Like Subway, too often we fail to recognize that ingredients is only half a successful recipe. Process is the other half.
The response from sufferer’s of Celiac Disease (and similar conditions) to Subway’s announcement it was trying out a new, gluten-free version of some of its sandwiches was heavily weighted toward excitement. One of the most frustrating effects of suffering from Celiac’s is, of course, a lack of fast and tasty options for mealtime. We simply can’t run out to Subway or any other traditional “fast food” restaurant for a bite because, well, most of the menu is laden with gluten, which is a no-no. So for a national chain like Subway to roll-out a gluten-free version of its offerings, well, it was like manna from heaven.
Or was it?
What most (non-suffering) folks miss about Celiac’s (and almost every article in the mainstream press about it) is that ingredients, the diet, are only half the picture. The other half – the far more difficult half – is the environment in which those ingredients are thrown together and ultimately delivered for consumption. Cross-contamination is probably the primary source of Celiac reactions when eating out. Sufferers know what they can and cannot eat and restaurants are increasingly aware of such restrictions and are quick to provide the information diners need to make decisions about what they order. But what diners have no control over and what preparers often fail to pay proper attention to is the environment. A tiny bit of gluten – fragments smaller than you can see, such as the residue from wheat flour that hangs in the air nearly 24 hours after use – can cause a reaction. Reactions, over time, cause permanent damage that can, well, let’s just say the prognosis is poor for many of the conditions resulting from that damage.
So while I was happy to see Subway announce their new effort, I remain unconvinced of their ability to deliver gluten-free food amidst the gluten-infested kitchens that necessarily are a Subway store. Face it. Subway is about subs, bread, which traditionally means wheat – and flour. There are crumbs everywhere and residue and, well, I’ve been to Subway and all you need to do is watch a sandwich being pushed down the line and see the crumbs flying into everything to know that someone with Celiac’s should simply just say no.
IT organizations, too, often fail to consider the way in which the process by which application delivery ingredients will impact the end-user experience. Ensuring applications are fast, secure, and available requires following a strategic process that ensures the proper controls and enhancements are applied at the right time and in the right place to keep that application performing well.
Delivering an application used to be a matter of simply responding to an HTTP request. While in its simplest form that is still true, there are myriad touch points on the path from server back to client that may be required to interact – or even modify – the data that makes up the response. The trick here is to ensure that no touch point along that path impedes performance, security, or availability. Adding value to the delivery of a response should not introduce significant latency, nor impede the ability of other touch points along the path to perform their tasks. The goal should always be to improve the security or performance of the application and its data without contaminating it and causing problems along the way.
That’s easier said than done, especially in an environment over which you have very little control (such as a public cloud computing or hosted environment) or in which multiple solutions are used to implement a variety of security and performance-related delivery options. The order of operations here is important but all too often overlooked. Applying SSL at the web server, for example, instead of at a more strategic point closer to the client, has a significant impact on the delivery of the application. First and foremost, it’s inefficient. General-purpose compute is just that – general purpose – and cryptographic computations are resource intense, benefiting greatly from specialized compute designed specifically to enhance the speed with which such computations are executed.
Secondly, encrypting data at the web server means that any other task in the delivery path that needs to inspect and/or act upon that data – such as data leak prevention services – must decrypt, perform its task, and then re-encrypt the data. That not only adds latency, it also requires the server’s certificate and key, which requires additional management and adds another potential point at which such sensitive corporate assets might be stolen. If that’s not possible, the only other option is – to skip that task, because the result is to make the data “invisible” for all intents and purposes through the remainder of the delivery path.
It’s not just security that’s impacted. Many acceleration technologies such as caching and data compression can be applied at the web server tier or at any of several points along the delivery path. Whether these are beneficial or not is highly dependent on context (network, end-user, and data center conditions) that is not available to the web server. It is often the case that compression and caching are treated as separate entities, deployed individually in disparate components along the path, which also results in a loss of the context necessary to efficiently apply such technologies and which adds latency that may eventually offset the performance gains they were intended to supply.
The order of operations, it turns out, the process, is as important as the ingredients (components) used. Just as adherents to the philosophy of Feng Shui believe that where is as important as what, so too can this philosophy be applied to data center architectural strategy. Where you deploy the tools you leverage for security, storage, and application delivery are as important to the health of the data center as which tools you choose.
The right process can improve security, enhance performance, and assure availability. The wrong process can negate security, degrade performance, and do nothing at all to assist in maintaining a reliable application.
Adherence to process is not just a requirement for “safe” eating for sufferers of Celiac’s and other food-related allergies. Any good cook will tell you that ingredients are only part of a delicious meal; the process – the order – by which those ingredients are tossed, basted, mixed, and combined can have a significant impact on the outcome of the dish.
This is just as true for technology, especially those that rely heavily on processes over product. Cloud computing is more about process than it is products; it’s about the integration and collaboration that enables automation of operational processes to deliver more consistent results, reduced time to deploy, and decreased administration costs. The difference between a highly virtualized data center and a cloud is, in its simplest form, process. Virtualization platforms are products, but what makes a cloud is the processes and the implementation of automation and ultimately orchestration to liberate the data center from the mundane checklist upon checklist of manual tasks that must be accomplished to deploy, scale, and manage application deployments.
The same is true for application delivery. Having the right ingredients is great, but the process by which they are applied and subsequent interact with one another is just as important to ensuring the successful delivery of applications. Every time an application delivery or data service “contaminates” the application data with latency it impacts the consumer, the end-user. It makes applications slower, less reliable, and impacts the end-user experience.
The next time you have a problem with an application and you decide an application delivery service is the right solution to provide relief, take that opportunity to examine the entire process and ensure that the way in which those ingredients are delivered are not negating the benefits they are designed to provide.
You can learn more about Celiac’s Disease (also commonly called Celiac Sprue) by visiting the Celiac Sprue Association.