Last week I posted an article that dealt with the merits of various monitoring and reporting options. This week I’d like to discuss another concern we have as messaging administrators, the cloud. Over the last few years or so the cloud has meant a number of things to IT professionals, for most a headache, for some a pink slip and for others an opportunity. There have been quite a few twists and turn in its evolution, mostly precipitated on what the market wants but also on what the vendors are trying to capitalize on. In the messaging and collaboration space we’ve been tormented, I mean blessed, with Exchange Online, BPOS and now Office 365. Add in virtualization and its evolution, now we have the “private cloud”. So what does it all mean? Where’s it going? And how do we manage it?
What does it all mean?
We’re busy, very busy. A problem that never seems to go away, a good problem to have I suppose. The main challenge with virtualization, the cloud and the “private cloud” is that there’s that much more to manage. As it is certain deployments provide greater benefit in different applications. For smaller companies a single solution can usually satisfy all requirements, however in larger organizations different business entities may have different requirements and the total cost of ownership may dictate one solution over another. A single messaging group in one company may end up managing messaging systems across multiple platforms and multiple deployment methods. Depending on the requirements you may end up with a local Exchange 2007 infrastructure, a private cloud implementation of Exchange 2010, a number of users subscribing to Office 365 and yet still another group supported by an inexpensive email appliance with basic functionality.
Where’s it going?
Simplification…Ok, that was wishful thinking. Virtualization is here to stay, its benefits are quite apparent in both resource utilization and in business continuity. The cloud was developed as an effort to capitalize on the greater efficiencies from a commercial standpoint. This has been great because it lets smaller companies with less resources enjoys the benefits of an enterprise messaging infrastructure. There have been benefits to larger companies as well; one argument is that as a company they never got into business for IT, outsourcing or out-tasking allows companies to focus on their core competencies. In order to further evolve cloud technologies are going to have to alleviate some of the main concerns.
- Reliability: There’s an SLA, but if your service is impacted and your business suffers there’s little solace in a number like 99.9
- Security: Dedicated? Shared? Where is your data and how do you get it back?
- Scalability: How can we grow in the cloud or in the private cloud? For some application this is (fairly) simple for others it can be a nightmare.
The goal of any cloud deployment is to provide reliable secure on demand service, the future of cloud environments depend on the ability to meet these simple objectives. In the future we are going to see deployments simplified and an amorphous footprint allowing multiple services to function within the same resource pool flowing freely from one set of resources to another independently.
How do we manage it?
The key to success in any aspect of IT is simplification. We don’t always have the option to provide a single unified environment, what we do have is the ability to control its design and operation. As such we need to keep the following items a priority.
- Standardization-The delivery method may be different, the processes, policies and specifications should remain the same (or as close as possible). Managing the scenario I proposed earlier with a single team could be a complete nightmare. If you can’t control which systems you use, control the way they are used, a single standard.
- Preparation-Understand what’s available and what’s coming before the business brings it to you.
- Evolution-The emergence of cloud technologies has left many administrators to wonder where it’s going to leave them. “If there’s no infrastructure to manage, now what”. Evolve and embrace it. External cloud technologies make IT administrators more of service managers. Study ITIL and focus on getting the best results from your provider delivering the best service to your company. Messaging services fully migrated to the cloud leave IT administrators to manage the relationship and manage expectations. I simplify a bit, there’s still IT involved, but your role changes.
- Delivery-Focus on the quality of the service delivered its performance and its availability. As messaging becomes more of an on demand service greater focus needs to be placed on capacity and user experience. Having the proper tools and metrics to ensure user satisfaction become critical to your success. As with evolution part of the change is managing your services, expectations and user satisfaction. This post might be of interest.
The evolution of the cloud in messaging and collaboration environments has definitely had an impact of how we design, deploy and deliver our services. The key to success understands what its capabilities are and how to manage it once you have it deployed. As our delivery methods evolve we must evolve as engineers to place focus on not only the systems we manage but also how our users experience the services we provide.