Way back when,Don was the Scoutmaster for our local Boy Scout Troop. He’d been a Scout and earned his Eagle and, as we had a son entering scouting age, it was a great opportunity for Don to give back and for me to get involved. I helped out in many ways, not the least of which was to help the boys memorize the Scout promise and be able to repeat on-demand its Motto (Be Prepared) and its Slogan (Do a good turn daily).
Back then there was no Robotics Merit Badge (it was eerily introduced while I was writing this post, not kidding) but Scouts embracing the concept of being prepared were surely able to apply that principle to other aspects of their lives, covered by merit badges or not. I was excited reading this newest merit badge, of course, as our pre-schooler is an avid lover of robots and knowing he may be able to merge the two was, well, very cool for a #geek parent.
Now, the simple motto of the Boy Scouts is one that will always serve IT well, especially when it comes to operational efficiency and effectiveness in dealing with unanticipated challenges. It was just such a motto put forward in different terms by a director in the US Federal Government working on “emergency preparedness plans.” In a nutshell, he said, “Think about what you would do the day after and do it the day before.”
That was particularly good advice that expanded well on what it means to “Be Prepared.”
Now obviously IT has to be more responsive to potential outages or other issues in the data center than the next day. But the advice still holds if we simply reduce the advice to putting into place the policies and processes you would use to address a given challenge before it becomes a challenge. Or at least be prepared to implement such policies and processes should they become necessary. The deciding factor in when to implement pre-challenge policies is likely the time required. For example, If you lose your primary ISP connection, what would you do? Provision a secondary connection to provide connectivity until the primary is returned to service, most likely. Given the period of time it takes to provision such a resource, it’s probably best to provision before you need it. Similarly, the time to consider how you’ll respond to a flash-crowd is before it happens, not after. Ask yourself how would you maintain performance and availability, and then determine how best to go about ensuring that those pieces of the solution that cannot be provisioned or implemented on-demand are in place before they are needed.
EARNING the DATA CENTER MERIT BADGE
It is certainly the case that some policies, if pre-implemented as a mitigation technique to address future challenges, might interrupt the normal operations in the data center.As a means to alleviate this possibility it is advised that such policies be implemented in such a way as to trigger only in the event of an emergency. In other words, based on context and with a full understanding of the current conditions within and without the data center.
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Contextually-aware policies implemented at a strategic point of control offer the means by which IT can “be prepared” to handle an emergency situation: suddenly constrained capacity, performance degradation and even attacks against the data center network or applications delivered from therein. Such policies and the processes by which they were deployed have traditionally been a manual operations’ task: push a new configuration, provision a new server or force an update to a routing table. But contextually aware solutions provide a mechanism for encapsulating much of the process and policy required to address challenges that arise occasionally in the data center.
You need infrastructure components that are capable of adapting the enforcement of policies with little to no manual intervention such that availability, security and performance levels are maintained at all times. That’s Infrastructure 2.0 for the uninitiated. These components must be aware of all factors that might degrade the operational posture of any one of the three, incurring operational risk that is unacceptable to the business. By leveraging strategic points of control to deploy contextually-aware policies you can automatically respond to the unexpected in many cases without disruption. This leads to consistent application performance, behavior and availability and ensures that IT is meeting the challenges of the business.
Similarly, when considering deploying an application in a public cloud computing environment, part of the process needs to be the asking of serious questions regarding the management and future integration needs of that application. Today it may not be business critical, but if/when it is – what then? How would you integrate that application’s data with your internal systems? How would you integrate processes that rely upon that application with business or operational processes inside the data center? How might you extend identity and application access management systems such that cloud-hosted applications can leverage them?
Being prepared in the data center means you need the strategic platforms in place before they’re necessary and then subsequently requires that you lay out a set of tactical plans that address specific challenges that may arise along the way, noting the specific conditions that “trigger” the need for such measures in order to codify the “day after” procedures in such a way as to make them automatically provisioned when necessary. Doing so improves the responsiveness of IT, a major driver toward IT as a Service for both IT and the business.
Fulfilling the requirements for a data center merit badge is a lot easier than you might think: consider the challenges you may need to address, formulate a plan, and then implement it. Then wear your badge proudly. You’ll have earned it.