fulfill the request through manual process tracking.  Alternatively I have seen some shops say that they will only put services in the catalog that can be automated.  Then there are all the intermediate cases.  Organizations deploying automated request management have many issues to consider and standards to be set.

Can we declare victory when a process is mostly manual but yet orderable from a catalog in four clicks?  Perhaps…

Your end users are happy.  They can see where their request is in the process flow.  Kind of like going to fedex.com and seeing where that DVD is on its journey to your house.   But that package took 3 days to traverse its journey.

Considered an automated fulfillment or provisioning process.  In my above analogy, you are no longer dealing with DVDs shipping to your house but on demand video streaming.  A simple click sets into motion many automated processes that deliver the movie to your device.  For end user services this means your remote access is provisioned with a simple click, your Linux server and application stack is delivered in less than 15 minutes for use.  Key to making that happen is a full automated process.  Is that achievable in all cases?  Perhaps….

In most cases what we are provisioning requires a northbound API (an programming interface above the fulfillment system) to accomplish the instantiation of the service.  Oftentimes, in legacy environments the target system is so dated or under invested-in that an API does not exist.   It is pretty hard to automate a process that can only occur through a human interfacing with the system.

People ask me the question:  So What? We have found that by automating processes we can save on average 30% of the process cost.   Multiply that by tens of thousands of requests and it will really add up.

Investing in Self Service requires investing in automation and in some cases, wrapping an API around a legacy environment in order to get the desire result:  IT as a Service, delivered at the speeds needed by  our end users.

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Part 1: 10 Things Vmware Server Admins Should Know About Self-Service Catalogs and Lifecycle Management

This part 1 of the series “10 Things Vmware Server Admins Should Know About Self-Service Catalogs and Lifecycle Management” that I’ll be publishing over the next few weeks--I hope! (The boy is nothing if not ambitious).

1. The service catalog is a tool for driving users to standard configurations.

To get the operational efficiencies we hope to achieve from virtualization and / or cloud computing, we need to establish standard configurations. This is tough, for a couple of reasons.

First, the challenge is the gap between the language of the customer, and the detail needed by the operations group typically generates a lot of back and forth during the “server engineering” process.  Instead of having “pre-packaged” configurations, every thing is bespoke.

Instead of having useful abstraction layers and levels, the customer has to invent their own little bit of the data center. This made sense when the new app meant a whole new hardware stack to which the app would be fused to and the concrete poured on it. It doesn’t make sense now.

Second,  there’s resistance from customers to adopt standard VM builds.  Sometimes the reasons are valid, other times less so. The issue arises because the technical configurations have not been abstracted to a level the user can understand what they get and what’s available for configuration.  Nor can they compare one template to another in ways that are meaningful to them.

The service catalog is the tool to help deal with these two obstacles.  The service catalog is a useful tool to communicate, in the language of the customer, the different options available from IT for hosting environments.

A service catalog will support multiple views (customer, technical, financial, etc) so that when the customer selects “small Linux” for testing, this generates both a bill of materials and standard configuration options.  Once that base is selected, self-service configuration wizards provide both guidance and gutter-rails so the customer is both helped to the right thing and prevented from making errors.

From this customer configuration, the environment build sheet is generated which will drive provisioning and configuration activities or to execute any policy automation in place.

And the catalog allows the VM admins to figure out what their “market” is buying; which is very useful for capacity planning.

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The not so hidden war: Private versus Public Cloud…

The cloud battle lines have been drawn out over the past 2-3 years.  Is your company getting your CRM from the public cloud?  Most definitely!  Does your IT shop use one site Service Desk tools or are they using a public cloud provider?  Maybe.  Did you click the button and put your music in the cloud.  Probably.

Many 10’s of billions of enterprise CAPEX and OPEX dollars are spent on enterprise compute and the tools to manage and automate that.  IT shops have a very difficult question:  Do I invest in building my own private cloud, or do I leverage the public cloud?   Many say that a well run private cloud can be cheaper, more secure, and more in tune with internal requirements.   Private and Public clouds are vying for your spend and mind share.  Who will this battle?  How much of a war is this?

Let’s understand that management and automation software has become just as important as your hardware selection as the key ingredient in your compute strategy.  This is a war over close to 100B dollars of enterprise and service provide spend.

There is indeed a 3rd player in this war:  a company and a service offer that is both pragmatic and in a leadership position.   I personally spent close to 6 years in the managed services business earlier in my career and every lesson I learned in managing on-premise, hosted, and private infrastructure for clients all pointed to the most pragmatic approach for how to address client needs:   Customer Choice.

News Flash:  CSC has selected and is deploying Cisco’s Intelligent Automation for Cloud as the cloud automation engine behind their on-premise private and public cloud offering running on VCE vBlock technology.  This is a significant market statement about where infrastructure as a service is going and how to get there.  Leveraging the lessons from Cisco IT usage of Intelligent Automation for Cloud (self service, catalog and orchestration) for private cloud management and automation and all the knowledge based best practices that our business unit has harvested over the past 10+ years of experience in automation in public and private clouds, CSC and Cisco and have joined forces in the war.  Many other service providers are as well.

If you would like the benefit of a private cloud, but want someone else to operate it, give CSC a call.  It will be an intelligent choice for Intelligent Automation from Cisco.

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